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post #1 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 10:40 AM - Thread Starter
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Dolby Atmos Has Come to AVSForum Blu-ray Reviews





AVS Forum Official Blu-ray reviewer Ralph Potts has made the jump to a Dolby Atmos ready set up in his reference review system. Join in the conversation as he offers his impressions of Dolby Atmos in the home environment, discusses his revised Blu-ray review template and offers thoughts on several previously reviewed titles that incorporate Dolby Atmos soundtracks.


I have been an audio enthusiast for the better part of thirty years and an audio/video enthusiast since the late 1990’s. I have been fortunate enough to find an outlet for my interest in this great hobby and over the last decade have reviewed both hardware and software which has provided exposure to many products. In that vein I have seen the advances in technology that have allowed home entertainment to rival the theatrical experience. While this has been the case both on the audio and video fronts the focus of this discussion will be on the audio side.

My audio system has kept pace growing from stereo to the various incarnations of multi-channel that began with Dolby Pro Logic and then on to DVD’s lossy digital surround through to the lossless codecs that we all enjoy today. Dolby Labs has been a leader in audio innovation since the 1960s and has been at the forefront of the formats that have taken theater sound both in the home and commercial environments to the next level. I remember listening to my first 5.1 channel Dolby Digital soundtrack on DVD, Star Trek First Contact. The feeling of immersion as sounds both discrete and ambient in nature moved around the soundstage was remarkable.

As interest in the new format grew the number of titles as well as the quality of the surround mixes increased. Dolby responded by coming up with Dolby Pro Logic II which created the ability to matrix two channel sources to multi-channel. This was taken to the next level by Dolby Pro Logic IIx and later Pro Logic IIz which allowed two channel sources to be output over 7 and 9 speakers respectively. This added a new dimension to home theater which when coupled with the introduction of Blu-ray and lossless Dolby TrueHD high definition surround sound in both 5.1 and 7.1 channel flavors, gave enthusiasts a whole new gear with which to drive their home theater machines.

So, what’s next? I mean could it really get any better than a well mixed 7.1 channel lossless soundtrack played back over a system capable of pure reference quality bliss? I wasn’t so sure until August 2014 when I attended a press event at Dolby Labs in NY City where Dolby held a demonstration of their latest innovation for home theater sound. Dolby Atmos. Atmos has been around since 2012 in commercial theater use but was now prepared to launch in the home theater market through Dolby and their respective partners in the audio industry.

Rather than go into any in-depth description of how Dolby Atmos works I will provide some data from their website which provides a good overview. Here is what Dolby says:


Up to now, cinema sound designers have had to mix independent sounds together into channels for soundtrack creation. If a scene required, say, a helicopter taking off, that sound had to be assigned to an individual channel and mixed together with other sounds.
While that helicopter could move across channels, it couldn't go above you. You wouldn't hear it as you would in real life.

Dolby Atmos is the first audio format based on audio objects rather than channels. In Dolby Atmos, any sound—the helicopter, a blaring car horn, a yelling child—can exist as an independent audio object, free of channel restrictions. It can be placed and moved anywhere, including anywhere overhead.

Filmmakers can now focus on telling the story. They can place sounds where they would occur naturally in a scene, rather than compromising the artistic intent by having to place them into channels. Sounds move in three-dimensional space—flowing above and around you in step with the visuals to bring a new sense of height and reality. Dolby Atmos puts you in the middle of the action—in ways you have never before experienced. And it adapts to any playback environment—in the cinema, at home, or on the go.


**For more information, including details about how to set up Atmos in the home, visit Dolby’s Website: Dolby Atmos Home Page


After sitting through the demonstration at Dolby I was impressed with what I heard specifically from the system that incorporated ceiling mounted speakers which were set up as part of a 5.1.4 channel configuration. Listening to the Dolby Atmos Demonstration Blu-ray Disc which contains a host of Dolby Atmos trailers and content specifically designed to highlight the use of Atmos’ object based sounds I found the increase in immersion to be distinctive without being distracting. The ability to place objects as well as ambience overhead created a noticeably involving soundscape especially when combined with the remaining speakers as sounds shifting in, around and above had a cohesiveness I hadn’t heard from home theater before.


I was convinced that I needed to upgrade my theater and based upon my particular layout (currently set up as a 9 channel system) and preferences I decided on a 7.1.4 configuration utilizing Top Front and Top Rear in-ceiling speakers. My current AVP, the very capable Marantz AV8801 didn’t support Atmos so my plan was to wait for the release of its replacement, the Marantz AV8802, which is due to be available in February 2015. In the meantime I was presented with the opportunity to obtain the Marantz AV7702 which is an Atmos ready pre/pro that is rich in features and performs quite well at its price point. I decided to go with the AV7702 for now and will look to obtain the AV8802 this spring.


