Dolby Atmos Tag

Great ‘Last Jedi’ Demo Scenes

The Last Jedi

Following up on Dennis Burger’s lengthy examination of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I thought I would detail some of my favorite scenes from the movie. While Jedi has been a bit divisive amongst Star Wars fans—read the almost 100 comments to Dennis’s post on the Rayva Facebook page—now that I’ve had the chance to view it a couple more times at home, and after viewing the fantastic included two-hour documentary titled “The Director and the Jedi,” which examines many aspects of Rian Johnson’s filmmaking decisions, I’ve come to appreciate this movie in ways I couldn’t or didn’t during my initial theatrical viewing.

Regardless of your feelings about this latest installment in our favorite space opera, this is the best the franchise has ever looked or sounded and makes for reference demo material at home.

 

Much of Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes place in space, and you’ll marvel at the clean, deep, dark black-level detail of this terrific 4K HDR transfer. During the film’s first moments aboard General Hux’s ship, the floor, work stations, officers’ uniforms, and General Hux’s top and trench coat are all black. But a properly calibrated video display will reveal that these are all slightly different shades of black with clearly visible texture and detail.

During the scene where Rey trains on Ahch-To, note the texture in her staff, along with the detail in the stones around her. When she lights Luke’s saber, the blade glows hot blue-white against the sunny background, the HDR image retaining the dark and deep shadow detail of the craggy rocks while the light of the saber blade exceeds that of the sun!

 

HDR is used to great effect throughout the film, but especially during the bright outdoor scenes on Ahch-To and anytime a lightsaber blade is activated. The images from the 4K DI are reference in every regard, and virtually every frame will push your video system to its limits.

 

One of my favorite scenes is when Rey visits the dark place on Ahch-To. It just looks so cool, and the Dolby Atmos sound is terrific, swirling around the room as she snaps her fingers. Just following this is a conversation between Rey and Kylo by firelight with a closeup of their hands with fingerprint detail so amazing you could submit it to the FBI for evidence.

 

Check out the detail of Kylo’s wounds when he is communicating with Rey. You can clearly see the effects Rey’s lightsaber attack had on his face and chest from the end of The Force Awakens, as well as the scar in his side from Chewbacca’s Bowcaster. These are the subtle details that really come through in full 4K resolution.

 

The lightsaber dual between Rey and Kylo and Snoke’s guards and the finale battle on Crait look and sound even more awesome at home than you remember from the theater. Kylo’s poorly constructed saber crackles and sizzles erratically, barely containing the blade’s energy, and the ultra-sharp detail makes this more visible than ever before. (Jedi’s audio levels are a bit lower than some other titles, so be sure to turn the volume up to near reference level to truly experience the full impact of the immersive Dolby Atmos soundtrack!) The reds explode off the screen in HDR, producing rich, vibrant detail along with brilliant whites and deep, dark blacks. The orange-red of the Rebel pilots’ flight suits has never looked richer, and even old C3PO gets a visual upgrade from this 4K transfer, with his gold outfit shining brighter than ever before.

 

This is the demo candy you’ve been waiting for!

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Kaleidescape’s Interface Gets Even Better

Kaleidescape

Going back through previous posts I’ve written, I discovered it’s been more than five years since Kaleidescape launched its industry-leading online download store at store.kaleidescape.com.

 

In that post on the Movie Store’s beta launch, I reminisced about a conversation I’d had with company founder and now CEO, Cheena Srinivasan, back when I was sent the first Kaleidescape server to review. The concept of a movie server was completely new at the time, and generic descriptions like, “It’s like a giant iPod for movies” didn’t nearly do the product or experience justice. And they didn’t begin to do justice to Cheena’s vision for the company. “We want to be more than just a media-management company,” he told me. “We want to eventually get into content delivery.”

 

I’m sure Cheena had no idea back in 2002 exactly what would be involved with accomplishing that, as we’ve had numerous conversations since where he’s discussed the challenges of negotiating and building relationships with the Hollywood studios as the company secures digital rights for films in the highest audio and video quality.

