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Alfonso Cuarón Talks Gravity’s Dolby Atmos-phere

Sections: Audio, Surround sound

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Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity in Dolby AtmosThe relationship between the commercial cinema and home movie-watching (and later home theater) experience has been a Red Queen’s race for decades now. Widescreen movies were Hollywood’s first attempt to offer something in cinemas that couldn’t be replicated in the living room. Then came 3D, surround sound, 3D again… you get the picture. But one cinematic innovation that still hasn’t made its way into the home is Dolby Atmos, a sound system that opens up a whole new aural world for filmmakers who felt limited by the 2D plane of sound found in conventional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems. Atmos is unique in that it not only contains the standard left, right, center, surround, and height channels, but adds ceiling speakers to the mix to deliver a full 360 degrees of audio via up to 62.2 channels.

And if you’re lucky enough to have seen Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in Dolby Atmos, you know that it’s an extremely experimental film in nearly every way, including its use of that extra dimension of sound.

Cuaron explains in the video below how Atmos freed him up to create his ideal experience for Gravity. In the soundless environment of space, he chose to instead use the score to explain the world, and when that world is spinning around out of control, the dizzying array of sound spins with it.

So how long before we can experience Gravity like this at home? It’s actually an iffy maybe as to whether or not we will in the foreseeable future at all. There are certainly people who want it, but aside from DTS’s experiment with Expendables 2, we haven’t seen a lot of motion in the upward direction with home video release soundtracks. The big problem is that while 5.1- and 7.2-channel sound systems are so easy to set up that virtually anyone with a den or living room can do it (not properly, mind you, but that’s another story), when you add at least another seven speakers to that mix (14.2 would be the minimum number of channels required to bring Gravity‘s Atmos mix home properly), and consider that some of them either have to be mounted on or in the ceiling, it’s safe to assume that Atmos Home would be a largely custom-installed affair.

And then there’s the problem of amplification. Most receivers capable of 11.2-channel processing actually only contain nine channels of amplification, and they’re absolute beasts. Can you imagine how big your average 14.2-channel receiver would be? (You can look at Yamaha’s MX-A5000BL AVENTAGE 11-Channel Power Amplifier and extrapolate from there). For now, at least, it seems that the select few cinemas with Dolby Atmos installed have the advantage when it comes to films like Gravity.

Via: [Dolby on Vimeo]

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