I learned a LOT about Atmos while at CEDIA. Here is a quick note about the 5.1 and surround field as mentioned just before this.

In an Atmos theater, you no longer have "channels." There is no "send the audio to the right surround channel, or to both surround channels." It is now, as they beat into everyone's head, "object based" sound. Heck, they kept saying that the front main speakers are no longer "channels" as we've traditionally known them.

What they are is a set of speakers, layed out to encompass a listening space in a dome of sound. Inside that "dome" they can use a variety of speakers to create a sound that seems to be coming, literally, from anywhere in that space. As such, the proper implementation would have monopole speakers in all locations so that the processor can create the sound anywhere in that space.

Think back to when you had just 2 speakers and Dolby surround came out. If you didn't rush out and get a center channel, you could use your receiver to create a "phantom center" that appeared to be in the middle between the two actual speakers. Remember those days? Same idea here. However, since you have more than just 2 speakers to create a phantom image in 1 sound "plane" (between the two front speakers in my example above), you can actually steer many, many sounds around the room at the same time. To do this, you do not want diffused surround sound speakers, but ones capable of this "steering." Also, because the system can create many multiple sounds in many points in space at the same time, you don't get diffused surround sound, but very precise components of sound anywhere within that surround sound field, including overhead.

There were 2 really good demos of this. One is called Dolby Atmos Leaf, and the other was from the beginning of Star Trek: Into Darkness. The Atmos Leaf really is an odd name since it doesn't actually focus on a leaf at all. It focuses on a Maple (for those Canadians) seed. Growing up, we called them "helicopters" because of how they would spin if you threw one up into the air. Anyway, there is a point where that seed is making a "whirring" sound as it rotates around the room, and it doesn't just pan between speakers... there are many points where it is distinctly located between any of the speakers, including the ones on the ceiling. For Star Trek, this is when they are on the planet with the "natives" in a white paint, and trees with bright red leaves, and Kirk steals a scroll from their temple... Anyway, the "native" are throwing spears, and you can hear distinct paths, to the right, to the left, above, etc. But the really interesting part is that you can, after a few times experiencing the demo, that there is one spear throw that you can literally hear as it moves from behind the screen, through the screen, and continues to move closer and closer to you until it sounds like it went right through you. No joke. It was really cool.

Now, I didn't see any demos for 5.1.x Atmos. There was a lot of 7.1.4 and one 9.1.4 configurations, so I can't speak directly to how that would compare. In an article that I was reading that I got at the show (read it on the plane this morning), it was asking a guy (Google him if you want his name) who created Aura 3D Audio who was trying to distinguish his object based audio from Atmos. He says that you need more than 9.1.4 to do it right, and you really need something like (9 regular, 1 sub, 2 ceiling, 7 heights). Long story short, the more speakers, the more that the system can do with it. Right now Atmos is pushing the x.x.4 because that is where most products will be at that can do the processing. In a couple of years, that will grow in the main stream receivers and such. My first Atmos demo was with a prototype processor that is going to be able to do something like 9.1.10 when it is finished next year. I think that it will only cost about $20,000.

So here is the stickler. What about non-Atmos movies? DTS-MA or Dolby TrueHD really utilize a wide and diffused surround sound field. While you can spend big bucks, like on that $20,000 processor that will switch between "speaker group A" and "speaker group B" depending on if you want to use your bi/di/quad-pole or your monopole speakers for "regular" HD sound vs. Atmos or Aura, this is not practical.

So where does it leave us with all of our TrueHD and Master Audio blu-rays? Do we have to buy those movies again? No way! Atmos processors are supposed to be able to take those lossless audio tracks, and while it won't create a total Atmos experience, it will simulate that diffused sound field using monopole surrounds and probably with a little better clarity and precision (in a good way).

So am I going to rush out and get rid of my four QS8s and replace them with on-wall M2s? Nope. This technology is still pretty pricey. Even the buzz around CEDIA was to stay away from the lowest end Atmos receivers. Not because they are bad, but because they usually are missing some level of processing, or features that are desirable to get the initial "Atmos Capable" receivers out there with a "starting" price where it is... And that is still a few bucks over $1,000 USD.

For now I am going to sit tight and enjoy my 7.1.nothing system as it will be a couple of years before this is really going to become somewhat affordable. Yes, by then you will be seeing more than 4 height speaker connections (notice that I didn't say "channels"), but it was really impressive what can be done with "just" 4 and even that will set you back about $1000 for four M2s just for heights.

Whew. Hopefully that makes some sense. I am super tired after a very busy and long week of travel and work, plus an early morning/late night at CEDIA and then a stupidly early morning today. I am going to take a nap. I have some pictures and stuff to post later.
2-M60s, VP180, 8-M3s, SVS 20-39PCi, DIY Sub, 8-Shakers, JVC RS45, Anthem MRX-1120