 

Over the past five years, Kaleidescape has continued to grow and develop its online Movie Store from standard-definition (DVD-quality) titles at launch to adding a slate of Blu-ray-quality titles to now featuring films, concerts, and TV content from more than 25 studiosincluding 400 Ultra HD titles, many of which feature HDR and next-generation audio formats like Dolby Atmos. The company has also increased its bandwidth, and can now deliver content at speeds up to 300 Mbps.

 

One fundamental thing that hasn’t changed since the Movie Store was launched is the way you browse and buy movies, which requires using a Web browser. While this approach has served the company’s user base for yearsand, in fact, is a great way to buy movies when you’re not at home, so they’re ready for viewing later that dayit lacks the elegance of the rest of the Kaleidescape user experience.

 

When I visited the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA last November, I was given a sneak peak at the team’s latest development for the Movie Store—integrating the Store into the onscreen interface. Finally, this past week, Kaleidescape unlocked the onscreen Movie Store for dealers in a beta test prior to releasing the feature to customers.

 

I’ve had a chance to play with the new Store interface for a bit, and it is really terrific, retaining the slickness and user-friendliness the Kaleidescape experience and interface is known for.

You access the Store by pressing the Menu button on the remote, which brings up browsing options that include Listwhere you can browse your movie library sorted by title, actors, director, release date, running time, genre, or ratingCovers, Collections, and Movie Store. The Parental Controls tab has been moved to a tab of its own.

 

Once inside the Store, it’s easy to browse films sorted into a variety of collections, including Featured, New Releases, and 4K HDR, as well as popular genres like Action, Drama, and Comedy. The Store also has some dynamic collections that will regularly change, such as 2018 Oscar Nominees and Superheroes.

 

Pressing Enter on a film brings up the familiar movie-details screen, which includes information like running time, rating, aspect ratio, Rotten Tomatoes scores, a brief synopsis, genre, cast, director, and studio. It also displays the versions the film is available inHDR, UHD, HD, and SDas well as the price of each. You can also see the audio tracks available for each version.

 

The onscreen Store has some terrific options for browsing and exploring collections as well, letting you dive into a specific genre or actor, or view similar films. There’s a simple three-icon screen for navigating as well, with one icon for exploring similar films, another to go back a level, and a third that takes you home to the top screen.

 

An intuitive yet powerful search function also lets you hunt for films, actors, directors, or collections, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

 

Clicking Purchase prompts for a 4-digit passcode to confirm, keeping guests or young ones from racking up a massive download bill.

 

Check out the video above, where I provide a thorough look at browsing the new Store. This feature is currently available to dealers, and will go into a wide release to all owners shortly.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Dolby Cinema–The Ultimate Movie Experience

Dolby Cinema

As home theater enthusiasts, we focus so much of our attention on the home experience that sometimes it’s easy to forget what home theater is really all about: Replicating the commercial cinema experience.

 

Granted, there is much about watching movies at home that can be far superior to jumping in the car and heading down to the local megaplex. The food and drink at home is better (and cheaper), the movie starts/pauses/stops on your schedule, you have total control over who you’re watching with, and the picture and sound quality are of known quality.

 

But, when done right, the commercial cinema experience can be fantastic, and I recently saw a film at a Dolby Cinema theater that reminded me of just how truly great a movie theater can be.

 

After CES ended, I had quite a bit of time to kill between the show ending at 4 pm Friday and my flight departing at 1 am Saturday. And while my usual practice is to while away as many hoursand drinksas possible at the Las Vegas McCarran American Express Centurion Lounge, this year I decided to take a Lyft across town and visit the AMC Theater in Town Square 18.

Dolby Cinema

My sole previous experience with a Dolby Cinema was at the company’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco. That building occupies 68,000 square feet and features mixing rooms for working with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. It also contains a reference-standard lab (aka “theater”) where Dolby technicians can develop next-generation imaging and sound technologies.

 

The stars aligned as I just happened to be out visiting my parents in the Bay Area when Dolby launched the facility with the first screening in the new theater. That experience was so over-the-top impressive that I couldn’t wait to actually experience a Dolby Cinema in the wild.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t any Dolby Cinema locations near me in South Carolina, making it a tough proposition. (Here’s the full list of locations.) Which is why once I discovered that this AMC cinema was outfitted with a Dolby Cinema screen, I knew it was a destination I had to add to my Vegas agenda.