I use Canton Ergo series speakers and went with Canton in-ceiling 965DT’s for ceiling speakers. I positioned the 965DT’s with no real issues and was all set once the AV7702 arrived. Once the system was up and running I ran through some of the content on the aforementioned Dolby Atmos Demonstration Disc. I was immediately taken back to what had impressed me about Atmos during the Dolby press event. The “Amaze” and “Leaf” trailers sounded marvelous. The added dimension produced by the emanation of elements occupying the acoustic space above in addition to the placement of objects passing in and around the surround field created a three dimensional effect that made the listening experience more involving both visually and aurally.


I then reached for the Dolby Atmos encoded Blu-ray titles that I had on hand and went about putting them through the paces to see how the effect would hold up. I realized that much of what I was going to hear would depend on the sound design but either way I had high expectations. The Expendables 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers: Age of Extinction all offered rewarding sound that was elevated by the Atmos platform. I had read some complaints from forum members regarding the Transformers mix not making ample use of object placement from above. While it doesn’t consistently use discretely placed objects that emanate from above there is plenty of atmospheric detail and panning sweeps that utilize the upper sound field. I found the mix to be excellent.


After spending time listening I began thinking about how I wanted to handle the inclusion of Atmos encoded titles in my review template. My ratings as they stand can be used across all platforms and will continue to be done this way. However Atmos and any other immersive object based audio codec like it, does have properties that should be considered in addition to those we see as standard. With that in mind I came up with five rating parameters:

  • Level of immersion (The dome effect)
  • Soundstage integration (panning front to back/side to side/blend of entire system)
  • Audio object placement (integrity of the correlation to visuals onscreen)
  • Effectiveness (Are you totally involved in the action/events/level of realism – too much or too little activity?)
  • Entertainment Factor (Overall how much fun did you have?)



These will be scored on the same rating scale that I use for the current system and result in a technical rating that will be included with each Atmos review. Going forward these may get tweaked or changed but for now provide a foundational basis. This will not be factored into the total audio/video rating that appears at the top of each review but will be used as a guide/reference to determine how effective the overall Atmos experience was. It would be impractical to factor this into the overall audio rating considering not everyone has a system capable of reproducing all of the elements present in an Atmos soundtrack.


Every Atmos ready AVR/Prepro comes equipped with Dolby’s Surround Upmixer which replaces the Pro Logic chipsets. The Upmixer can be used to take two channel sources and above, and spread them out over the Atmos platform (I strongly suggest reading the Dolby Atmos White Papers which can be found at the link provided earlier to learn more about the Dolby Surround Upmixer). I have found that using the “DSU” can make subtle or noticeable improvements when fed Stereo or multi-channel tracks in either lossy or lossless Dolby/DTS flavors. I have added an additional non-rated parameter to my audio rating which will appear in every review. It will be called DSU Rating and will be scored on the same rating scale as the others. This will be strictly provided as a point of reference for those that utilize the DSU and are curious to know how well it works in conjunction with a non-Atmos encoded title.


As an example I have rated Transformers: Age of Extinction in Atmos and have included those ratings using the new template below. I will include brief comments regarding my impressions of the Atmos sound which will be in addition to my thoughts on the audio track. I have included the audio rating of Edge of Tomorrow, a non-Atmos encoded Blu-ray, and included the new DSU Rating.



Transformers – Age of Extinction:


Audio: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Dynamics:
  • Low frequency effects:
  • Surround Sound presentation:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Dialogue Reproduction:
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element):




3D Presentation: 90
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Depth (Onscreen):
  • Dimension (Beyond the screen):
  • Realism:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Color Reproduction:



Dolby Atmos Rating: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Level of immersion:
  • Soundstage integration:
  • Audio object placement:
  • Effectiveness:
  • Entertainment factor:





Edge of Tomorrow:

Audio: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)


  • Dynamics:
  • Low frequency effects:
  • Surround Sound presentation:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Dialogue Reproduction:
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element):
  • DSU Rating * (non-rated element):




As an enthusiast I am pleased to report that Dolby Atmos makes for an excellent addition to home theater. My hope is that we will begin to see increased studio support for both new releases as well as catalog titles on Blu-ray. Our other reviewer Lee Weber is also planning an upgrade to an Atmos ready system and he and I will follow the same format.

