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Dolby Atmos vs Dolby Digital For Your Home Theater

When it comes to home theater audio, there are two popular sound technologies that many enthusiasts find themselves trying to pick between: Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital. While both technologies are great additions or upgrades for any home theater system, they differ in their approach to delivering audio in a way that you should be aware of if you want the best experience.

Dolby Digital is a surround sound technology that delivers audio in a horizontal 5.1 or 7.1 channel setup, while Dolby Atmos adds overhead channels to create a 3D sound experience. Dolby Atmos requires hardware with upward facing speakers, and is a better option if you have the budget for it.

But there’s so, so much more to this conversation. If you want the best out of your home theater, keep reading to understand the gritty details here and what we recommend as far as that exotic Dolby Atmos hardware.

What Exactly Are Dolby Atmos & Dolby Digital?

Dolby digital vs dolby atmos showdown

Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital are two popular audio formats that are commonly used in home theater systems. Dolby Digital is a surround sound format that was first introduced in the 1990s. It is a compression-based format that uses a 5.1-channel system, which includes five speakers and a subwoofer. The five speakers include a center channel, left and right front channels, and left and right surround channels. Dolby Digital Plus, as it’s now typically branded, delivers 7.1 channels.

Dolby Atmos, on the other hand, is a newer surround sound format that was introduced in 2012. It is an object-based format that can support up to 128 simultaneous audio objects. This means that audio can be placed and moved in a three-dimensional space, creating a more immersive audio experience. Dolby Atmos can be used in a variety of speaker configurations, from 5.1.2 to 9.1.4, and beyond, and those “.2” and “.4” figures hanging off the end are the upward facing ceiling speakers we mentioned earlier.

In terms of audio quality, Dolby Atmos is considered to be superior to Dolby Digital. Dolby Atmos can provide a more realistic and immersive audio experience, with sound coming from all directions, including above the listener. Dolby Digital, on the other hand, is a more traditional surround sound format that is limited to horizontal audio channels.

Comparing Dolby Atmos To Dolby Digital

Past the basics, there aren’t a lot of specific specs that set these technologies apart. What’s more intere is looking at their effect in a more general sense on your home theater experience.

Movie and Music Experience

When it comes to movie and music experience, Dolby Atmos offers a more immersive sound experience than Dolby Digital. In terms of audio quality, both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital offer high-quality sound. However, Dolby Atmos has an edge over Dolby Digital because of its ability to create a more realistic and natural sound.

To be clear, the effect here should be pretty small in the grand scheme. A home theater owner who is upgrading a 5.0 channel system to a 5.1 channel system, adding that subwoofer, will experience a bigger relative upgrade than someone upgrading from, say, 7.1 to 7.1.2 would. At least in our experience.

Pros and Cons

Dolby Atmos obviously has several quality advantages over Dolby Digital. But it’s also much more expensive. The hardware requires more speakers, and the integrated sound system including Atmos cost more than their Dolby Digital counterparts.

It may also require you to add an expensive AV receiver to manage all those channels, unless you pick a fully integrated option like the Nakamichi Shockwafe Pro we’ve reviewed on the site before.

Additionally, not all movies and music are available in Dolby Atmos, which means you may not be able to take advantage of its benefits all the time.

Meanwhile, Dolby Digital is more widely available and can be found in most movies and music. It’s also more affordable since it doesn’t require additional speakers or a compatible AV receiver. However, it can’t create the same level of immersion as Dolby Atmos, which means the listening experience may not be as engaging.

Where Can you Find Dolby Atmos Content

smart tv

To know if Dolby Atmos is worth it for you, pause and consider if the content you’re going to be consuming is even available with the Dolby Atmos sound standard.

When it comes to streaming services that support Dolby Atmos, there are a few options available. Netflix, Apple’s iTunes, Walmart’s Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video all offer content in Dolby Atmos, while YouTube, for example, doesn’t. However, not all content on these platforms is available in the format.

Netflix has been actively adding Dolby Atmos content to its library, and currently has a decent selection of movies and TV shows available in the format. HBO Max, on the other hand, does not currently support Dolby Atmos. It’s worth noting that while a streaming service may support Dolby Atmos, you’ll need a compatible device and sound system to take advantage of it.

Even once you’re connected, you may need to change some things to actually get the Dolby Atmos sound (see our related article). If you don’t have access to Dolby Atmos content, the sound will be downgraded to Dolby 5.1 (forum discussion for more info).

Sound Judgment: Final Thoughts on Dolby Atmos vs Dolby Digital

By now, you probably have no doubt that both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital offer unique experiences to take your home theater system to new heights. Weigh your preferences, budget, and available content before making your choice, and remember, every detail counts in crafting the perfect cinematic experience at home!