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Dolby adds a new dimension to sound

Coming later this year, Dolby takes its professional Atmos theater sound technology to the home theater market.

Andrew Jones with the new Pioneer SP-EFS73 tower speakers Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I was taken aback by Dolby's recent announcement that Atmos sound will be "coming soon to a home theater near you," because as far as I can tell most consumers want fewer, not more home theater speakers. Atmos adds height speaker channels to existing 5.1- and 7.1-channel home theater systems. There are a variety of ways to implement Dolby Atmos at home, and last week in New York City, Pioneer was showing a new line of Atmos-enabled speakers. Matthew Moskovciak covered Dolby's new home format earlier this week, but I wanted to chime in to share my thoughts on Atmos.

To experience Atmos at home, you'll need to buy Blu-ray discs with Atmos soundtracks, and an AV receiver that decodes Atmos. For speakers you have two options: buy new Atmos-enabled speakers, like the Pioneer SP-EFS73 towers, the SP-EC73 center channel speaker, and SP-EBS73-LR bookshelf speakers; or add other brands' Atmos height channel speaker modules to the 5.1- or 7.1-channel speaker system you already own. Just be aware that even after you upgrade to an Atmos system, standard Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio Blu ray discs won't play sound over the Atmos' height channel speakers (only Atmos encoded discs will). The new Pioneer speakers will start shipping in late summer; and the Pioneer Elite SC-85, SC-87 and SC-89 Atmos-enabled receivers will be available this fall.

I had a chance to audition a complete Pioneer Atmos system and it really did produce a room-filling sound. The transparency of the system was impressive, and the speakers' up-firing Atmos drivers adding the extra dimension of height were a cool effect. That's what it is, an effect, so I sometimes wondered if the sound cues coming from above the movie image and the surround speakers made sense. The onscreen action is over there, so why am I also hearing sound cues from up there behind me? Atmos definitely creates a more enveloping sound field than standard 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround systems.

The Pioneer SP-EFS73's up-firing driver's sound reflects off your ceiling Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Will the extra sound cues pull you out of the film/story more than the 5.1 and 7.1 systems we have now? I thought so, but maybe as mix engineers learn to better integrate Atmos into home theater, those concerns will evaporate. The Atmos system originally debuted in movie theaters in 2012, and "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Godzilla," "Iceman 3D," "Pacific Rim," "Noah," "Gravity" and many other films have been released with Atmos soundtracks.

The Pioneer Atmos speakers I auditioned were designed by Andrew Jones, one of the more talented engineers working today. So beyond the Atmos aspect of the story, the new Pioneer speakers are just great sounding speakers. We'll be getting them in for a CNET review later this summer.