Music News

Dolby On The Future of Atmos: "mobile is critical"

Dolby’s senior broadcast sales manager, Jane Gillard, delves into the rapid uptake of Dolby Atmos, explores what the future of the immersive format looks like for film and music streaming services.

Dolby Atmos on TV

Viewers can watch Dolby Atmos content on Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV and Vudu; how quickly has the uptake been from streaming services, and will it soon become the norm for content on TV streaming services to always be created in Atmos?

Yeah, absolutely. Some services mandate it, particularly for their original programming. Actually what we're seeing across many original productions is that talent are actually requesting that their shows are mixed and produced this way.

If you look at Netflix, there's so much choice of Atmos content – everything from Stranger Things, to documentaries like Our Planet…a huge amount of original programming on Netflix is available in Dolby Atmos. Likewise with Disney Plus, they've got some really great music shows as well. 

Then there’s Amazon Prime, and Google also offers Dolby Atmos. So if you've invested in some Atmos playback gear, you could basically watch telly in Atmos all night! There's a huge amount of choice available.

Many original productions are requesting that their shows are mixed and produced [in Atmos]

Is any quality of the audio lost or compressed through TV streaming services (when compared to Blu-ray), in a similar way to the way Spotify is known to compress mixes?

Well of course; the way that we're currently streaming both TV shows and music is with a lossy audio codec – Dolby Atmos is a lossy experience. So of course from the experience point of view, absolutely, there's going to be a difference between a lossless experience that you get on Blu-ray Disc. 

But I think you have to look at the feedback from TV viewers and our music fans – nobody is complaining about a loss of quality. People are just really happy that some of their favourite streaming companies are pushing the boundaries with audio. The audio is becoming more of a focus in the music TV world and the folks at home are really enjoying that experience.

If people want a lossless experience, then we have a huge amount of partners that still deliver content on Blu-ray, but what we see in the market playing out today is that people want the convenience of the direct access of not having to order a Blu-ray and are just wanting access to content through a streaming service.

A huge amount of original programming on Netflix is available in Dolby Atmos.

Dolby Atmos Music

The way we listen to music is likely more throwaway than streaming a TV show on a large flatscreen TV, with many people listening to music on phone through headphones a lot of the time, or often played out of a laptop. People can listen to Atmos Music on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Tidal, but how does the average listener experience an authentic Atmos listening experience though these platforms?

Mobile is absolutely critical because around 80% of people listen to music on their mobile devices, so that headphone experience is really important. The volume of the audience is listening on the bus or on the tube over headphones. 

I absolutely think we're at a point now, where it sounds awesome. Despite the fact that you're not in the living room with a 7.1.4 surround sound setup, it delivers an awesome experience and you can still hear details in the tracks. 

The great thing about Atmos over headphones is that it sounds great, but it immediately makes the experience accessible to anybody, at every price point.

Does Dolby plan to make Dolby Atmos compatible for Spotify?

For sure – Spotify is the world's biggest music streaming company. So absolutely, we'd definitely love an opportunity to partner with Spotify around Dolby Atmos. 

From an artist's perspective, what we hear is that they get a huge amount of editorial support from Spotify. So in terms of future partnership, of course we'd love an opportunity to work with Spotify.

How have you seen Dolby Atmos open up possibilities for creatives working in the immersive format for music releases?

From a music perspective, since the launch of Atmos for TV and film, we always had an ambition as a company to be involved within music. But obviously, we've really taken our time given the fact that stereo has a 50 year head start. 

We're all super excited with the advent of Atmos because we believe that it delivered something very, very differentiated to stereo. The uptake across DSPs, labels and artists has been absolutely incredible.

Atmos gives mixers, producers and artists almost limitless creative opportunity to dig a little bit more deeply into the experience. It gives a music mixer the ability to take individual elements of a track – the vocals, the drums or bass guitar, for example – and they can place all of those elements anywhere in space, either around or even above the listener. It's a completely new toolbox and it opens up a whole new world for mixes, creatively.

I think that's why there has been this swift uptick in adoption because, creatively, people aren't having to deal with the constraints of stereo; they're not having to take all the elements of their mix and try to ram that into two channels.

From a fan or a music-listener perspective, it is a completely different listening experience. 

One of the key things about being able to place a track in space around the listener is that quite often people tell us that – even with tracks that they've heard hundreds or 1000s of times – all of a sudden they hear things within the track that they hadn't heard before. Also, elements of the track are so much clearer because they have space to breathe.

Mobile is critical [for Atmos] because around 80% of people listen to music on mobile devices.

What does the future look like for Dolby Atmos and the music streaming market?

At the moment, Tidal, Apple Music and Amazon Music – pretty much all of their front line releases from major labels are in Dolby Atmos, which is absolutely fantastic. I think Apple published a stat that said 80% of their top 100 are in Atmos, so that's trending and in a really positive direction.

Globally, we want to work a lot more closely with indie artists. Beyond that, emerging talent and people that are producing music at home in a bedroom. The tool or the plugin that you use to create an Atmos mix is $200, so it's quite affordable, and you can get around 80% of mixing music in Atmos done with that plugin over headphones on any laptop. So we definitely want to figure out a way to engage more deeply with folks that are young or new in their career and help them a little bit more.

Beyond that, live music is massively exciting for us as a company. Whether that's a live festival or a live stream from a gig or a classical concert that you can't get to. We've already been doing quite a lot of work in this area. In fact, pre covid, Sky in the UK broadcast the Isle of Wight Festival in Atmos, so from a technical point of view, this is all very possible.

Finally, the experiential experience, if I can kind of call it that. We see a lot of interest from labels going, ‘I've got this Atmos mix; I want to do an album launch event at a venue – can you help us figure a way to do it?’ In fact, with Ed Sheeran's latest album, Warner did an amazing fan experience event where they built a special rig to play back in Atmos.

[A best Atmos mix category at the MPGs] would definitely make sense longer term.

Dolby sponsored the MPG awards in the UK this year; why is it important for Dolby to get behind this organisation that’s championing the talent behind the scenes making the music we all love?

It's such an important organisation for all the amazing work that they do in championing mixers and producers and the creative community, so it's been absolutely awesome for us. Together with them, we hosted the nominees for the MPG awards at Dolby Soho. We’re still

new to music so when we had the opportunity to collaborate or to have a listening session with the crème de la crème of the UK music industry, it was a really great opportunity.

Also, to the point I've just made about ‘how do we support emerging talent?’ – obviously the MPG does a huge amount for young mixers and producers, so that, I hope, can be a focus of our work together with the MPG. It's a very important organisation to us.

Can you foresee a time when there will be a ‘best Atmos mix’ category at the MPG Awards?

That's a great idea. I think that would definitely make sense longer term, absolutely.