Samsung, Google are attacking Dolby Atmos’ monopoly on 3D sound, and it’s going to get ugly

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Dolby Atmos Under attack.Digital Trends

When you anticipate of immersive, 3D complete for movies and music, one name usually comes to mind: Dolby Atmos. Despite the actuality of aggressive surround complete formats and technologies,like DTS:X, MPEG-H, Sony 360 Reality Audio, and Auro3D, they almost annals back compared to the juggernaut that is Dolby Atmos. With able (and growing) abutment from cine studios, music labels, alive services, bold consoles, smartphones, and audio accessories makers, there’s little agnosticism that Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Music accept become the de facto 3D complete standards.

And yet, if Google and Samsung get their way, Dolby Atmos’ administration as the baron of immersive audio ability be about to accommodated its better claiming to date. Together, the two tech giants accept been quietly working on an open-source and royalty-free 3D complete architecture accepted by the awkward name Immersive Audio Model and Formats. But if history has accomplished us anything, it’s that architecture wars are rarely fought for the account of the public. And alike a chargeless adaptation of Atmos that’s every bit as acceptable as the aboriginal could face agonizing barriers to adoption.

Why do we charge addition Dolby Atmos?

A Marantz AV 10 receiver announcement Dolby Atmos argument on advanced panel.Marantz

Why accept Google and Samsung teamed up to actualize a Dolby Atmos competitor? It’s apparently somewhat about control, but about absolutely mostly about the money. Specifically, the licensing fees that Dolby Labs accuse any aggregation that wants to accomplish a Dolby Atmos-compatible artefact or service, like a TV, a streaming media player, a soundbar — or a smartphone. (Lest we forget, Google and Samsung are the active armament abaft Android and amid them own a above block of the non-Apple smartphone market).

It’s adamantine to say aloof how abundant money Samsung and Google pay to Dolby Labs annually (Dolby licensees are banned from administration the agreement of their agreements), but we do apperceive that in 2022, Dolby Labs recorded $1.25 billion in revenue. It doesn’t breach out the licensing acquirement from Dolby Atmos separately, but you can bet it represents a cogent allotment of the total.

Beyond the amount savings, Samsung touts the allowances of accepting a distinct 3D audio accepted for an absolute industry. It claims that IAMF will advance the all-embracing audio acquaintance through scene-based AI analysis, as able-bodied as accord admirers the adeptness to accent the allocation of a soundtrack that affairs best to them. In one example, a sports advertisement could be adapted to accent the commentators’ chat or the on-field action.

Who’s activity to use IAMF?

IAMF appears to action audio creators the aforementioned akin of adaptability back it comes to creating spatial audio mixes that Dolby Atmos does, including complete acclimation to a advanced array of playback accessories and environments, from headphones to soundbars to abounding home amphitheater systems.

Since Dolby Labs additionally accuse licensing fees for its Dolby Atmos software accoutrement — amid $100 and $300 depending on your accommodation for discounts — there’s an actual banking allurement for creators (especially abecedarian recording artists) to alpha exploring what IAMF can do. That’s abnormally accurate if adopting IAMF ends up actuality a almost bland alteration from Dolby’s tools.

Again, it’s adamantine to say how abundant a almanac characterization like Universal Music Group or a cine flat like Disney spends on Dolby Atmos for their music and cine productions, but a chargeless addition acceptable would prove tempting.

Royalty-free, but not cost-free

Photo of Disney+ interface assuming the advice awning from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, featuring Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos logos.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

For association at home to apprehend IAMF content, we’ll charge a antecedent of IAMF and accordant devices. It’s far from affirmed that the beyond ball industry will oblige.

One of the keys to Dolby Atmos’s massive acceptance has been casting awareness. Dolby Atmos began its accessible activity in bartering cine theaters in 2012, area it bound becoming a acceptability for putting audiences in the accurate centermost of the action, as music and complete accoutrement zoomed aerial for the aboriginal time. As anon as the technology fabricated the bound to home theaters, it became a must-have for any austere cinephile.

Seeing the Dolby Atmos logo on AV receivers, Blu-ray players, TVs, and soundbars became a big affairs point, alike admitting — as we’ve afresh argued — there’s no best a absolute affiliation amid the Dolby Atmos brand and a specific complete experience. Nonetheless, a able and broadly accustomed casting is adamantine to beat.

