Truly immersive home cinema sound can really transform the experience of watching movies and TV, but is too often a pain to set up just right. Typically, if your room layout isn’t significantly dictated by the positioning of all the individual speakers, you’re probably not getting the best possible results. And once you’ve carefully measured (or eyeballed) all the distances, routed and tucked away those pesky wires, there are still too many variables and sources of acoustic asymmetry in a typical home.
Dolby’s new Atmos FlexConnect technology promises to address all this with a system “that seamlessly pairs together a TV’s sound system with accessory wireless speakers to unlock a more extensive and immersive Dolby Atmos sound experience”. Using built-in microphones in a compatible TV, the location and sonic capability of each speaker is measured and audio intelligently split and routed to create an optimized surround effect. This means that users would be free to place the speakers as per the unique constraints of their home and still be assured of a convincingly immersive sound experience.
It’s also suggested that the system is flexible with the number of speakers, and can mix and match multiple speaker types and brands (provided of course that they’re FlexConnect compatible). Calibration technology like this has existed for a while, like Bose’ ADAPTiQ, Sonos’ Trueplay, Sony’s 360 Spatial Sound Mapping and many others, but has obviously been confined to the companies’ own home theatre systems.
Currently, a soundbar is the go-to solution for the issue of convenient placement. While some soundbars, like the Bose Smart Soundbar, Sonos Arc and Sennheiser Ambeo, manage to achieve spatial immersion extremely well, many buyers remain unconvinced that a single unit can ever recreate true surround sound. Sony’s HT-A9, with its four wireless speakers and flexible placement through advanced calibration offers a similar proposition, but it is a closed system, and rather expensive. Sonos also allows connecting additional speakers to its soundbar.
Certain challenges remain to be addressed. The Dolby Atmos standard specifically requires specially designed up-firing modules, normally placed above ear-level, to recreate a vertical dimension to the sound. Audio latency must also be minimized and equalized for all connected modules for a coherent sound.
Dolby has partnered with TCL to debut Atmos FlexConnect with its upcoming lineup of compatible TVs and wireless speakers to be launched in 2024, and will showcase the technology at the upcoming IFA 2023 event in Berlin.
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