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Suppliers Hopeful Dolby Atmos Turns Volume Up

NEW YORK — Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology will deliver sound from all directions in a home theater room, but Atmos could take component-audio sales in only one direction: up.

Despite video advancements such as 3D and 4K Ultra HD in recent years, “audio has remained still for 10 years,” said Chris Walker, Pioneer’s product planning director for home electronics. The most recent major surround-sound development was the 2006 launch of high-resolution multichannel surround formats to accompany the launch of Blu-ray discs and players in 2006, he said.

Those technologies, which assign a specific track to a specific channel, produce a “flat experience” compared to what Atmos delivers. (See p. 34 for the enhancements offered by Atmos.)

“Flat panel was the last ‘wow’ in home theater,” said Russ Johnston, Pioneer’s marketing and corporate communications executive VP. “It stopped you in your tracks.” Atmos, he said, “will reenergize audio from a ‘wow’ perspective.”

For some years, he said, dealers have been selling solutions-based audio such as outdoor speaker systems, unified remotes and the like, but Atmos creates more drama and excitement for consumers and dealers alike.

The key to driving audio sales, however, will be an Atmos demo, and deliveries of Atmos audio/video receivers and speakers starting in the third quarter from multiple companies will give many retailers time to set aside demo space for the Christmas selling season, Johnston said. Pioneer’s Atmos AVRs and speakers will appear in Best Buy’s more than 380 Magnolia stores and, in select Magnolia stores, they will appear in demo rooms to entice consumers with live demos, Johnston said.

Custom installers and smaller Pioneer Elite specialists will be able to get demos up quickly, he added. Those dealers “get it and will carry the torch for you.” Even if dealers set up demos and promote the technology in the fall, he noted, “it might take till early next summer for the momentum to catch on.”

One major plus with Atmos is that it doesn’t require on-wall height speakers that clutter up walls, he added.

Don Freeman, D+M Group’s global marketing and training VP, said the technology will deliver “a much bigger impact” for custom installers because they have the expertise to install in-ceiling speakers. “A more realistic surround experience is a huge win,” he added.

Kevin Zarow, D+M Group’s sales VP for the Americas, also called Atmos readily demonstrable at the point of sale, and he called it an opportunity to sell more highmargin speakers. Integrators and dealers “very heavy into home theater are very excited to sell more speakers,” he said. And the technology will attract “customers ready to upgrade and new customers.”

Dolby’s marketing prowess will also help drive sales, said Paul Belanger, D+M Group product manager. The theatrical version of Atmos “is heavily marketed in the cinema space,” he said.

Likewise, “people will hear it in theaters,” driving demand for Atmos in home theaters, said Richard Glikes, president and founder of the Azione Unlimited education/ buying group. Atmos for home theater “will create more buzz about audio, which hasn’t been the focal point for a few years,” he said. “I think it will be big.”

Glikes said, “Anything with more speakers is better.”

For his part, Bob Goedken, general manager of Yamaha’s A/V division, was more circumspect. “We always have hopes that new capabilities like this will increase sales and/or replacement sales of AVRs, pre-pros and speakers.” For Atmos to take off in the home, however, “consumers will need to know more about Atmos’s unique capabilities as it will be difficult for many retailers to demonstrate them. It’s too early to tell the impact that it will have — and only the audiophiles will know about it at this point.”