 

A lot of components go into making the Dolby Cinema experience so impressive, and it starts before you even enter the seating area. This is a concept Dolby calls “inspired design,” which is meant to transport viewers into another space to be fully absorbed in the cinematic experience.

 

An audio/visual pathway with a full-motion HD video wall and immersive sound sets the mood as you walk into the auditorium. Once inside, your first impression is of the massive 68-foot-wide screen. This screen is so large, in fact, that I wasn’t even able to zoom my phone’s camera out enough to capture the whole thing in one frame. Compare that to what would be an insanely large home theater screen at around 14.5-feet wide (200-inch diagonal) and you can appreciate just how impressive this is.

 

The next thing you notice is the blackness. Everything is black. The walls, the ceiling, the area surrounding the screen, the seats, the carpeting. Sure, there are some colored accent lights, but this overwhelming black just sucks up all the light in the room and focuses all attention forward on that massive screen.

Dolby Cinema

There are 214 seats (plus seven ADA spots) in the Town Square’s Dolby Cinema, and you reserve your seat when buying your ticket. All the seats are oversized faux-leather powered recliners positioned in pairs where you can raise the middle arm rest to create a loveseat for couples. Even more amazing, the seats are positioned so you can’t see anyone behind or below you, making you feel like you’re in for a truly personal presentation.

 

But the really big deal, of course, is the theater’s picture and sound presentation, which is absolutely top notch and exceeds any movie-watching experience I’ve hadand that includes viewing movies at the Stag Theatre at Skywalker Ranch. (To be fair, it’s been several years since I’ve seen a film at the Stag, and it was actually still using film at the time, which is at a real disadvantage to a modern digital projector.)

 

The power behind the Dolby Cinema image quality is two Dolby co-designed and custom-built Christie Laser projectors, which Dolby describes as “quantifiably higher performance than any other technology out there.” These projectors deliver a staggering 31 foot-lamberts on screentwice the brightness of the SMPTE recommended standardproducing a picture that is more like watching a giant flat panel than a projector.

 

The Christies also have 500 times the dynamic range of a typical cinema projector, delivering the lowest black levels of any commercial projector, and producing an unbelievable 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. They can also reproduce true HDR images that have been graded in Dolby Vision specifically for these projectors. To drive the point home, a small clip runs prior to the movie that shows what you thought was blackkind of a deep greybefore showing what Dolby Cinema black is all about. It’s a new level of black, like watching an OLED next to an old DLP.

The second aspect that makes the presentation so spectacular is a full array of Dolby Atmos speakers, which completely immerses you in the audio presentation. (I reached out to Dolby for specifications on the Town Square theater as regard speaker numbers and wattage. They didn’t have specifics on that installation but said that, “The number of speakers varies from [theater] to [theater], based on the room size . . . [but] enough speakers [are installed] to ensure a smooth pan through of audio around the room.”) The sound is clear and detailed, with objects that swirl all around and overhead, and with bass that is massive, deep, and incredibly tight. Transducers in the seats also physically convey the impact as well.

 

The movie I saw was the latest Liam Neeson thriller, The Commuter, which was basically Taken-on-a-train, but offered some big explosions and action scenes that looked and sounded terrific.

 

If I had one minor quibble over the experience, it was that the movie started practically an hour after the scheduled showtime due to a string of now-coming trailers that seemed to never end. Honestly, I enjoy trailers, and the picture and sound were so good I didn’t have a big problem with it, but if I were on a time crunch, it would be nice to know when the actual showtime was compared to when the trailers begin.

 

Without question, Dolby Cinema is the best movie experience most of us will ever have. And if you’ve been turned off on going out to the movies, you owe it to yourself to visit one. If I lived near a Dolby Cinema, I would never see a movie anywhere else.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk essentially invented electronic pop music in the 1970s. Their brilliantly original, distinctive musical and visual style has led to L.A. Weekly—among many otherscalling them “the most influential pop band of all time.”

 

The Catalogue 3-D Blu-ray set offers abundant evidence, featuring live concerts from various locales of all eight “official” Kraftwerk albums. (Remaining original member Ralf Hütter and co-founder Florian Schneider view the earlier Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf and Florian albums as “archaeology.”) Which means all the hits are heretheir international breakthrough “Autobahn,” “The Model,” “Computer Love,” “Tour de France,” and the hip-hop-germinating “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express,” along with everything else plus “Planet of Visions.”

