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Turning The Spotlight On: Deepwater Horizon and Dolby Atmos (with a little rant included) (1 Viewer)

Ronald Epstein

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Deepwater Horizon is a Blu-ray release that should be celebrated for its highly energetic Dolby Atmos soundtrack. However, before I can even begin to praise the work that has been done on this sound mix, I need to instead rant against those responsible for abandoning Atmos on Blu-ray.

I have been a huge supporter of Dolby Atmos, Even when I was told my home theater didn't have the proper specifications for installation, I went ahead and invested thousands of dollars to upgrade my receiver and have four overhead speakers installed above my listening area.

I have used this forum on many occasions to proclaim the benefits of Atmos to our membership. It is by far the most noteworthy upgrade I have done to my home theater since moving from DVD to Blu-ray. The addition of adding overhead sound elements provides a more rewarding, immersive viewing experience than I could ever have imagined.

But somebody either at Dolby or at the studios made a rather idiotic decision to severely restrict the inclusion of Atmos on Blu-ray releases, instead, delegating it exclusively to 4k. Not a very cool thing to do to those of us who are still struggling with the costs of upgrading to 4k, and instead opted to invest instead in Atmos. The "powers that be" decided that Atmos was going to be primarily a format for 4k releases.

Some have recommended to me that I simply purchase a 4k player and "down-rez" the picture while retaining the 4k audio output. While that is a solution for some, it shouldn't be a requirement for all. After all, Blu-ray is still the dominant disc format. It deserves to be treated with a little more respect. Making Atmos exclusive to 4k doesn't entice consumers to upgrade --- it just pisses them off for putting their faith and hard-earned money into the new sound format, only to see themselves deprived of it.

My rant is over. Trust I wrote all of this with a purpose and I hope it to get noticed. Please, if any Atmos enthusiasts agree or disagree with me, post your thought here. They will directed to the individuals that matter.


For anyone who has (or doesn't have) Atmos in their home, Deepwater Horizon is an essential purchase for many reasons. First, it does an exceptional job of telling the story of the 2010 explosion of the off-shore oil rig operated by Transocean, who was drilling for BP. This is an incident still very fresh in the public's mind, and the film does an excellent job of telling its story based on actual facts. It's about as big a disaster film as you could want, though this was a disaster that cost real lives and impacted the surrounding environment.

Instead of focusing on the quality of the transfer, which is first-rate, I want to concentrate on the Atmos mix, which is something to behold!

It has been said that sound is half the picture. Since upgrading to Atmos, that's a statistic I no longer believe. I think a well-placed and calibrated sound field can provide the listener with a far more realistic auditory experience. It's the sound that becomes the most immersive part of the home theater experience.

To be able to sit in the "sweet spot" in my recliner chair and feel as if I am on an actual exploding oil rig says volumes about the way speaker placement affects my senses. Deepwater Horizon provides a pounding, explosive sound experience -- not just in its noisiest moments --- but in near silence when every creak of a failing oil rig is conveyed through multiple surrounding channels.

While rumbling bass can make me feel the ground deteriorating under me, it's the overhead and surrounding channels that put me dead-center, as a witness to the catastrophe that is unfolding before my eyes. Sound effects are expertly placed in each channel --- around and above --- to maximize the overall impression of "being there." I applaud the amount of care that has been given to this sound mix. It's one of the best I have had the opportunity to hear.

The film boasts a great cast including Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich. Well acted and brought to the screen with amazing effects work, the film does a great job of giving honor to those that not only lost their lives but helped prevent more lives from being lost.

In a year that's only a few days old, it's odd to place Deepwater Horizon as the very best audio experience thus far. However, if you are going to start the New Year off with a BANG, this is the only way to do it.


 
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Robert Crawford

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I hear you Ron! With that said, I've been buying mainly the 4K/UHD releases of newer films for one of the reasons of your rant. These 4K/UHD releases comes with a Blu-ray disc too and I'm future protected when I do upgrade my system to 4K/UHD and Dolby Atmos.
 

Rodney

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I agree with you, Ron. My next upgrade was planned to be an Atmos sound system, since that would be a bigger improvement for me.
Now it looks like I need to invest in 4K/UHD before investing into an improved sound system.
 

Scott Jentsch

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Ron,

I empathize with your concerns, and I agree that, in a perfect world, we should see more Atmos soundtracks on Blu-ray instead of just on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

As a result of a thread over on AVS Forum early in 2016 that questioned whether Atmos was going to be Ultra HD-specific, I started keeping track of all the Atmos soundtracks on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray:

http://www.bigscreen.com/about/help.php?id=63

I've been trying to keep that list up to date with confirmed titles, and I've also limited it to just U.S. releases. It's getting too large to be contained within that document, so I really need to split it out and perhaps provide for some analysis tools as well.

Looking at that list, the number of new (non-catalog) releases that have Atmos on both the Blu-ray and the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is pretty good, but it's not as good as it could be. It's frustrating to those of us that don't yet have 4K displays, but do have Atmos-capable setups, because there's likely no technical reason for the omission, but there might be other reasons besides the marketing decision that I believe you're railing against (Blu-ray workflow being different from the Ultra HD Blu-ray workflow, space issues on the Blu-ray, etc.) that we don't know about.

The bigger concern in my book is when an Atmos (or DTS:X) soundtrack is omitted completely from the home video releases for a particular title. When a movie is released in Atmos theatrically, but is then released on Blu-ray and/or 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray without that soundtrack available, that's a real shame. I've been pushing for the review sites to take points off a title's audio score when it doesn't contain the immersive soundtrack when one was available theatrically, because I believe doing so is just as bad as cropping the picture. Would you give a movie a 5/5 score for picture if its 2.39:1 picture was cropped to 1.78:1? Even if the transfer is stellar, it's still cropped. Same with sound.