I look forward to covering any and all immersive sound based offerings and welcome hearing from my fellow enthusiasts who are currently set up for or are considering making the move to Dolby Atmos.




References:






Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews



Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS4910 3D Ready 1080p High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6 Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen - Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16x9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking System
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Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player (HDMI Audio/Video)
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton "Ergo" and In-Ceiling series speakers
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SVS PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
SVS PC12-NSD
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Last edited by Ralph Potts; 12-28-2016 at 02:04 PM.
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post #2 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 10:57 AM
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Congrats Ralph! Look forward to to the new discussion now that you're immersed. Aside from new Atmos titles and I'm sure DTS:X when that becomes available, perhaps some digging into the Potts Vault and some comment on older titles like U-571 and Pearl Harbor using DSU.
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post #3 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 11:20 AM
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I'm excited to read an objective review of atoms from you. I am still not sold on it.

Trying to enjoy the simple things in life.

 

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post #4 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 11:22 AM
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Congrats Ralph....glad you made the jump. Looking forward to your review of Gravity with its Atmos track.


Do you have any pictures of your set-up since you installed the new speakers? Also, is your Atmos experience the same in your second row of seats?
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post #5 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 11:34 AM
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Looking forward to the Atmos reviews...I base many of my purchase decisions on your scoring system.
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post #6 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 11:45 AM
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Congrats on the upgrade. Now we need more studios to put out more content.
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post #7 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 11:48 AM
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So wait... two of your atmos speakers are on the front wall ala traditional ProLogic IIz? Isn't that specifically what atmos was getting away from?

I'm so confused with all of this. I'm sticking with my 5.2 and 7.2 systems.
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post #8 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:03 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nabs17 View Post
Congrats Ralph....glad you made the jump. Looking forward to your review of Gravity with its Atmos track.


Do you have any pictures of your set-up since you installed the new speakers? Also, is your Atmos experience the same in your second row of seats?
Greetings,

I haven't taken any new pics but plan to. My MLP is in the second row so the question becomes is the experience the same in the first row?

The answer is pretty much. I have a four surrounds (two rear channel in-walls and two mounted on the side walls). The top middle in-ceiling speakers have dual high frequency drivers in a bipole configuration that face front and rear. This allows them to feed overhead sounds in both directions covering both listening rows. The coverage across the room sitting in either row is good but the sweet spot is the MLP in the back row.


Regards,

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post #9 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:06 PM
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Congrats Ralph as well. I am sure your system sounds sensational with Atmos. I have had the pleasure of listening to Mark's system with Atmos and have been VERY impressed. In fact, in its current configuration, I can't imagine Mark's room sounding any better. Personally, I am waiting until DTS X and for an AVR or pre/pro that handles HDCP 2.2 and all the 4K flavors before jumping in to the objects based systems, as I do not want to have to redo my room again after installing more speakers and Atmos. Hopefully you won't have to either. I look forward to hearing your impressions on how well the upmixer does on some already great non Atmos mixed films.

Louder is NOT better!
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post #10 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sage11x View Post
So wait... two of your atmos speakers are on the front wall ala traditional ProLogic IIz? Isn't that specifically what atmos was getting away from?

I'm so confused with all of this. I'm sticking with my 5.2 and 7.2 systems.
Greetings,

I don't have them mounted on the front wall. They are mounted on the side walls, near the ceiling, in line with the L/R mains, and angled toward the MLP. The combination works quite well.

After experimenting with placement I found that there is certainly some flexibility. In talking with others I suspect that each room/system that can't be set up by design, there are options but you have to seek them out.

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post #11 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:32 PM
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Ralph, did you get the Auro 3D upgrade for your new Marantz pre/pro?
From reviews that I've read, its upmixer does a better job than the DSU.
It would be interesting to get your impressions of it.

Also, I plan on upgrading to the Marantz SR7009 receiver and Pioneer Elite Dolby Atmos enabled speaker system.
I rent, so I can't drill holes in the walls, or ceiling, to mount speakers.
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post #12 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:36 PM
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Darn that was good read. Very exciting, enough to make me feel like a kid!

Fun times are comin'....

Thanks

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post #13 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Ralph, did you get the Auro 3D upgrade for your new Marantz pre/pro?
From reviews that I've read, its upmixer does a better job than the DSU.
It would be interesting to get your impressions of it.

Also, I plan on upgrading to the Marantz SR7009 receiver and Pioneer Elite Dolby Atmos enabled speaker system.
I rent, so I can't drill holes in the walls, or ceiling, to mount speakers.
Greetings,

I have not and probably won't since my plan is to move the Marantz AV8802. Once I am set up with that I will look into Auro. For some reason should I opt to stay with the AV7702 I will go with the upgrade.