 

This four-disc set features 3D/2D-compatible video, Dolby Atmos/5.1/PCM stereo-compatible sound, and Headphone Surround 3D mixes (which can be listened to on standard headphones), and includes a 228-page book of images from the concerts.

 

The sound quality is astounding. Kraftwerk have always been sonic perfectionists, and The Catalogue 3-D is another technological step forward.

 

Since their electronic music doesn’t have to replicate any kind of sonic “reality,” Kraftwerk is free to place sounds anywhere, fixed in place and moving around the soundfield, morphing and shaping aural space to their will, from tightly focused to vastly expansive. Their use of echo and delay alone is masterful.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

The dazzling variety of “synthetic, electronic sounds” (to quote “Techno Pop”) is reproduced with extraordinary clarity, dynamic range, and wide frequency response. The low-frequency synth sounds and bass drums are exceptionally powerful and articulate. You can hear the time Kraftwerk spent crafting these sounds. There is no crowd noise mixed in. This is simply state-of-the-art demonstration-quality sound.

 

I don’t have a Dolby Atmos system (I have 6.1 surround), but I heard previews of some tracks at an Atmos demo, and the added height dimension contributed to the sense of immersion. But those who don’t have Atmos won’t feel shortchanged. The Headphone Surround 3D mixes work well, sounding spacious without being exaggerated.

 

Kraftwerk’s retro-futuristic visuals and minimalist color palette are presented with stunning clarity, from the charming animations of Volkswagens and Mercedes whizzing down the autobahn to the stark abstractions of “The Man Machine” and Spacelab flying at you from Earth orbit (a particularly fantastic effect in 3D). The band is seen from time to time playing their keyboards, controllers, and computers, dressed in their future-man grid suits. (An included “Film” version presents the visuals only.)

 

Why would Kraftwerk bother doing another live album and why would they change (some would say tamper with) iconic versions of their songs? Well, they have always evolved and incorporated new sounds as new musical technologies become available, so the band’s performances now are different than even a few years ago. I suspect that Ralf Hütter and company wanted to capture the band using the latest audio and video technology to have an historic record of Kraftwerk live. (Sure, I’d love to hear an album of new materialbut if this is where Kraftwerk pushes the Stop button, I’m OK with that.)

 

Seeing Kraftwerk live sometimes seems less like a rock concert than witnessing some kind of alien transmission from another galaxy. This Blu-ray set goes a long way toward conveying that experience.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kling Klang/Parlophone 190295924959

 

4-disc Blu-ray 3D/2D set

Dolby Atmos, Headphone Surround 3D, and
PCM stereo audio formats

The Future of Home Theater: A Manifesto

There’s been a lively exchange in these pages lately about the rise of high-end media rooms and what impact that could have on dedicated home theaters. So I wanted to take a moment to explain the Roundtable’s position in this debatenot as an effort to guide, let alone stifle, the discussion but to encourage an even more vigorous debate.

 

There’s a tsunami forming that could have as much impact as the iPod on how people experience entertainmentand we’re not just talking home entertainment here but all forms of entertainment everywhere. And it’s being formed by the largely chance convergence of the widespread acceptance of 4K, increased awareness of beyond-5.1-channel surround sound formats like Atmos, the surging popularity of streaming (fueled in part by the marked decline in quality of Hollywood films), and, maybe more important than any of these, increased bandwidth and its wider distribution.

 

But there’s another big factormaybe the biggest: Gender. Tech used to be an almost exclusively male domain. Those days are goneforever. Everybody not only uses but feels comfortable with smartphones, tablets, and myriad other forms of extremely sophisticated lifestyle tech. And hardly anybody looks under the hood anymoredigital makes that almost irrelevant.

 

But it’s not just a girl/guy thing. Anybody old enough to grasp the concept of a reboot realizes the potential of both contemporary and future tech, and feels comfortable swimming in that stream.

 

That means they want their tech to be a natural, and preferably effortless, extension of how they live their lives. That means the days of the man cavewith its connotations of a forbidding space, unusable by anybody but its overlord—are numbered.

