Basic Dolby Atmos Home Install & Review

Okay in today’s video I’m going to be upgrading the home cinema system or at least that’s the idea, we’ll see how we get on with that. Now I say “home cinema,” that’s really overblowing it a bit. This is just the lounge in the house, it’s the only place I’ve got in the house for something like this, so at the moment I’ve got a 5.1 setup, we’ve got a centre speaker here, stereo either side, subwoofer at the front down here, and two at the back. That’s pretty much as much as I can fit in the room because it’s a very small space. Traditional size for a UK lounge unfortunately. I’d love to have a proper massive home cinema set up somewhere, I just don’t have the space. So everything’s got to go in here. Now what I’m doing is I want to upgrade this so it can play back Dolby Atmos or DTS X tracks. Now if you’re unfamiliar with Dolby Atmos, the idea is the sound can come from above. So to do that in a home cinema, proper one, you’d cut out holes in the ceiling, put speakers in the ceiling, run wires from your amp over the… (sigh) Very complicated. In a lounge like this obviously I’m not going to be doing that. However, there is an alternative: you can have speakers at the front which will bounce the sound off the ceiling and hopefully land where you’re sitting in your viewing position, and you should get a pretty similar effect. So, to do that I need two additional speakers at the front. And that’s not all: I’ll need an A/V receiver capable of decoding Dolby Atmos and DTS X tracks. Now, the receiver I’ve got in here is about seven years old there, so it’s missing quite a lot of the features of modern amps, of course it doesn’t decode DTS X and Dolby Atmos, but it also won’t pass through 4K. That tends to be something you can work around by running wires directly up to the television, but I like to switch everything through the amp as well. So I’m getting an amp capable of 4K, HDCP 2.2, HDMI 2.0A, and of course decoding those different standards. Also I’ve decided to get one that’s a little bit smaller than this one. Amps tend to have a lot of features on that I don’t need, they have massive power output. All I need is something that can run the speakers that I’m going to have in here. So I managed to find an AV receiver that’s nice and small. It means it’ll shrink down the space needed in this cabinet, means I can put this Sky receiver back in here which I put on top because I ran out of space. Anyway, got a lot to do, so let me show you what I got to do it with. Okay, so to kick-off, I’ve got my receiver, which is a Marantz NR1607, just pop that down here, I’ll go and get my speakers. Right, so here’s the speakers I got, PSB Imagine XA. Now these speakers are really designed to fit on top of the PSB Imagine XB. So you can have those speakers at the sides, and put these on top and add Atmos. Now the funny thing is when I looked at these on Amazon I noticed the PSB Imagine XB’s were heavily discounted, I think they had about 100 pounds off or something. I thought “Well that’s not an offer I can really refuse.” So in the end, rather than just having these speakers on here firing upwards, I thought might as well replace these at the sides and get the Imagine XB’s, so that’s what I did. So these arrived (grunts), and then I thought since I’ve got PSB Imagine’s stereo, Atmos, seems a shame not to have the centre speaker from PSB as well, and also people do always recommend that you have all your front speakers matching so that the sound sounds the same if you were to pan something across they’ve all got the same kind of tone. So, yeah, went and got the centre speaker as well. Yeah, so in the end I got a little bit carried away. I didn’t need to get new stereo speakers at the front, new centre channel, all I really needed was the Atmos speakers and the A/V receiver but you know, “in for a penny in for a pound.” Oh, I also got some more stuff as well. Right, so since I’ve got two new speakers, I’ll also need some new speaker cables to attach those to the A/V receiver. Cables I didn’t already have here. So I got some new pre-terminated speaker cables they’re the exact lengths that I require, so I don’t have unnecessary cable hanging down at the back. And I’ve got additional cables for the other speakers as well. I thought I might as well have them all running off the same cables just in case that kind of colours the sound. Although, to be honest it probably won’t, but the existing cables I had were a bit of a mess so, tidies it up anyway. Next thing: new HDMI cable, capable of HDMI 2.0A HDCP 2.2, 4K, 60 hertz, or 60 frame per second I should say, passthrough. Not all HDMI cables are equal in this respect. In the past you could get a cheap HDMI cable, plug it into anything, it would work. When it comes to 4K you do need to make sure you get one that’s spec’d up appropriately because they don’t all work, and a message will come up on your screen saying that your device isn’t compatible or something like that. Couple of demo disks: Dolby Atmos and DTS X, so when I’ve got ot all set up I can see