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Onkyo's latest receivers let you replicate the Dolby Atmos experience at home

By Ng Chong Seng - on 31 Oct 2014, 12:48am

Onkyo's latest receivers let you replicate the Dolby Atmos experience at home

Previously, we've reported that Dolby is bringing its Atmos “multi-dimensional” surround sound technology to the home, and that many A/V hardware makers have signaled their intentions to support the format in their products.

For the uninitiated, the Atmos technology was first implemented in cinemas (we documented our experience at Golden Village’s GVmax theater at VivoCity a couple of years back; the other location is Cathay Cineplex’s Screen 10 at Jem), with the aim of creating an immersive experience whereby the sound comes from all directions and is in motion, instead of from a specific channel. This is possible by what Dolby calls “audio objects”, which are free of channel restrictions, and which can be placed and moved anywhere, including overhead. Naturally, the more speakers there are, the more realistic the effects (say, a helicopter flying over you) will be. In an Dolby Atmos cinema, there can be up to 64 independent speaker outputs.

Of course, it’s unrealistic for homes to have 64 speakers. Dolby understands that, and attempts to bring the original Atmos cinema experience to the home by as few as seven speakers (the maximum is 34). To be effective, the secret sauce here is the overhead sound, which can be achieved using ceiling speakers or Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. The latter are meant to direct sound upwards (which is then reflected downwards to the listener after hitting the ceiling), and they can be integrated with traditional front-firing speakers or as standalone upward-firing units. In Dolby Atmos’ speaker layouts nomenclature, a 5.1.2 setup simply means your regular 5.1 setup plus two ceiling or Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. While 5.1.2 and 7.1.2 setups are perhaps the easiest to implement, especially for existing home theaters, 5.1.4 and 7.1.4 are recommended by Dolby for a reference experience, simply because the four “height” speakers will offer even more precise overhead audio movements.

If you already have a 5.1 setup, the easiest way to upgrade to Dolby Atmos is to add a pair of upward-firing speakers (like Onkyo's SKH-410) and get an Atmos-enabled receiver. (Image source: Onkyo.)

Expectedly, to enjoy Dolby Atmos at home, you need compatible hardware (e.g. Dolby-enabled A/V receivers and speakers) and content (e.g., Atmos-encoded Blu-ray titles). For movies, Transformers: Age of Extinction is the first Blu-ray disc to feature an Atmos soundtrack, with more titles coming from Paramount Pictures, Warners Bros., Lionsgate, and streaming service Vudu.


What's new from Onkyo

For hardware, as we mentioned earlier, several CE and A/V companies have announced Dolby Atmos-compliant A/V receivers (AVRs) and pre-amplifiers and processors. Here in Singapore, Onkyo has just launched its first Dolby Atmos-enabled network receivers and controller: the TX-NR636, TX-NR737, TX-NR838, TX-NR1030, TX-NR3030, and PR-SC5530.

In a gist, all these AVRs and controllers feature dual 32-bit processing engines to decode, scale, and calibrate Dolby Atmos for any home theater configuration. Regardless of model, support for HDCP 2.2 and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity come as standard.

The 7.2-channel TX-NR636 is Onkyo's most affordable Dolby Atmos-capable A/V receiver.

To be more specific, for entry to midrange, we've the TX-NR636, a 7.2-channel, 175W AVR; the TX-NR737, a 7.2-channel, 185W AVR with support for THX Select2 Plus; and the TX-NR838, a 7.2-channel, 215W AVR with support for THX Select2 Plus, and which sports features like a direct pure analog path and a digital processing crossover network. For these three AVRs, Dolby Atmos is supported after a firmware upgrade.

Moving up the chain, there are the TX-NR1030, a 9.2-channel, 230W AVR with selectable ISF video calibration; and the TX-NR3030, an 11.2-channel, 230W AVR with three separate transformers for amplification, audio, and video processing. And last but not least, the PR-SC5530 is an 11.2-channel network A/V controller. All of them come with built-in Dolby Atmos support.

The high-end 11.2-channel TX-NR3030 has three HDMI outputs for multi-zone video, and a massive toroidal transformer and two separate transformers for audio and video processing.

The Onkyo network AVRs are sold at Alpha Audio, Audio House, Courts, and Harvey Norman. Here’s a list of their prices:

Model Price Availability
TX-NR636 S$1,099 Now
TX-NR737 S$1,499 Now
TX-NR838 S$1,799 Now
TX-NR1030 S$2,699 Mid Nov
TX-NR3030 S$3,700 Mid Nov
PR-SC5530 S$3,500 Mid Nov

For further reading, check out this website by Onkyo, which explains the different possible speaker configurations for Dolby Atmos in your home theater.

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