 

But that does not portend the demise of home theater, whose best days probably lie ahead.

the future of home theater

The contemporary dynamic goes something like this: Almost everybody has a media-room system, even if it’s as rudimentary as an Internet-enabled TV. Incredibly sophisticated tech like 4K HDR and Atmos is becoming more and more affordable, and thus more and more pervasive.

 

Almost everybody wants the best home-entertainment experience their budgets can handle—and for an increasing number of people, that means being able to cobble together a system that can rival what they find at the local multiplex. But they also want to integrate that high-end entertainment experience into the flow of their day-to-day family life.

 

Thus the rapid rise of the media room.

 

But almost everybody knows a media room isn’t the ultimate at-home experience. And it’s part of the American DNA to keep pushing for something better (although that part of our heritage has taken a hell of a beating lately).

 

Bottom line: A dedicated theater room will always be the ultimate home-entertainment experience, and no media room will ever be able to make that claim.

 

But, to survive, home theaters can’t continue to be shrines devoted exclusively to moviewatching. (Like the male domination of tech, those days are gone forever.) They also have to be the ultimate gaming experience—and live-concert experience and streaming experience, and ultimate form of whatever entertainment any member of the family can find to throw at it.

 

In other words, home theaters have to shed their reputation as tomb-like retreats dominated by all kinds of intimidating technology and learn to embrace all forms of entertainment, and every member of the family.

 

There is no doubt the herd is being culled, quickly, efficiently, and without remorse. Multiplexes and other inferior venues and forms of playback probably don’t stand a chance. But four things will likely survive: Media rooms, event theaters, drive-ins, and home theaters. Why? Because each, in its way, makes the experience of entertainment something special.

 

But of these four, only a dedicated home theater can offer the ultimate experience, because only a dedicated home theater allows you to hold all the distractions of day-to-day life at bay, allowing you to focus all your attention on the optimally reproduced and calibrated picture and sound. Even the most tweaked-out state-of-the-art event theaters can’t match that.

 

And theater rooms will always have the edge over media rooms because everybody yearns to enjoy the best entertainment in the best possible way. And the only thing that can consistently deliver that experience is a home theater.

—Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

Gaming Is Way Better With Atmos

It’s 1989 and I’m helping my dad buy a new TV, because even at a young age I was that kid. The kid who knew things about technology. (Granted, that reputation was pretty hard-won after an incident at age seven when I dismantled the backside our then-new 25-inch solid-state Zenith console TV, fresh off the truck, and exclaimed that the delivery guy was ripping us off because the set was missing all of its vacuum tubesbut that’s a story for another day.)

 

Anyway, back to 1989. Pop and I are standing in our city’s brand-spanking-new Circuit City, right in front all of the Sonys and JVCs and Sylvanias, barking at each other like a couple of rabid mutts. The source of the conflict? I needed—needed, I tell you—a stereo TV. The old man just didn’t see the point.

 

“My Sega Genesis, though! I can route audio out of the headphone jack and into a splitter, and actually play video games with stereo sound!”

 

Long story short, I lost that fight. But it was the beginning of a complicated lifelong relationship between me, video games, and nascent AV sound formats. (Because, yes, in 1989, video + stereo audio at home was pretty cutting edge.)

 

When I acquired my first surround sound receiver (ProLogic, baby!), it was my PlayStation that drove the decision, not my Laserdisc player. On the other hand, after upgrading my sound system to support Dolby Digital and DTS DVDs, it felt like a long and torturous wait for video games to finally catch up with the times. ProLogic II’s stereo-to-surround-sound conversion capabilities had to suffice for a while.

 

Fast-forward to present day, and I find myself in a squabble just as fierce as the one I had with my dad back in 1989, and for very similar reasons. But the struggle is entirely internal. The audio innovation in question this time around? The new object-based sound formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which add overhead surround sound effects to the audio coming from in front of and behind your head.

 

I’ve reviewed any number of Atmos-equipped receivers and speaker systems for other publications. And I’ve always found the effect neat enough for movies and music. Enough so to get me to actually upgrade my reference home theater system permanently, though? Ehhhh, not so much.

