OPINION: The next-gen Dolby Atmos audio tech is about to take a significant leap forward, thanks to a new innovation the company calls FlexConnect. It could democratise immersive audio in the home.
Surround sound systems offering 5.1 channel audio or higher have been accessibly priced for quite some time now. Spend a couple of hundred quid tops and you’ve got an audio set-up that’ll go some way towards matching what you get from your splashy 4K HDR television set.
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The same goes for soundbars. You don’t have to spend a lot to upgade your experience. Of course, there are varying degrees, but the point is, the upgrades themselves are accessible.
However, there’s one subsection of the audio realm that retains, for the most part, a premium price tag. I’m talking, of course, about the Dolby Atmos immersive technology that can simulate a 360-degree soundscape.
The tech can offer the same incredible realism of the movie theatre experience. War planes flying overhead, machine gun fire coming from our left, explosions to the right. It’s an incredible piece of tech that’s both hardware and software powered and it’s all possible without the hassle of mounting ceiling speakers.
We’ve seen some affordable options, but they’ve flattered to deceive. However, there is hope, courtesy of the new FlexConnect innovation announced by Dolby Labs today. The technology, which will debut on TCL sets next year, will make use of the speakers within your television in order to provide a more immersive experience.
So, no need to puchase an extra soundbar, let alone one with Dolby Atmos compatibility. If it works well, it could democratise that cinematic experience for new audiences. FlexConnect would integrate with other speakers around the world for a surround-sound Dolby Atmos experience.,
It works by optimising the sound signal based on how powerful your speakers are and where they are located in the room. The tech is intelligent enough to discover the capabilities of the respective speakers and won’t push the drivers beyond their powers.
Of course, built-in speakers in television sets are traditionally poor quality, given TV makers have prioritised streamlining those flatscreen designs and many of them like to sell you a soundbar and speakers to go with.
So there’s no real guarantee of Dolby Atmos audio that actually sounds as good as it would with a soundbar and subwoofer would alongside speakers positioned elsewhere in the room, but that immersive tech would at least be possible.
Perhaps TCL (not the highest-end brand) has some hardware magic up its sleeve for its 2024 line-up? It already debuted a cheap sound bar offering Dolby Atmos, so this represents another positive step forward.
Dolby says FlexConnect is s “a new feature that seamlessly pairs together a TV’s sound system with accessory wireless speakers to deliver a more extensive and immersive Dolby Atmos sound experience.”
It “intelligently optimises the sound for any room layout and speaker setup, offering the freedom to place one or more wireless speakers anywhere in a room without having to worry about whether they are placed perfectly.”
The company says the overriding goal is to maker better use of viewers’ room layouts and furniture arrangements, but this seems like it’ll be an affordable way to get Atmos-capable sound in more living rooms, without dropping hundreds of pounds on specialist soundbars.
Dolby is expected to debut the technology at IFA 2024 in Berlin next week.