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Thursday, June 13, 2024

A primary have a look at Atmos FlexConnect, Dolby’s newest try to repair unhealthy TV audio

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The perfect little bit of attending Berlin’s IFA trade show is when firms use it to supply an early have a look at tech that’ll get a “correct” launch later. That’s what I skilled with an indication of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, a brand new know-how to allow you to wirelessly join suitable exterior audio system to your TV and create an Atmos-enabled spatial audio setup. 

Essentially the most attention-grabbing a part of Dolby’s pitch for the know-how is that it’s supposedly way more forgiving about the place you’ll be able to place these specialised exterior audio system. They don’t must be completely symmetrical, just like the press pictures present DTS’s similar wireless Play-Fi Home Theater standard. With Atmos FlexConnect, the concept is you’ll be able to place your exterior audio system wherever within the room together with your TV, making them match into your current dwelling area fairly than asking you to maneuver your furnishings or mount audio system onto partitions. Possibly one speaker goes on a bookshelf to the left of your TV, whereas a second sits on a facet desk to the appropriate of your sofa — the system is designed to have the ability to deal with the asymmetry.

My demonstration of the know-how befell at TCL’s sales space at IFA. TCL is serving as Dolby’s launch companion for Atmos FlexConnect, and will probably be first to supply the know-how on its 2024 TV lineup (so count on extra mentions of the know-how at CES subsequent yr). Dolby’s ambition is to finally provide the know-how on a wider vary of TVs and audio system, however initially it’ll simply be TCL.

The demo began with a calibration course of, throughout which the 2 Atmos FlexConnect audio system being paired performed a sequence of check tones that the TV’s microphones picked up and used to find out the audio system’ areas, in addition to the acoustics of the demo room itself. From a technical perspective, the Atmos FlexConnect customary can concurrently hook up with dozens of audio system, however producers will probably be extra restricted by the particular {hardware} inside their TVs. TCL is at the moment planning for 2 to be the utmost variety of audio system that you just’ll be capable to pair with its 2024 TV lineup, although extra inexpensive midrange fashions could also be restricted to only a single exterior Atmos FlexConnect speaker. 

The calibration display, displaying that it’s recognized the 2 audio system.

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One of many audio system used within the demonstration, although TCL says it’s a prototype and that specs could change.

For our first demonstration, TCL and Dolby confirmed off the system working with a more-or-less stereo association of audio system. One was positioned front-left and one was front-right, though they weren’t positioned with the precise symmetry you’d usually need for a stereo setup. The calibration course of took somewhat over 12 seconds, and afterwards the TV confirmed off the areas of the 2 audio system within the room. These two “Tutti Choral Audio system” have been outfitted with 5 drivers apiece, together with two which can be upfiring to create the impression of sounds coming from overhead. However every thing about these prototype audio system, from their branding to their design and driver configuration, continues to be in flux forward of their launch subsequent yr.

To indicate off what the system is able to, we have been performed one among Dolby’s customary Atmos demo reels that includes loads of peak noise, together with forest sounds, rain, and naturally some rumbling thunder. As you’d count on, the addition of a pair of devoted audio system resulted in a giant step up over what you’d get out of a TV alone, notably in relation to bass. The audio sounded much more spacious than what you’d count on from a regular stereo association.

In contrast to a conventional soundbar setup, the place a TV turns off its inbuilt drivers and depends fully on the exterior audio system for sound, Dolby’s Atmos FlexConnect is designed for inside and exterior audio system to work collectively. That would clarify why the setup didn’t sound off-center regardless of the marginally asymmetrical speaker association, as a result of the TV’s audio system have been nonetheless dealing with the audio that’s presupposed to sound prefer it’s coming from in entrance of you. In the meantime the 2 exterior audio system added probably the most influence within the decrease frequencies, that are each much less directional (ie, it’s tougher to inform the place sound is coming from), and likewise precisely the sort of sound that’s most difficult for a TV’s diminutive in-built audio system to create.

The second speaker, positioned to the back-left of the room.

After calibration, the interface exhibits the place it thinks the 2 audio system are. One speaker could be seen on the appropriate of the body, the second was positioned behind me. I used to be standing between the 2 audio system once I took the photograph.

Subsequent, one of many exterior audio system was moved from the front-left of the room to the back-left, to point out off how the system would deal with a completely asymmetrical setup. As soon as once more the calibration course of was run, and the TV’s interface up to date to point out that one of many audio system was behind us and to the left. 

In follow, nonetheless, the spatial audio presentation was very related, regardless of us now utilizing a speaker association that will trigger a traditional 5.1 speaker installer to interrupt out in hives. Listening for the midrange and treble frequencies particularly and it turns into extra apparent the place the audio system within the room are situated, however the virtualization know-how smoothed over the roughest edges.

My time with Dolby Atmos FlexConnect was far too restricted to provide any conclusive ideas on the way it performs versus extra conventional alternate options like a house cinema amplifier wired into 5 or extra separate audio system positioned symmetrically across the listener, an Atmos soundbar outfitted with upward firing drivers, and even an Atmos soundbar that relies entirely on virtualization to create peak. However the sense I get is that Atmos FlexConnect isn’t actually in direct competitors with these different choices. It’s an answer for individuals who need to (or need to) make compromises about how a lot they let their TV setup take over their lounge. TCL and Dolby’s pitch is that you could simply place your further audio system the place you’ve gotten area for them, and let their virtualization know-how work out the remaining.

TCL wasn’t prepared to speak pricing for its Atmos FlexConnect-enabled TVs or audio system at IFA, however count on extra info to be introduced when it particulars its 2024 TV lineup.

Images by Jon Porter / The Verge

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