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Pioneer Brings Dolby Atmos Home with New Elite SC Receivers and Speaker Systems

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If you’ve ever seen a movie in a cinema equipped with Dolby Atmos—the 64-channel sound format that truly gives new meaning to the term “surround sound”—you’ve probably been wondering when (okay, mostly if) the technology would ever make its way into the home. Wonder no more. Pioneer announced this morning that its 2014-model Elite SC series home theater receivers will be upgraded with Dolby Atmos by year’s end via a firmware upgrade. In addition, the company is introducing a dedicated line of Elite-series speaker systems, designed by Andrew Jones and intended for Dolby Atmos use.

Details are still a little light at this point. We don’t know, for example, exactly how many channels of sound the new receivers will support. Needless to say, the full gamut of 64 channels is almost certainly impossible and unnecessary in the home. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be losing any of the sound that directors like Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer are mixing into their Atmos-powered films. One of the things that makes Atmos different from your usual 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround sound mix is that it’s object-based. What that means is that when a bullet or space ship or automobile or voice travels from one side of an Atmos mix to another, the sound engineer doesn’t have to say, “Okay, it’ll start at 80% volume in the front left channel and quickly decrease in volume as it quickly raises in volume in the right rear surround channel, giving the illusion of movement in that direction.” Instead, each sound effect is attached to a virtual object, which the mixer moves in 3D space, irrespective of speaker positioning. From there, the Dolby Atmos processing decides which speakers map most closely to that object in space, and mix the sound accordingly.

So whether you employ all of the speakers supported in Atmos-equipped home cinema receiver (and who knows how many that may be? 11.2? 14.2? 16.2? 24.2?) or stick with a familiar 5.1 or 7.2 speaker setup, you’ll still hear every element of the sound mix, rendered as closely as possible to the point in 3D space where the sound engineer positioned it.

Full details on Pioneer’s new Elite SC series AV receivers and Dolby Atmos speaker packages will be revealed this Wednesday, June 25, but in the meantime, a new post on the Dolby Blog today does give a few enticing clues as to how Atmos will be implemented in the home.

Brett Crockett, Director of Sound Research for Dolby Labs, reveals that height channels are definitely a part of the equation, but that in-ceiling speakers, while ideal, might not be necessary. He reveals that many of Dolby’s partners (including, I think we can assume, Pioneer) will offer Atmos-enabled floor-standing speakers that produce overhead information—probably by projecting those Z-axis sounds toward and reflecting them off of the ceiling. In addition, it appears that there will be new Atmos speaker modules that sit on top of (or nearby) your current speakers and aim those sounds skyward.

“We’ve been at the forefront of every technology available for the home theater environment and we’re making a point to have the Dolby Atmos technology into the latest products that will captivate and transport audiences with multi-dimensional sound,” said Chris Walker, director of AV product planning and marketing for the Home Electronics Division of Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc. “To ensure the best Dolby Atmos experience possible, Pioneer not only produced a series of ultra-high end receivers dedicated for the task, but also appointed Andrew Jones, our top speaker engineer, to design a speaker system worthy of the Elite brand and that can reproduce the sound quality that only Dolby Atmos can deliver.”