how well it performs. If you just try it with a film you might find you’ve got a film that doesn’t really use those atmospheric speakers too much so, better off getting a demo disk that’s just there to try them out, and then you can be sure that they are actually functioning as you intended. And then finally: some cable ties, but these ones have got little names on them so I can write on what every cable is. Cos I didn’t do that when I put it in; it’s varied a lot over the years. So I’ll unplug everything, label it up, and it should make it easier in the future. So, got a lot to be going on with there. Let’s start! Pffft! Fortunately through the magic of editing the tedious process of labelling up all the wires and disassembling everything takes all of about five seconds. So now we can get on with the fun stuff: let’s have a look at our new A/V receiver. So once we’ve got inside the box we can see it’s the usual stuff in here, got a remote control, two AAA batteries for that, a “quick start” guide, which is REALLY quick, it basically says “Get on with it.” And then we’ve got an aerial for AM and FM, and there’s a sheet of stickers here as well, which I could have labelled-up those cables with. Perhaps I should have opened that earlier on. Now this black thing here is made out of cardboard, and it’s a tripod, you assemble that using the instructions on the reverse, and it’s for the calibration process. I’ll show you more on that later on. And we’ve also got the microphone which is used during that same process. So all that remains is the A/V receiver. It feels very substantial and solid, probably weighs about the same as the previous A/V receiver, however, it is about half the height. It’s about the same depth, though. I’ve got to say that previous one wasn’t a particularly large one, though. So this one is particularly compact. If we look on the back here, we can see the new one has 7 HDMI inputs, there’s also one on the front, two component inputs, and as far as digital audio goes we’ve got one coax and one optical. Now if we compare that to the older A/V receiver, on the back of that there’s only 5 HDMI inputs and one on the front, we’ve got two component inputs on this, there are two optical in’s and two coax in’s, so it wins a little bit there, but it’s also got a lot of analogue stuff down at the bottom that I never used. So it takes up a lot more space, and doesn’t offer anything more. In fact the new one has more inputs on it than are usable to me, the only difference that’s perhaps not as good is it’s only got one HDMI output on it whereas the older amp had two HDMI out’s, which of course is useful if you’re going to be running a projector and a television off the same A/V receiver. I connect my speakers up using banana plugs, but for A/V receivers sold in the UK, and presumably in the rest of Europe, they block banana plug sockets up on the back of receivers due to some weird rule about the fact that the sockets are the same size as power plugs in some European countries. Anyway, whatever the reason, just take the little plugs out of the back and then you can use your banana plugs on those without having to wire your cable around those binding posts, which of course means that your amp can’t then be easily moved Right, fast-forward another hour or so, I’ve got all my components wired into the back of this now. I haven’t switched it on yet. Notice, of course, it vents out of the top, that means you can’t place anything on the top of it and I’ve also allowed it quite a bit of space above for the heat to dissipate. Right, so now I can get to unpacking these speakers. I’ll start with the Atmos ones first of all because those are the most important for what we’re doing here today. Now the company, PSB Speakers, is someone I wasn’t familiar with. It’s a Canadian company, one of their sister labels is NAD, N-A-D, which of course are a more familiar name. But there aren’t that many people who are bringing out these up-firing front Atmos speakers. There aren’t that many companies you can choose from. These employed a good middle ground, good quality speaker, not too expensive and not too cheap either, and well-reviewed from what I’ve seen. So these seem to be the ones for me. You can see we’ve got a bracket on the back there to hang it on the wall. If we look in the rest of the packet in a moment you’ll see there’s the other half of that bracket Also this part here, this cover is very important. Notice the sound hits those kind of spongy areas there so it can’t fire forward. Also the front of it is made out of plastic as well, so the idea is no sound goes forward, it all goes up through that grill, so it’s a bit of a fake grill on the front there, really. I’ll show you why that’s there in a moment, but yeah the sound is supposed to fire up through the top as you can see, diagonally and then bounce back to the viewing position. So you’ve got to have that grill on there for them to work. Here’s the other half of that bracket I mentioned, that will attach to your wall with some screws if you’re going to mount them that