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How to stream Dolby Atmos from Netflix, iTunes, Vudu and Amazon

All four offer Dolby's best surround sound format, but not every streamer delivers them all. Here's how Atmos streaming breaks down by device.

streamers roku apple tv chromecast fire tv

All of these 4K HDR streamers support Atmos, but not on every app.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're looking for the best home theater experience, you've probably considered Dolby Atmos audio, the most cutting-edge "object-based" surround sound format available. 

If you decide you want it, your biggest investment will be the extra money for an Atmos-capable sound bar or an AV receiver with a full complement of surround speakers. But even then you're only halfway there. You also need Atmos TV shows and movies to power it.

Sure, you could invest in standard and 4K Blu-ray discs, many of which have Atmos soundtracks, but streaming is the future of home video. The good news is that the number of streaming services that deliver Atmos has gone up in the last year, and now there are four: NetflixApple's iTunes, Walmart's Vudu and Amazon Prime Video. 

The bad news? Not every streamer supports Atmos on every service. Let's break it down.

Wait, what is Atmos?

atmos-setups

Two Atmos home setup examples. At the top, specially designed speakers, and at the bottom a sound bar.

Dolby

Dolby Atmos is a surround sound format that goes beyond the 5.1-channels of Dolby Digital to add "height" channels for improved realism. Atmos is a competitor to atmospheric format DTS:X, which has much less disc-based content than Atmos, and no streaming support (yet). 

Although some TVs have Atmos built in, for best results you'll need an Atmos-capable AV receiver and additional "height" speakers beyond the standard center, right, left, sub and surround speakers of a typical home theater setup. Some sound bars like the Sony HT-ST5000 ($1,300), Samsung N850 ($1,000), LG SK10Y ($800) and Vizio SB36512-F6 ($500) will also do Atmos. 

Do you need it? Like most high-end formats, the answer is an emphatic "no." Standard Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound delivers an awesome experience, and even a good pair of stereo speakers or a basic sound bar is enough for many people. But Atmos-capable hardware is getting more affordable, and in some cases the extra height effects and atmospherics can be really cool. 

Now playing: Watch this: Dolby Atmos comes to Apple TV 4K
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The big four

Dolby says that between Blu-ray and streaming, more than 500 movies have been created for Atmos in the home. Apple's iTunes has the largest streaming selection, with more than 250 Atmos movies. Vudu also has a very large selection of Atmos movies.

Netflix has more than 100 hours of Atmos content, including Mowgli Legend Of The Jungle, Bird Box and RomaAmazon is relatively new to the game -- currently only Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan has Atmos -- but don't be surprised if its Atmos support increases soon too.

But there's a catch. Just because a streaming device or Smart TV has Atmos support doesn't mean you can actually watch Atmos on it. Here's a look at which of the major streaming devices deliver Atmos today, on which apps.

Dolby Atmos streaming support


Netflix iTunes Vudu Prime Video
Apple TV 4K Yes Yes Yes Yes
Roku No No Yes Yes
Amazon Fire TV No No No Yes
Nvidia Shield No No Yes Yes
Chromecast Ultra No No Yes No
Xbox One Yes No Yes Yes
Apple TV 4K

The Apple TV 4K offers the best selection of Atmos streaming options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple TV 4K FTW

If you want to get Atmos from the most possible services, Apple TV 4K ($169 at Walmart) is your best bet. It's the only device to include iTunes, the largest source of Atmos movies, and it's one of only two to support Netflix in Atmos.

Coming in second is the Xbox One, with three out of four Atmos streaming sources. Note that Sony PlayStation 4 doesn't support Atmos at all.

The biggest surprise -- and frustration -- for people looking to stream Atmos is that aside from those two devices, no standalone streamer in the US supports Atmos from Netflix. I asked a Netflix representative why and was told: "We have certain product and technical requirements for Dolby Atmos support, and we've continued to add more devices over time since launching it a year and a half ago."

Note that the above list doesn't include Smart TVs. Buying a new 4K HDR TV to get Atmos is a lot more expensive than just buying a new streamer (even a $180 Apple TV 4K), but it's worth noting that many newer Smart TVs' streaming apps support Atmos too.

For example, 2017 and newer LG TVs, as well as 2018 and newer Sony TVs, support Atmos from Netflix. Whether Atmos support will be included in 2019 Samsung TVs with iTunes is unclear; we asked Samsung but did not hear back by press time.

Dolby says it's working to expand Atmos support, so expect the list above, and the number of available titles, to continue to grow. We'll keep the list updated as that happens.

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