Regards,
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post #14 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:46 PM
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Congrats Ralph! Looking forward to your reviews of the upcoming Atmos releases.
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post #15 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 12:59 PM
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Hi Ralph

Congratulations on the upgrade to Atmos and also for telling us how you plan to rate both Atmos and non-Atmos titles in the future. Your reviews of Atmos, Auro and DTS X movies will definitely influence my decision as to whether I should upgrade my Integra pre-pro anytime soon. I'm looking forward to reading more of your great movie reviews.

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post #16 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 02:11 PM
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Congratulations on the upgrade to Atmos i always read your reviews thanks for taking the time
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post #17 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 02:46 PM
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Awesome!!!

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post #18 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 02:58 PM
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Oh very nice. I'll enjoy hearing about Atmos content specifically. I can see how most either using or contemplating getting the blurays would be appreciative for your efforts.
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post #19 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 03:54 PM
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Well written.

But just to be a contrarian here - Is a poor film (poor acting/directing/screenplay) with a great soundtrack worth anything?
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post #20 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 04:26 PM
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Ralph,

Thanks for your thoughts on Atmos. Can you further describe your methodology on the ceiling speaker placement in the middle? Was this by "feel" or was there some scientific/Dolby white paper influence? Also, did you try other positions such as rear height placement? Coming from the excellent 8801 and using DTS Neo X would you state that the immersion is better? Thanks in advance!

Maurice
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post #21 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 04:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Potts View Post
I have found that using the “DSU” can make subtle or noticeable improvements when fed Stereo or multi-channel tracks in either lossy or lossless Dolby/DTS flavors. I have added an additional non-rated parameter to my audio rating which will appear in every review. It will be called DSU Rating and will be scored on the same rating scale as the others. This will be strictly provided as a point of reference for those that utilize the DSU and are curious to know how well it works in conjunction with a non-Atmos encoded title.
Great writeup Ralph. You mentioned that some complained about the Transformer's atmos mix. I think I also remember that some specifically were arguing that their opinion was that the track played via DSU was superior overall to the Atmos track played natively. If that turns out to be true on more than an exceptional basis, that will present some interesting issues and divergence of opinion going forward - I wouldn't want to be a sound designer on the opposite end of any of those opinions either
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post #22 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 04:41 PM
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nice upgrade Ralph!...good to finally have a place that will be reviewing Atmos encoded Blu-ray's on a regular basis...I wonder how many Atmos/DTS: X titles will be released in 2015
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post #23 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 04:56 PM
 
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post #24 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 06:20 PM
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Grats, Ralph! I have the same surrounds as you and I've actually purchased monopoles in anticipation of Atmos. I'd love to know how they compare to similarly specced monopoles. If it turns out they are just fine, I may not need to rearrange my theater as much as I initially thought. At any rate, I'm looking forward to the reviews even more now with Atmos thrown into the mix. Cheers!
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post #25 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 06:31 PM
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Hi Ralph:
A little off topic! However, do you mind discuss your opinion between the Marantz AV8801 vs AV7702 in term of music and multichannel? I'm thinking of upgrading to Atmos and want to know if I should wait for the AV8802 or the AV7702 should be fine. I'm mostly using the AV8801 for movie, but do listen to music now and then.
Thank you!
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post #26 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 06:59 PM
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Thanks Ralph for the objective review of Atmos.


You and Lee have so much experience in the audio review of movie make your view of the Atmos more relevant to rest of us.
Thanks for your input and you guys and thank you for all your great work


Ray
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post #27 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 08:29 PM
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Congratulations Ralph!
It seems that you used a speaker layout which is a mix betweem the one recomended for atmos and the one for auro 3D.
Why you didn't go with 4 inceiling speakers as atmos specified?
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post #28 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 08:37 PM
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Very cool Ralph! Congrats! Hope to upgrade to Atmos at some point in the next few years. Curious to hear your thoughts and enjoy!
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post #29 of 149 Old 01-05-2015, 10:47 PM
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Very cool man! Nice to see you upgraded to Atmos and I'm looking forward to your reviews of BDs with it! I sure love Atmos in theaters and will upgrade in a few years.
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post #30 of 149 Old 01-06-2015, 04:26 AM
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I hold these reviews in very high regard and they post a critical role in my selection of blu rays to purchase. As I am building an Atmos theater right now, I'm very pleased to hear that these reviews will encompass Atmos facets. These are exciting times for enthusiasts.
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