At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last month, there was one clear new emerging technology—what is being called volumetric video. Video that gives many angles and aspects with the ability to switch to the perspective the user desires. For the common man, this is the 360-degree video that has been anticipated for many years. However, while everyone talks about 360-degree video, the stereoscopic audio that can complement the experience has not really been here. However, all that is changing. At the CES, LG showcased a video wall that recreated nature, from the red stones of the Grand Canyon to the green façades of the rainforests, all in pixels. This walk-through wall was backed by Dolby Atmos audio, which added the extra layer of belief to what was a very virtual world.
Dolby Atmos—an array of speakers that help audio to get a spatial element and move in tandem with the subject on the screen—first came to India in December 2012. Even as film-makers across the world have been adopting this new technology that gives them more versatility in terms of storytelling, Atmos has started moving to the homes slowly. Ashim Mathur, senior director, Marketing, Emerging Markets at Dolby Laboratories, says the format has got great acceptance from the creative community and over 300 local Indian titles have been released in multiple languages using the technology so far. “This has helped consumers to get the best cinematic experience and feel as if they are a part of the movie and not merely watching it.”
In fact, there have even been smartphones and tablets that have powered this technology for personal use. “In the homes, Dolby Atmos combines traditional home theatre speaker layouts with additional speaker positions. These include either overhead speakers or new Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers designed to reproduce the overhead audio objects,” Mathur says, adding that while more than 30 local Indian Blu-Ray titles now have Atmos, OTT services like Netflix are also making its content available in Dolby Atmos. Thankfully, Dolby Atmos is backward compatible, so it will play on existing channel-based systems as well as new Dolby Atmos set-ups. Any connected TV or set-top box that is Dolby Atmos-compatible can pass the Atmos signal through to other devices—such as AVRs with Dolby Atmos technology—that can decode the signal.
“With the advent of Dolby Atmos, immersive audio has established itself as a key differentiator in terms of the experience it offers and the interest it garners from end-consumers,” explains Mathur, while accepting that adoption of the technology in the homes is still at a nascent stage. “However, content creators recognise the potential of Atmos and are developing more and more content to fuel this fire, which we believe will accelerate the adoption for Atmos for cinema, at home and on the go,” he adds.
Incidentally, 360-degree audio will get a huge boost on the production side with the launch of Sennheiser Ambeo smart headphones in the coming weeks. This new headset actually houses a set of microphones that record 3D binaural audio using any regular iPhone. This headphone, which will not be that expensive as compared to other devices that have the same capability, will bring 3D audio recording capabilities to everyone. With so many people now using affordable 360-degree cameras to record video, Sennheiser hopes this will add that audio layer that has been missing till now.
The year 2018 will clearly be the one when 360-video, and audio, bursts on to the scene in India and the rest of the world. With both video and audio capturing in this new perspective becoming affordable, we will see everyone start looking at recording their memories and playing them back in volumetric video and audio. Playback of this content will also rise up to the challenge, for sure.