Atmos video games

Video games, though? Now we’re talking! There’s nothing in the realm of cinematic audio that can quite compete with playing Overwatch, for example, and hearing Parah’s battle cry from above—actually being able to pinpoint her location as she drops rockets in the direction of your noggin. Just as effective is the Atmos mix for Star Wars Battlefront, in which the truly three-dimensional soundscape gives you an edge in locating the drop pods that rocket toward the planet from outer space with fresh supplies.

 

Sadly, for now, these experiences are all too rare. Until recently, video games with Atmos sound were pretty much limited to the aforementioned titles, along with Battlefield 1, and only on the PC. Seriously, though, how many of us have home theater sound systems attached to our PCs?

 

Thankfully, Xbox One recently joined in on the Atmos action with the release of Crackdown 3 and Gears of War 4. Sony, meanwhile, seems to be taking a wait-and-see (or I should say wait-and-hear?) approach to this most expansive of audio innovations with its PlayStation 4 console. As such, for now, so am I. But you can rest assured that as soon as the gaming industry as a whole finally embraces the first and only sound format to fully flaunt its immersive superiority over movie sound mixes, I’ll but cutting holes in my ceiling and snaking wires through the walls faster than you can scream, “Justice RAINS from above!”

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Kaleidescape Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Since the dawn of cinema, the established film frame rate has been 24 frames per second (fps). However, Thomas Edison said the visual cortex needed at least 46 fps to avoid eye strain. To achieve this, and eliminate any eye strain or strobing, many modern 35 mm film projectors use two- and even three-bladed shutters—flashing each frame on the screen two or three times—to achieve 48 and 72 images per second to satisfy Mr. Edison’s recommendation.

 

Yet, despite all the technological advances over the past century, all those movies you’re watching in your fancy home theater—whether via DVD, Blu-ray, and even Ultra HD Blu-ray player—are being shown at that same 24 fps.

 

Except one.

 

My latest pick for Movie of the Week is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, not because it’s a great film—in fact, it’s kind of a mess of a story—but because it looks so frickin’ amazing that it’s the brain and eye candy your visual cortex has been craving!

 

Billy Lynn is so impressive because director Ang Lee used an extraordinary shooting style, filming at 4K resolution in stereoscopic 3-D at 120 fps—five times the traditional rate. This is the highest frame rate ever used on a film, eclipsing the 48 fps Peter Jackson employed for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This approach resulted in more than 540 terabytes of dailies with a final delivery file that was 84 TB.

 

But since only six theaters in the world—including just two in the US—could actually show the film in its full glory, you probably never saw it. And since 4K/120 exceeds the Ultra HD and HDMI 2.0 spec, Billy Lynn has been released to the home market in 4K at 60 fps, the highest resolution the format can support. This high frame rate requires the full 18 Gbps bandwidth, and will lay bare any shortcomings in your system’s signal chain. But for those lucky enough to experience it in its full 4K/60 glory, Billy Lynn looks absolutely stunning and unlike any movie you’ve seen before.

 

There’s hyper clarity and focus in every shot. Tight shots on actors’ faces reveal every thought, detail, and expression down to the thinnest individual strand of hair. Fabric in actors’ uniforms reveals texture and micro stitching detail, letting you see every nuance of the patches and medals, and even analyze the diamond pattern on rifle grips. Wide shots capture every actor, building, and set piece in razor-sharp focus. One of my favorite shots happens at 6 minutes 34 seconds, where you can read details on the gravestones many rows back in the cemetery, and when the camera pans over to the service, the image remains solid and focused. 

 

From an audio standpoint, Billy Lynn includes an immersive Dolby Atmos mix that helps establish the ambience in different scenes. While the first half of the film is a bit restrained, the second half starting with the actual halftime show kicks into high gear, with the big battle scene in Chapter 11 being reference quality all the way.

 

Kaleidescape Strato owners need to be sure to download the HDR version of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, since that’s the 60 fps version. While you might not love the movie, it’s sure to become your go-to video demo material when you want to impress your guests and demonstrate what the fuss about 4K HDR is all about!

