What is Dolby Atmos? The way to enhance how your home viewing sounds explained by the best expert there is

What is Dolby Atmos? Everything you need to know about the impressive audio format that is bringing Hollywood glamor home

Klipsch Reference Series speakers
(Image credit: Klipsch Reference Series speakers)

If you’ve been to the cinema in the last 10 years, you’ve probably already experienced Dolby Atmos firsthand. And if not, get yourself down to the cinema asap.

Originally launched in cinemas in 2012 in Disney’s Brave movie, the ‘object-based audio format’ is responsible for creating that all-encompassing sound we can enjoy when watching TV, movies, listening to music, and gaming. The sound of footsteps slowly creeping up the stairs in a horror movie or that dramatic screech of a high-speed car chase is all thanks to Dolby Atmos and is designed to enhance your experience.

No longer just a format that can be enjoyed at the flicks, Dolby Atmos technology can be experienced at home too. You just need to have invested in one of the best soundbars or best TV brands - and have the right Dolby Atmos-compatible content and hardware.

To find out more about what Dolby Atmos has to offer, we ask Rob France, head of home content engineering at Dolby Laboratories, to give us the low down. 

Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 Dolby Atmos soundbar

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins Panorama 3 Dolby Atmos soundbar)

What is Dolby Atmos?

1. Dolby Atmos is an object-based audio format 

Up-firing speakers let you get the most out of immersive Dolby Atmos on the Philips OLED+936 TV that has a Bowers & Wilkins sound system with a speaker enclosure built in.

Up-firing speakers let you get the most out of immersive Dolby Atmos on the Philips OLED+936 TV that has a Bowers & Wilkins sound system with a speaker enclosure built in.  

(Image credit: The Philips OLED+936 TV has a Bowers & Wilkins sound system with a speaker enclosure built in giving excellent picture and sound quality.)

But what is an object-based audio format, you may ask? ‘An audio object is a sound the creators decided to isolate and move around you to create a three-dimensional effect,’ says Rob France. ‘Imagine a horror movie. The music comes all around you. The intruder comes in. You hear some steps that move separately – first behind you, then above your head as he goes up the stairs. A day in the rain with the sound of rain falling from your ceiling. This is what Dolby Atmos can do for you.’

Dolby Atmos is an improvement on what came before and a leap forward from surround sound. It's ultimately designed to put you in the center of it all when watching movies or listening to music to give you the most immersive sound possible. Originally crafted to be enjoyed at the cinema to bring movies to life, it can now be experienced with the help of everyday home gadgets such as soundbars, smart speakers, TVs, and computers.

And it's all in the detail to create a more three-dimensional listening experience. 'Dolby Atmos delivers impressive clarity, richness, detail, and depth for a more convincing impression,' Rob says. 'It creates breath-taking, moving audio that flows above. ‘Object-based’ means that individual sounds are free to move around the room and that the soundtrack will always adapt to the configuration of your room. This can make you feel like you’re part of the story as sound comes alive in a three-dimensional space.’

home theater

(Image credit: Future)

2. Dolby Atmos is available in the latest home and lifestyle gadgets

To listen to Dolby Atmos, you will need content and hardware that supports Dolby Atmos – so Dolby Atmos compatible content (on Netflix, Apple TV, or YouTube, for example) fed through a Dolby Atmos player and speakers or one of the best soundbars.  

‘Since its first launch in Brave 10 years ago, Dolby Atmos has been adopted across all home devices including TV, home cinema, soundbars, laptop, tablets and phones, and it will soon be available in cars too,' Rob says. 'Dolby Atmos is also available on standard Blu-rays and Ultra HD Blu-rays, so there is no format issue to worry about.'

As Dolby Atmos is designed to be adaptable to whichever device you’re listening to, you can experience Dolby Atmos sound using almost any solution. 'Whether you’re listening in a cinema with a giant 64-speaker set-up, or at home with seven speakers or a soundbar, or even using headphones or your mobile device (phone, tablet, laptop), all the necessary data is there for up to 128 audio objects to be played accurately, meaning the technology is incredibly adaptable.' 

If you want to experience Dolby Atmos at home, take a look at our pick of the best 85 inch TVs to boost your audio experience. 

For more on Dolby Atmos, you can also read our article on how to improve sound on your TV.

Bluesound soundbar

(Image credit: Bluesound soundbar)

3. Dolby Atmos can be found on most of the major streaming services

It is also worth noting that Dolby Atmos titles can be found on most of the major streaming services including Netflix and Apple TV - the latter of which currently offers the largest collection of Atmos titles to rent or buy. 

'Most Netflix Originals now include a soundtrack in Dolby Atmos, including Formula 1: Drive to Survive, Stranger Things and Bridgerton,' says Rob. 'Disney+ also offers plenty of films, including all of the Star Wars feature films in Dolby Atmos. Most titles available through Apple TV+, including the Apple originals, also support Dolby Atmos. 

'If you have a Sky Q box and relevant subscription package via Sky Cinema and the Sky Store you can make use of Dolby Atmos, with Sky and BT Sport both offering major live sport events in Dolby Atmos too.'

4. Experience Dolby Atmos when listening to music and gaming

But TV and movies is not all. If you’re a keen gamer or just want to listen to great quality music, you can enjoy the benefits of Dolby Atmos, which has ventured into both areas.

‘Apple Music (Spatial Audio powered by Dolby Atmos), Amazon Music and Tidal all offer a vast catalogue in Dolby Atmos,’ says Rob. ‘There’s also a growing list of games available in Dolby Atmos such as Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5 and Cyberpunk 2077, and with highly accurate audio being really valuable to gamers the number of major titles available in Dolby Atmos is expected to grow.’

Bluesound soundbar

Experience Dolby Atmos with the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar+

(Image credit: Bluesound soundbar)

How is Dolby Atmos an upgrade from what came before?

Dolby Atmos is a definitive improvement on what has come before and has been designed to upgrade low quality audio. ‘The move to flat-screen TVs, mp4s and alike has come at a price when it comes to audio quality,' explains Rob. 

'Smaller speakers and the high levels of data compression needed for streaming audio and video have led to reducing audio quality, but Dolby Atmos aims to remedy this problem by delivering the most immersive sound possible on what’s available. Dolby Atmos frees the audio to move around and above you.' 

What is the benefit of Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos provides audio clarity, more audio and crisper sound that you can enjoy in your home via a range of hardware and streaming services. 'The main benefit for content creators in film, music and gaming is more space to implement their vision,' says Rob France. 'Dolby has completely democratized the listening experience and is now supported across many types of devices and price ranges.'

One of the UK's most respected tech and smart homes writers, Emily Peck also covers everything from interiors style to decorating trends. She is a contributor to Wired UK, and has also had a column in House Beautiful. She has written for publications such as Grand Designs, Stylist, Shortlist, Woman&Home, BBC, Ideal Home and House & Garden. She was once the Features Editor of Ideal Home.