More often than not, when a shiny new audio standard comes along you can safely bet that it will require all new hardware. In the DVD era, the arrival of DTS decoding required new AV receivers and players. When Dolby and DTS rolled out their new high-resolution TrueHD and Master Audio formats in the Blu-ray era, those too required buying brand new audio gear.
With Dolby Atmos, though, one of the surprising things is that a number of receivers are receiving firmware updates to support the new 3D surround sound technology. So while it may be true that you still need a new-ish receiver to tap into the full potential of the overhead sounds and object-based mixing that Atmos delivers, you’re not necessarily out of luck if you purchased a new surround sound system in the months before the at-home version of Dolby Atmos was announced.
Onkyo, Integra, and Pioneer have all announced that firmware updates for some of their 2014-model receivers are now available. That includes the Pioneer Elite SC-85, SC-87 and SC-89 9.2-channel audio video receivers; Onkyo’s TX-NR636, TX-NR737, and TX-NR838 Network A/V receivers; and Integra’s DTR-30.6, DTR-40.6, and DTR-50.6 Network A/V Receivers. Integra has also announced that its DTR-60.6 and DTR-70.6 Network A/V Receivers and the flagship DHC-80.6 Network A/V Controller will ship in October with Atmos support out of the box.
The timing for all of this is excellent, as the first Blu-ray to feature Dolby Atmos—Transformers: Age of Extinction—was released this week. And no, you won’t have to purchase a special Atmos-only disc to enjoy the movie in all its ridiculous 3D surround sound glory. The regular 2D and 3D Blu-ray editions of the film will be completely Atmos enabled, with full support for up to 32 speakers’ worth of high-impact audio.
That does bring up an interesting point, though: even though Atmos at home is capable of delivering 32 speakers’ worth of sound, none of the available receivers supports that many channels of output yet. Onkyo and Integra’s upgradeable receivers, for example, are capable of supporting seven powered channels at a time, so if you go the Atmos route you could configure them as 5.1.2 (five bed speakers, one LFE channel, and two overhead speakers). Interestingly, with the TX-NR838, you can also switch between 7.1 and 5.1.2 on the fly.
Pioneer’s offerings, on the other hand, rely on smaller, more efficient Class D amplifiers, and are therefore able to offer nine powered channels in all, meaning you can go up to 5.1.4 with them (five bed speakers, one LFE channel [with two independently EQ’d subwoofers], and four overhead speakers). The Pioneers also offer 11.2-channel preamp outputs, so you should be able to add a pair of amplifiers and expand that to 7.1.2 Atmos channels (7.1 on the ground and four speakers overhead).
Integra’s upcoming DTR-60.6 Network A/V Receiver will deliver nine amplified channels, making it capable of handling 5.1.4 without additional amplifiers, while the DTR-70.6 and DHC-80.6 will support up to 7.1.4.
Understandably, the firmware updates for all of the existing receivers are pretty sizeable downloads, and the update process isn’t quick. If you don’t feel like fooling with the update or the installation of the new speakers required to enjoy Atmos yourself, this is certainly something we would be happy to do for you.
Content courtesy of: Dennis Burger, Editor in Chief, HDLiving.com