—John Sciacca

 

—> Check out John’s post on “How Kaleidescape Delivers Real HD”

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Lego Batman Movie

Kaleidescape Lego Batman Movie

One of the greatest things about a home theater is its ability to bring family members and friends of all ages together for an activity everyone can enjoy. While the state of computer animation has improved by leaps and bounds, studios have realized that films need to go beyond pretty graphics and kiddy jokes. For a modern animated title to create a generation-spanning mega-hit, studios have started focusing on story as well, with themes and jokes crafted to appeal to a broad range of viewers.

 

One of the more entertaining non-Pixar/Disney offerings in recent years was 2014’s The Lego Movie, where Warner Bros. assembled a terrific cast and delivered a visually stunning story that appealed to even non-plastic-brick fans, garnering a whopping 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. One of the film’s unexpected stars was Batman, played by Will Arnett with perfect dark, brooding angst, 110% self-confidence, and a sense of self-aware humor missing from the recent live-action films.

 

My pick for movie of the week is the 2017 followup, The Lego Batman Movie. If the title didn’t give it away, this film focuses entirely on the Dark Knight’s life in Gotham and his eternal struggle against a horde of villains. But unlike the recent spate of “How dark can we make it?” superhero movies, this is a Batman film the entire family can enjoy, including a Joker voiced by Zach Galifianakis, and Ralph Fiennes tackling the stately-yet-parentally-challenged Alfred.

 

The 4K HDR image is absolutely stunning, revealing amazing detail in every frame and glistening with an array of colors that pushes the boundaries of the Rec. 2020 standard. Equally impressive is the reference-quality Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which takes full advantage of the ceiling speakers to immerse you in a full 360° soundfield.

 

While fans of the Batman franchise will especially find plenty to lovewith some great tongue-in-cheek references to previous entries in the seriesthe Batman writers have crafted a humorous story that works on multiple levels and appeals to non-Bat-fans as well. Subtle jokes like a SWAT team ordered to use stun weapons shouting, “Yay! Non-lethal!” as well as a glimpse into Batman struggling with his home theater system can’t help but bring a smile to your face.

 

Available for immediate download from the Kaleidescape Store, The Lego Batman Movie is a film you can use to show off your theater to any audience.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Dolby Atmos: An Audio Epiphany

Dolby Atmos surround sound

When I first heard about Dolby Atmos, I was skeptical. Did the world really need another more-speakers-are-better surround-sound format, especially after the underwhelming consumer response to 7.1-channel and even 5.1-channel surround? (How many people think a sound bar is the last word in TV sound upgrades?)

 

Dolby Atmos adds height channels to the usual surround channels (and subwoofer), with the goal of a more immersive sonic experience. (Atmos actually allows up to 128 separate audio tracks.) Entertainment advancement, or another gimmick? At a trade show a couple of years ago, I got to hear demos of three different Dolby Atmos systems.

 

Well?

 

I was astounded. I’ve heard hundreds of system demos and live concerts and am hard to impress. But I was flabbergasted. Set up like a bowling pin—and bowled over.

 

The first time I tried virtual-reality glasses a few years ago, I thought they were a novelty. Yeah, I could turn around and see the live-concert demo in 360 horizontal degrees, but the illusion was destroyed when I looked up and the image cut off. Later, I tried a true 360° VR setup, journeying down a river in a gondola, and was amazed at the completeness of the experience—immersive no matter where I looked.

 

That’s what Dolby Atmos is like—instead of hearing a vaguely circular band of sound, you hear sounds from everywhere with remarkable spatial precision and movement.

 

PMC Loudspeakers did a demo at AES 2015 of Kraftwerk’s 3-D The Catalogue series of releases that was astounding. I admit I’m a huge Kraftwerk fan, which added to my emotional expectations. But still . . .

 

Atmos didn’t just make more sound come from the ceiling—I was in the sound, in another fantastic sonic-bubble universe. I’ve heard Kraftwerk hundreds of times on many systems but I’d never heard them like this—synths, human and robotic vocals, bloops and bleeps coming at you from close up, far away, fixed in place, swooping around, solid, kinetic, dazzling. It was like being in a sonic planetarium with the sounds like stars all around you. Fantastic.

 

Home theater and music listening should be captivating, exciting, and fun. They should transport you. These Dolby Atmos demos certainly moved me.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and
works with a number of audio & music industry clients. He’s been involved in audio
& music for most of his life and is a professional guitarist.

TRR Thoughts on the Vinyl Revival