IAMF will acquisition itself in a accustomed chicken-or-egg action back it comes to adoption. Even admitting IAMF is open-source and royalty-free, there will still be costs associated with implementing it. Before above studios, labels, and agreeable administration companies like Netflix accede to advance in IAMF content, they’ll appetite to see affidavit of appeal — this is one of the affidavit why DTS:X is so adamantine to appear by on alive platforms.

If we don’t own IAMF-compatible equipment, why would those companies accomplish such an investment? And it won’t be accessible for makers of TVs, AV receivers, or soundbars to argue us to buy IAMF articles if there’s no content.

Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Mini - Dolby Atmos indicator.Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I’m accommodating to bet that a lot of bodies accept bought Dolby Atmos-capable articles absolutely on the backbone of the Dolby Atmos brand. They apparently accept that they’ll get a cine theater-like acquaintance as anon as they bung it in, alike admitting that acceptable won’t be the case (a Dolby Atmos arrangement after Dolby Atmos agreeable can alone bear upmixed stereo or 5.1 sound.) Without Atmos’s able casting recognition, IAMF won’t be able to accomplish the aforementioned task.

Device manufacturers ability artlessly booty the continued appearance and add IAMF to any artefact that currently supports Dolby Atmos, to prime the pump. They ability alike bazaar it as a future-proofing affection to “be accessible back IAMF agreeable comes to your admired alive service!”

The achievement ability be that, eventually, the installed abject of IAMF articles will be big abundant that the agreeable providers and distributors become accommodating to bandy their hats in the ring.

Google, with its ascendancy over Android, Google TV, and Google Assistant-driven Nest devices, could artlessly add IAMF to all of these platforms, giving the beginning architecture an absorbing arch start.

It’s additionally account acquainted that Google and Samsung aren’t in this alone. IAMF acquired its royalty-free cachet via the Alliance for Open Media, which includes assembly from Apple, Netflix, Google, Samsung, Intel, Microsoft, and Meta — aloof to name the heavyweights. IAMF could accretion a lot of absorption via these companies’ accumulated articles and services, abundant as the AV1 codec has started to do.

At that point — if it anytime comes to canyon — the absolute agreeable ecosystem could adjudge to airing abroad from Dolby Atmos and save itself all of the associated costs. And yet, somehow this seems unlikely.

We’ve apparent this cine before

HDR10+ example.Samsung

There’s a alongside amid the Dolby Atmos-IAMF accord and the Dolby Vision-HDR10+ relationship. Just like IAMF, HDR10+ is a royalty-free activating HDR architecture that has abounding appearance in accepted with Dolby Vision. And aloof like IAMF, Samsung is HDR10+’s better supporter. To this day, no Samsung TV has included Dolby Vision.

And yet, admitting its royalty-free nature, Samsung’s full-throated support, and the actuality that it’s been about for abounding years, the HDR10+ accepted still isn’t acclimated by above alive casework like Netflix, Disney+, Peacock, or Max.

This suggests that it will booty added than the affiance of lower costs to get boundless acceptance of IAMF.

The amount of confusion

This brings us aback to the catechism of branding and awareness. Previous advances in cine audio accept had the account of the abounding weight of the Hollywood advertising machine. At this point, I agnosticism there’s a beholder breath who hasn’t heard (and seen) the THX “Deep Note” addition above-mentioned to watching a cine that uses George Lucas’s acclaimed invention. And as I mentioned earlier, Dolby Atmos was blood-tingling amphitheater audiences continued afore it became accessible at home. Will IAMF anytime get the aforementioned red carpeting rollout?

If it does, there’s a adventitious that bodies will become accustomed abundant with IAMF that they alpha to attending for it, and possibly abject their affairs decisions on its presence.

If it doesn’t, best association will acceptable alone acquisition out about it through sites like Digital Trends. And the best we’ll be able to say is article like, “it’s a royalty-free adaptation of Dolby Atmos.” Not absolutely a campanology endorsement.

Then there’s the game-time accommodation question. Remember back I said that accessory makers are acceptable to body articles that abutment both Dolby Atmos and IAMF? Any alive account (or disc-based media) that currently offers Dolby Atmos — and wishes to add IAMF — will accept to accommodate its subscribers with a way to accept amid these formats, abacus yet added complexity.

Don’t get me wrong, antagonism is about consistently a acceptable thing, and I’m aflame to see that Dolby Atmos’ abreast stranglehold on immersive audio is about to face its aboriginal absolute challenge. But I’m acutely agnostic that IAMF — after the advice of a above branding and acquaintance accomplishment — will prove to be an addition that will see the accumulation acceptance bare to authority its own.

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