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How many audio channels do movie theaters have?

Discussion in 'Beginners, General Questions' started by Member 384960, Jul 5, 2016.

  1. I went to see a film at an AMC movie theater today. On each of the side walls, there were about 8 speakers while the back wall had about 4(I didn't count so I cant be exact). This is the case in most movie theaters where there are several visible surround speakers. The fronts, center, and subwoofers are hidden behind the screen.

    With so many speakers, it makes me wonder, how many audio channels typically are there in a movie theater? In home theater systems, it is usually 1 speaker per channel. For movie theaters, I didn't really think that each speaker would have its own channel since that would be a lot of discrete channels. Is it 5.1, 7.1, or something else?
  2. Josh Steinberg

    Josh Steinberg Executive Producer

    Jun 10, 2003
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    Josh Steinberg
    It depends on the theater and the sound mix.

    For a Dolby Atmos title, there aren't specific channels the way there traditionally would be. Instead, a computer has a layout of all the speakers in the room, and assigns each sound to the speaker that best represents where that sound should be. So you could have 50 or 100 speakers each producing individual sounds.

    Most IMAX theaters have 5.1 sound. They are beginning to roll out a new 12.1 system at select locations that is their answer to Dolby Atmos.

    But for more conventional theaters, it's generally a 5.1 or 7.1 mix, depending on what the filmmakers have created.
    B-ROLL likes this.
  3. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

    Dec 20, 1999
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    Josh is correct. The amount of surround speakers hung on the wall does not translate into how many channels there are.

    Basically, for normal movies (not IMAX, Atmos, etc) it is like your home setup: three speaker stacks behind the screen (Left - Center - Right) plus subwoofers. Then the surround is Surround Left and Surround Right. That would be analogous to a home 5.1 system. If the theatre uses the back wall, then it's the equivalent of a 7.1 home system. They use multiple surround speakers per channel to make sure to cover the entire seating space.
    Josh Steinberg likes this.
  4. Oh okay, I see. I did some searching around and AMC have said, "The ETX auditorium also boasts 12 audio channels fueled by 50,000 watts of power, which is a major upgrade and three times the power of typical auditoriums with six audio channels. As a result of this improved sight and sound experience, guests will not simply watch a movie. They will live it in ETX." (ETX is AMC's fancier theater rooms)

    Just like you said, the audio should be played with whatever the particular movie's sound mix is. I read a guy's review of AMC's ETX theaters where he watched "The Grey". The review is just him basically questioning if these extra fancy theaters is a rip-off. He also questioned about the 12 audio channels since The Grey wasn't specially mixed with 12 separate channels.

    At first, I was highly sure that they just put that many speakers in movie theaters to adequately fill the room with sound. In a non-Imax and Atmos theater, now I know that's true.

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