Dolby Laboratories wants to scare the crap out of you. The famous sound system designer unveiled its latest surround sound technology on Monday, and its implications for entertainment, particularly horror, are hair-raising. Dolby Atmos will be implemented first in movie theaters but the goal is to eventually bring the technology into the home where it will find its place in video games.
Described as Dolby’s “most significant innovation in years,” here’s how Dolby Atmos works. 64 speaker feeds are arranged around a theater. Unlike current speaker arrangements which pump in sound from the right and left sides of the theater to create a surround sound experience, Atmos pumps the sound from above and, as The New York Times puts it, “swirl” sound in any direction.
Senior technical marketing manager at Dolby Laboratories Stuart Bowling immediately used horror, a genre whose effectiveness is defined by sound, as an example of how Atmos will improve the theatrical experience. “You can imagine watching a scary movie, and it’s a scene when someone is hiding in a basement and there are footsteps on the floorboards above. The Atmos system will actually play that audio from above people in the theater,” said Bowling. A demonstration of the technology included what reporter Nick Bolton described as thunderstorm sounds so realistic he thought he’d need an umbrella.
Intriguing to say the least. More intriguing of course is Dolby’s claim that the ultimate goal is to move Dolby Atmos into home theaters with large-screen televisions. This of course is where Atmos’ impact on video games will be greatest.
Dolby Digital audio encoding has been included in many games since the PlayStation 2 and PCs begin using DVDs as their media format of choice. Dolby 5.1-channel audio has, in the past decade, become increasingly common in major game releases, providing for, with the right sound system, a theatrical experience with games. A perfect example of effective surround sound use in a game is the ambient crowd chatter in MLB 2K12.
Dolby Atmos could transform horror and suspense video games into a more tactile experience with the potential to be more physically affecting than motion controls. Where as motion inputs in horror games like Kinect’s Rise of Nightmares are imprecise to the point of destroying tension, Dolby Atmos sound could be used to make it sound like a Resident Evil zombie or Fatal Frame ghost was looming directly above you in the air.
The technology obviously couldn’t be implemented on a broad scale given the expense of a set up, but its potential is exciting all the same.
Digital Trends reached out to Dolby Laboratories to further discuss Dolby Atmos, and while a representative of the company didn’t confirm a timeline for when Atmos will hit home, they did confirm Dolby’s commitment to leaving theaters. “Delivering the most realistic and immersive consumer experiences is central to Dolby’s vision for entertainment. As the first films with Dolby Atmos arrive in the cinema, we expect people will want to bring the experience home. Dolby Atmos is revolutionary and it may take time to bring this experience to game devices. Our research team is already exploring how to do this.”