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All Mixed Up, Part 3

All Mixed Up, Part 3
by Gary Woods

            Last week we talked about the similarities of the two competing systems and differences between them. But this week we’ll talk about scalability, which is how we make all this work in a big theatre or a small one like your living room.

Scalability is important not only for the surrounds, Y dimension and height, the Z dimension but also for left to right, the X dimension. Dolby has been pushing for the addition of Left-Center and Right-Center speakers in theatres with a screen 40 feet or wider for a long time giving us 5 across the front. But, if you still mixed with 3 in front it would scale just fine.

In the 90’s we had 3 competing digital formats with Dolby Digital, DTS and SDDS which meant that theatre owners would have to install 3 separate systems but by the mid 90’s prints were being sent out using “quad track” 35mm prints containing all three digital formats plus a stereo optical analog track.

Now however, we’re back to where we were in the early 90’s with two incompatible systems competing for screen real estate. In response to that dilemma SMPTE formed a special Working Group to see if they could get some kind of standardization. To their credit both Dolby and Auro Technologies have agreed to adapt to whatever format is agreed upon by the Group.

The eventual goal is for the metadata standard of any format’s mix to be seen by any cinema processor’s renderer, which would conform to the configuration of the individual viewing space.

As with any discussion about technology it eventually comes down to, how much does it cost? For a theatre to implement Dolby’s Atmos system some theatres could be looking at costs north of $150,000 per screen. At last count there were 560 Atmos screens worldwide with 175 in North American. Auro-3D on the other hand costs about $25,000 per screen and is currently installed on 215 screens worldwide with most of them in the United States followed by India.

The question for me is, does that third dimension really enhance my viewing of a picture or is it just another gimmick that makes me think my home theatre isn’t cool anymore? At this point I’m not going to invest in a new AV Receiver because A, there aren’t too many out there and B, if I had a new Receiver there’s hardly any content to play on it. In the meantime, I’ll see you at the movies and watch out for that space ship coming from the “Voice of God” speaker.

If you have any questions If you have any suggestions or questions for me please drop me a note at or see my column on the Internet at or call me at (805) 729-0910

Gary Woods is the Computer Trainer for the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and he is a Broker/Associate at Sotheby’s International Realty.