While I still wish that more Blu-rays were available with Atmos soundtracks, allow me to look at it from another angle:

Atmos and DTS:X are the future of home theater sound. They are the best things to happen to home theater sound since 5.1 digital soundtracks. I would say that it's even better than the advent of lossless soundtracks (Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio), but that would be a close race.

The home theater industry (hardware makers and movie studios) are always looking forward. It's the nature of the beast. We don't get progress by saying that what we have is good enough, it's by saying "where can we go from here?"

For that reason, the future of home theater is in 4K. 4K displays are everywhere. While painfully slow to come to front projection systems, you would have a hard time trying to buy a non-4K TV that is larger than 55". As a result, people are also buying Ultra HD Blu-ray players and Ultra HD movies to play them on. That has resulted in the second generation of Samsung and Panasonic players being announced recently. Even Sony, who thought that physical discs were an anachronism, is coming out with two players, one for the consumers and one for the high-end. Oppo just released their much-anticipated player last month. I've read articles recently that talked about how good the adoption rate has been of 4K Ultra HD players and discs. Some of that is spin, to be sure, but the fact remains that 4K isn't as niche as a lot of people thought it would be just a year ago. (When the Samsung is available in Costco, and you can buy 4K discs at Target and WalMart, that's not niche)

What that means is that, unless that trend slows and/or reverses, the attention is going to be on 4K.

If you're a movie studio, and you can sell your latest release for $19.99 on Blu-ray or $29.99 on Ultra HD Blu-ray, which would you rather sell?

I think the assumption might be that the enthusiasts for whom Atmos matters have invested in (or are willing to invest in) a 4K player, even if they don't have a 4K display yet. For that audience, offering the Atmos soundtrack only on the 4K release puts $10 more in the the sale column, and it rewards the enthusiasts that have made the investment.

While it hurts to spend the money on a 4K player when you don't have a 4K display, the Samsung player was under $200 this holiday season. That's more than a $50 Blu-ray player, to be sure, but it's not $1,000 territory either. If I were buying today, I would not hesitate to pick up the $549 Oppo UDP-203. From what I've seen, it's a very solid Blu-ray player from a company with a reputation for making great products, and it does 4K when you're ready to make that jump.

I spent $400 last February to buy the Samsung because of the Atmos situation. I felt at the time that it was going to be the way that the industry was going to head, where immersive soundtracks were concerned. While that hasn't happened across the board, I think the trend will be toward that direction more often than not. Blu-ray is now the basic option that DVD was back in the mid-2000's and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is now the higher-end option. It's hard to blame the studios for not looking to the future, even though I wish they would release more Atmos soundtracks on Blu-ray as well.

If releasing immersive soundtracks on 4K Ultra HD discs only is what it takes for the studios to release more of their movies with those soundtracks, I'm willing to take that trade-off.
 

TheBat

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I agree with you Ron..
its sucks that the atmos is moving over to ultra HD. WB released batman v superman in atmos but not man of steel in blu ray. Only on ultraHD. I would not mind if they had released the ultra HD with the blu ray that could have the atmos. I am not planning to get into 4k for a while. I guess the good news is that we can use dolby surround for the rest of the titles.

Jacob
 

Brian Dobbs

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I wasn't aware that Atmos had been aimed more at UHD discs. That's a shame. I don't plan on getting UHD for another year at least.

I also wasn't planning on getting this movie, but perhaps if I see it on sale I might have to simply from reading Ron's review of the audio. Audio is more important to me, and having a well-calibrated home theater audio system will impress anyone. Big screens are a dime a dozen these days with TV prices being so cheap.

I have a 7.1.4 Atmos setup and am in constant search for good Atmos demo material.
 

john a hunter

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I don't know whether this works but I was told it does and I think Scot intimated above that it does.
If you buy a 4k player you can access the Atmos track while the picture is down rezzed to 1080 for those poor people like me that have no 4k display.
Players are pretty reasonable given this new technology.
 

Powell&Pressburger

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Ronald, I was posting on your upgrading to Atmos thread and was actually upgrading at the same time you were last year. And yes it is horrible that we would spend so much money for Atmos and it was soon after only 4K were getting the exclusive on Atmos mixes. I'm not 4K and don't plan to before while. And yeah I have even stated I may end up getting a OPPO 4K player later on so I can down Rez the image and hold onto Atmos but consumers shouldn't have to go that far.

Atmos on 4K only discs doesn't exactly boost sales it just keeps me from buying the BLU-Ray or even the 4K with BD disc at all.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Yeah, I am going to have to also get the Oppo 4k player so I can have the Atmos track.

I suppose I was going to eventually buy a 4k player anyway.
 

moovtune

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"Inferno" is the latest release with this no Atmos on Blu-ray issue. I bought the 4K - it has Atmos, but the blu-ray in the package with it has only DTS-HDM 5.1. It didn't even include the core 7.1 mix. Not an acceptable development.
 

Johnny Angell

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@Ronald Epstein I agree with your concerns about restricting Atmos to 4K discs and I disagree with @Scott Jentsch who thinks it’s mostly the studios looking forward. It’s all about forcing customers to spend more, nothing else. It’s also not about serving the customers well. If it were, why is almost every 4K and 3D disc devoid of the extras. At least the commentaries ought to be on the 4K and 3D discs. As it is, I’m forced to view the least advanced disc to get the extras. Not very forward thinking.

There was a time when new technology was used to be competitive and to attract customers. Now the powers that be are acting in concert to gouge the customer for more money.
 

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