way, we’ve got double-sided tape in here, and then single-sided tape with a rubber coating on the other side as well as four rubber feet. You’ve got a few different choices on what you put on the base of the speaker. Now these instructions in here, well we’ll go to this gray one first, that’s the template for the wall mount if you did want to put it on the wall that helps you just to drill the holes in the right place. I’m not gonna wall mount mine of course, but it’s nice that that’s in there it makes it easier. The instructions just tell you plug it into your amp and switch it on, because all the configuration comes from the amp side, all you have to do with the speakers is just make sure you put them in the right place. Now the place I was going to put them was on this cabinet here, which would have actually been a bit too low, I read later on. But as-is, I needn’t worry because I’ve bought these PSB Imagine XB’s. Now of course the “B” stands for “bookshelf,” the “XA” is the Atmos module, the XC is the centre one, I’d imagine XF would be the floor stander. Now I’ve put the covers on the front of these so they’d match up with the Atmos module. The Atmos one of course has to have the cover on to work properly, so you’ve got to put the cover on the bottom one if you want it all to match up nice and flat down the front like that, but they do fit perfectly. Because I’m mounting it on a stand I’m putting the rubber adhesive feet on the base of the speaker, to isolate it and also to stop it moving around, and then on the Atmos speaker you’ve got those rubber adhesive strips. I’m not going to use the double-sided ones, I don’t want to stick it permanently. I just want those on there so it doesn’t slide about. Now the next thing I have to do is plug some cables into it of course. Now similarly to the back of the A/V receiver, again these are being sold in Europe so they’ve blocked-up those banana plugs, so again just pull the little connectors out of the back of those and that means I can then put the banana plugs into those as well. So I’ve got a nice, neat setup. And then finally the most important speaker in a home cinema setup, the centre speaker where most of the dialogue comes from, that one has to have a good quality sound to it, and of course look at the size of this thing, that should do the job! So there we go, that’s the speakers all set up now. Once you turn the A/V receiver on you’re greeted with some very clear setup instructions that you can follow. You can skip all this if you wish and just do it manually, but if you follow this it gives you a step-by-step guide through the entire process of plugging all the speakers into the back, and all your different sources as well. Very clear, obviously things have improved by leaps and bounds since I got my last A/V receiver, which was about 7 years ago. Things are a lot simpler now for people just starting from scratch, it’s nice to see that. Once you’ve got everything set up, the next stage is to calibrate the speakers for the listening environment. And again, it talks you through this. Also supplies, of course, the microphone that’s necessary for doing this. The idea with the microphone is you put it at your normal listening position and a couple of others around that area, and it will calibrate it depending on what it hears coming out of the speakers. They also supply a cardboard tripod to get it just the right height. It has to be about head-height. Fortunately it’s got a tripod screw mount on the bottom, and you can just attach it to a normal tripod like I’ve done here. So once you plug that into the setup mike position on the front of the A/V receiver and click “next” it will play a series of sounds through each speaker which then get analysed by the microphone. And once it’s completed this procedure you can of course manually tweak those levels to your own preference. The next step was to connect up to my home network. This isn’t absolutely essential, but there are some network-enabled features that I wanted to use, so I did it over Wi-Fi, it found both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz network, and connected up with a full-strength signal, which was nice. I didn’t even have to move the aerials on the back to their upright positions. As well as Dolby Atmos, this A/V amp can decode DTS X soundtracks, but to do that you need to apply a firmware update. It does take quite a while as well, it’s about 40 minutes. I’ve got a good fast network connection, so I don’t think it’s the network, I think it’s more that it just takes a while to apply to the device itself. But once it does, it works fine, no problem. But of course, I’m really here for the Dolby Atmos. (Sounds of nature) The difference between Dolby Atmos and DTS X and the previous surround formats is that these ones are object-based, and the previous ones were channel-based. So to give you an example of that, this can track a particular object and adjust the volume and position of that object, rather than just adjust the volume of the channel. So, for example if you were in a jungle