Immersive Audio In the Home: The Content Challenge
The world and his wife will only take immersive audio in the home seriously if there's lots and lots of content choice to tempt them to upgrade their decoders and speaker systems. Surely, that's how these things work, isn't it?
At CES 2015 Dolby announced a long list of manufacturers that now support the home version of its Atmos format, including Denon, Integra, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Steinway Lyngdorf, Trinnov Audio, Yamaha, Atlantic Technology, Onkyo, Pioneer USA, Teufel and Triad Speakers.
According to Dolby some 200 cinema releases have been mixed in its Atmos since its launch in 2012, and yet the number which have made it onto Blu-ray with an Atmos mix can be counted on the fingers of one hand; Gravity, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Expendables 3, Step Up All In and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This despite the availability of authoring tools.
And one of those films is Expendables 3, we're not sure that even counts.
Actually, Gravity aside, nobody would argue that the chosen titles are at the top-end in terms of entertainment quality. Why are so few studios producing Atmos mixes for home consumption and why aren't those that are available on more popular and critically-acclaimed titles? Surely that will drive take-up, and certainly that's what's needed right now if we're going to be encouraged to add height to our home cinema systems.
DTS will surely go through the same tortuous process with its DTS:X format, which is compatible with Barco's Auro system, but not with Atmos, as content owners are likely to baulk at producing multiple mixes when they release content for the home, whether to be streamed or played off disc. At the moment, test material includes Rio 2 and Divergent.
The manufacturers are to be applauded for making the hardware available, and they will be excused for complaining when nobody invests in the upgrades. Can somebody out there explain why we're so starved of content? After all, if there's nothing to watch, there are plenty of other things on which to spend our precious disposable income. It feels like a classic chicken-and-egg situation with the studios dictating the pace - they won't spend on money on the mixes until the analysts tell them the installed base of immersive surround systems is there. Consumers won't invest in the hardware upgrade until there's something to watch. A classic Mexican stand-off.
So, who's going to make the first significant move? Until somebody devises a way to solve the collective action problem, it looks like it's over to you, Hollywood!