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Dolby Atmos Expert Speaks Volumes About Startling Audio Technology

Calling Tim Hoogenakker a fan of object-based audio might be an understatement.

The re-recording mixer for Formosa Group—a Santa Monica, Calif.- based post-production sound technology company—can be considered among the top authorities when it comes to Dolby Atmos, the next-generation object-based audio technology that places sounds above, below and around listeners, based on the placement and number of speakers in the home.

Hoogenakker has helped remix more than 30 of the 100- plus home entertainment titles released in Atmos to date. And that background has him looking forward to Aug. 6.

That’s when NBC’s Olympics coverage will make (on a one-day delay) available to broadcast distributors the opening ceremonies of Rio’s Summer Games in Dolby Atmos audio, a first-ever for a major sporting event. Dave Mazza, senior vice president and CTO of NBC Sports Group and NBC Olympics, told Next TV that the Atmos audio signal will “light up the height speakers and give the viewer the feeling of sitting in the stadium with sound all around them.”

Consider Hoogenakker tuned in, no matter how it turns out.

“That’s incredible, a big step,” he said of NBC’s Atmos plans for the opening ceremonies in Rio. “With the right kind of planning and the right kind of diligence, that could work really, really well.”

Hoogenakker knows about planning: he’s been responsible for the Atmos mixes of more home entertainment releases than he can count, including the Blu-ray Disc releases of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Sony Pictures’ releases of The Fifth Element, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, and Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games.

To remix a fi lm for home entertainment in Atmos—especially when it’s an older title—requires working with the studio, the film’s producers and original audio crews, Hoogenakker said.

“It’s a combination of getting all those people together, finding the right elements—especially important with an older title—and then taking the dialogue, effects, music and background noise and remixing the whole film,” he added. “Some of these films [we] had to remap and reconfigure.

“When you’re mixing from all these different elements, you have to think, had they had Dolby Atmos at the time, how might they have done it?”

And Hoogenakker said he knows most homes aren’t capable of pulling off the perfect Dolby Atmos set-up: 7.1.4, or 7.1 surround sound plus four ceiling speakers, “the most direct way to hear Atmos,” he said. There’s an option: “You can also scale it downward to 5.1 with up-fi ring speakers… that face up and reflect off the ceiling.”

And the Atmos mixes Formosa and Hoogenakker work on don’t disappoint on in-home speaker soundbars that purposefully split audio signals in different directions off walls and ceilings. “I was pleasantly surprised. I did not think it was get as much separation as it did,” he said about one model.

If there’s one concern Hoogenakker has with his work with Atmos and sound-based technology for content, it’s streaming: “It’s has to be encoded in a way that can be fi t through the bandwidth, along with HD picture, and be able to [be] replicated in the home,” he said.

“Dolby has formats where you can squeeze it down for over-the-top delivery, and they’re doing it with Vudu and Comcast VOD, [but] it’s not going to be a lossless signal.”