Combining Dolby Vision pictures and Dolby Atmos high-end audio in LG's new range of top-shelf televisions, Dolby is on a push to bring its cinema technologies to the lounge room.
The biggest names in home entertainment all had their wares on show at the CES electronics show in Las Vegas, but one name that kept cropping up was Dolby. While Australia might still be waiting for its first Dolby Vision-enabled digital cinemas, the entertainment giant is pushing ahead on televisions, disc players and audio gear.
While it's easy to get caught up in the resolution boost of Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range technologies such as Dolby Vision arguably do more to improve the picture quality by revealing extra detail in the bright highlights and deep shadows. Dolby Vision goes beyond standard HDR10 by recalibrating the screen for each scene in a movie and you can certainly see the difference with the right content.
Something To Watch
Dolby Vision-capable televisions have been around for a few years, but Australia's only source of Dolby Vision content has been a handful of titles on Netflix – while Americans also can enjoy a lot more on Vudu.
We're still waiting for Dolby Vision-enabled Ultra HD Blu-ray movie discs, which won't be far away now that the big vendors are starting to unveil their Dolby Vision-enabled Ultra HD Blu-ray players. Oppo was the first to launch, late last year, and LG unveiled its LG UP970 player at CES – although there was no pricing or release date and it appears it will ship without Dolby Vision enabled, instead it will come via a firmware update.
Dolby demonstrated its first Dolby Vision UHD disc samples during private sessions at CES, playing a copy of Warner Bros.' Pan which is a great movie for showing off the merits of Ultra HD HDR in terms of contrast and colours. Movies which have already been mastered in Dolby Vision for streaming services can easily be transferred to disc, according to Dolby, and Warner Bros. alone has 50 Dolby Vision titles in its library.
Of course we're still waiting on Dolby Vision-enabled UHD Blu-ray discs to arrive. Warner Bros., Universal and Lionsgate have committed to release their first batch in early 2017, although it's difficult to say when they'll reach Australia. Thankfully UHD Blu-ray discs aren't region-coded, so there's nothing stopping you from importing them.
Meanwhile at CES, LG unveiled the first televisions to support both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos high-end audio. Atmos is coming to the 2017 OLED range but surprisingly not to LG's new range of "nano-cell" LED televisions.
Advanced HDR By Technicolor
Sticking with picture quality for a minute, LG announced support for a fourth HDR standard in "Advanced HDR by Technicolor", joining HDR10, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG). It might seem like another format war is brewing but I wouldn't say so as you're not really forced to choose sides.
It seems that Advanced HDR by Technicolor will be targeted at terrestrial broadcasts, like HLG which was co-designed by Britain's BBC and Japan's NHK. Meanwhile HDR10 and Dolby Vision are targeted at streaming services and discs. HDR10 is basically a subset of Dolby Vision, so you can watch HDR10 content on Dolby Vision gear. You can also watch Dolby Vision content on non-Dolby Vision, HDR10 gear, but it's dialled back to HDR10 – you're never left staring at a blank screen if your gear doesn't support a specific HDR format.
HLG works the same and it's a fair bet that Technicolor's format will as well, not that Australians should get too excited about seeing HDR terrestrial broadcasts any time soon. But it's good to know that LG's new televisions cover all the bases.
Dolby Atmos sound is the other piece of the puzzle – it's been available at the cinemas for a few years plus it's built into high-end home theatre amplifiers, playing from Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. It's also available from Vudu streaming and, when asked about Netflix, Dolby's reply is "not yet".
Recently we've seen support for Atmos come to soundbars, I tried out Samsung's at the IFA tech show in Berlin and Sony had them on show at CES, but now LG has gone one step further by building Atmos directly into their new OLED televisions.
To be fair it's built into the LG models which have soundbar-style built-in speakers on the front, along with models like the new "W7" wallpaper OLED unveiled at CES which is only 2.57mm thick and comes bundled with a wall-mounted soundbar.
Traditional surround sound is mastered for a certain number of channels, for example Dolby Digital is 5.1-channel sound, diving the sound between to two front speakers, a centre, two rears and a subwoofer to make up the 0.1.
Dolby Atmos works a bit differently in that it's object-based rather than channel-based. When the audio engineer mixes the sound they create the background soundtrack and then place objects on a three-dimensional sound stage, for example placing a helicopter above to the left. In your lounge room the player decodes that location data and decides where to send the sound, allowing for how many speakers you have.
This is why Dolby Atmos can work in a 2-speaker lounge room, a 192-speaker cinema and everything in between. You might think of it as the audio equivalent of vector graphics, instead of the including the channel-by-channel soundtrack it comes with the instructions explaining how to create the soundtrack on the fly.
The appeal of Dolby Atmos is that it extends surround sound to have a sense of height. The demos with LG's television included a rainstorm, with Atmos off it sounded like the rain was around you but with Atmos on the rain also sounded as if it was above the television.
The thought of trying to achieve decent sound without rear speakers won't impress some people, and I'd certainly prefer to have rear speakers in the room, but Atmos' sense of height still comes through even if you only have a soundbar under the television.
What's particularly impressive is that this demo was using an LG television which doesn't have upwards facing speakers on the soundbar like W7 wallpaper television. You can even hear the difference that Dolby Atmos makes when wearing 2-channel headphones, plugging into Atmos-capable smartphones, tablets and notebooks.
The way Dolby explains it, your brain can tell when sound comes from above you because the characteristics of the sound change slightly if it strikes the bottom of the inside of your ear first. Atmos manages to mimic that effect, tricking your brain into thinking that the sound came from above even though it didn't.
Purists will want to cram their lounge room with speakers to make the most of Atmos but, if you're trying to keep things simple, LG's efforts to combine Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision in its new OLED televisions delivers the full package deal.
Adam Turner travelled to CES in Las Vegas as a guest of LG.