Netflix quietly dips its toes into Dolby Atmos surround sound

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Adding a host of 4K Ultra HD and HDR content to its library drastically raised Netflix’s video quality, and now the service is about to sound a lot better, too. The company announced Wednesday that Netflix Dolby Atmos support has arrived, bringing with it even better surround sound immersion for home theater aficionados.

For those unfamiliar, Dolby Atmos (and its DTS counterpart DTS:X) is the latest and greatest surround sound codec, which creates a globe-like soundstage of immersion with the addition of height speakers that rain down sound from above. Known as “object-based” surround sound, Atmos allows sound mixers to move individual “sound objects” such as a motorcycle circling around you or a bird flying overhead, with pinpoint accuracy.

Dolby Atmos setups are able to accurately position these sound objects in a speaker setup, resulting in hemispheric, dimensional surround sound. In order to get the hemispheric effect, ceiling-mounted speakers or Atmos-enabled upward-firing speakers that bounce sound off the ceiling are required.

If you’re a Netflix Subscriber with an Atmos home theater setup or Atmos-enabled soundbar, you’ll likely be thrilled by this news. However, at launch, only a single film will support it — the Netflix original-film about everyone’s favorite hippo-pig, Okjawhich recently premiered at Cannes to critical praise. At least the sole Atmos movie sounds like it’s a good one, right?

Netflix has promised that more Dolby Atmos content will be added in the future, however, which will be a boon to those with advanced home theater setups who have previously relied on Blu-rays to get their kicks. Currently, a number of Netflix originals are slated for Atmos, including the anime sci-fi film Blame! on July 28, and the live action adaptation of the popular anime story Death Note on August 25. In December, the Will Smith-starring fantasy-film-meets-cop-drama, Bright will also get the Atmos treatment, as will the upcoming film Wheelman at some point later in the year — but that’s it so far.

While it’s a short list, users will be able to easily identify Dolby Atmos-supported content by the Dolby Atmos icon adorning the description of applicable titles.

In order to watch these titles in Dolby Atmos, you’ll first need the $12-per-month, Ultra HD subscription plan. You’ll also, of course, need an Atmos-compatible surround sound system, soundbar, or headphones, as well as — and this is key — a device with an Atmos-supported Netflix app. At this time, only the Xbox One and Xbox One S are supported, with Netflix promising support for 2017 LG OLEDs in the near future.

That’s a pretty short list, especially considering the near-ubiquity of Netflix on TVs and streaming devices of all kinds. Netflix promises to increase support to more devices “over time,” but as to what that time table looks like and which specific devices, the company made no mention. Also unmentioned is any support for DTS:X surround, but for now at least, we’ll take what we can get.

We hope Netflix’s promised expansion for content and devices comes soon, because as it stands, it needs some serious padding out. Then again, the only reason we’re so eager for more is because Dolby Atmos is essentially 4K HDR for your ears, and the more ways to get it, the better.


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