soundscape, and someone wanted to set off a machine gun over your left shoulder, you can have that really loud without adjusting the entire volume of the channel, so the bird noise and things will still stay a low level. That’s a pretty basic explanation, but that gives you some idea of how well you can position things around the space without affecting the way other things sound. So listening to some of these demos you can definitely hear how objects can be placed a lot more precisely. So once I’d made sure everything was working properly and went through all the different devices I connected to it, I then went and renamed those to things that were more suitable for the device that I’d plugged in. Now you can switch between those using the dial on the front, I’ve never done that with my previous A/V receiver, I always tend to use the remote control and of course you have got one button for each input. Being an A/V receiver it’s got all the features you’d expect. It can receive music or audio through Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay, you can also put music into it off a USB stick. It’ll play Hi-Res files if you want, FLAC files, either off that stick or off the network, and you can play back FM and AM, and, of course, internet radio, which also includes podcasts. One thing I’ve noticed: it takes a while to scroll through these lists. It does have search facilities, but it wasn’t quite finding the things I wanted, also gets a bit sluggish in here at times; I think it’s waiting for the other end to respond. Fortunately you can bookmark or “favorite” the radio stations that you like once you have found them, and then they’re very easy to come back to later on. I should mention that those two large dials on the front of the device are made out of plastic, which was a little bit of a surprise cos they look metal. It doesn’t really matter though, because you cannot control the whole thing using just the buttons on the front of the amp, you do need to use the remote control to access many of the features. There is one feature on this A/V receiver which works a heck of a lot better than it did on my previous one, it’s the video conversion function. Now not many people will have a need to use this nowadays, however it can start off with a standard definition, even down to 480i, signal and then de-interlace it and scale it all the way up to 4K, and it looks surprisingly decent! I tested the feature out using a Laserdisc player, and I was so impressed with the scaling abilities of the A/V receiver, I was able to decommission the separate scaler that I’d been previously using for this function. Now please don’t write in to tell me that the aspect ratio is wrong on this scene, I do know. Now before I go into the wrap-up and talk about my experiences with Atmos, I’ve got to point something out: I am at the bottom rung of Atmos here. Two up-firers at the front is as low as you can go! Ideally in a room like this I’d have another two up-firers at the back, which would definitely add more of a surround effect to it, but of course it would also add perhaps another 1000 pounds to the cost. You can of course have ceiling-mounted speakers, which would be even better than up-firers, and you can go REALLY crazy with this. You could have 24 floor speakers and 10 ceiling ones in one Atmos setup. So yes, I’m right at the bottom of the Atmos ladder, and that’s what I’m commenting on. Anyway, over to me. Okay, so the observant amongst you will have noticed that I’ve changed my clothes, and that’s because it’s Day Two; I spent the entire first day in my old jeans, rolling around behind the thing, messing around with cables, swapping things around, getting the settings just right, the inputs labelled, and the calibration done. So today I’ve managed to have some fun, I’ve listened to some of these demos, and watched some of the demos because it contains Atmos-only sort of sound effects as well as little demos of things flying around the room and stuff like that as well as little clips out of films, action-packed moments and things. So I’ve got some good tests done and now I’ve got a bit of an opinion about how the whole thing performs. And first off, let me just talk about this amp, the NR1607, it’s done exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s squashed-down the amount of things I needed in here, it’s freed-up a bit of space, there’s plenty of room above it for it to vent, cos it does get a little bit warm on top, but I’ve got a good few inches above that. I’ve also got the Sky Box in here now, so everything’s nice and neat. Now the only thing that it’s really missing is a second HDMI out, if someone was running a projector. I’m not doing that any more at the moment, however if you did get this and you were missing that second output, well you can just get a little box like this for, I don’t know, 15 pounds or so, which should split the HDMI out and you can switch between them because if you’re putting your projector on you’re usually getting up anyway, and you can just press that button to swap them over. One thing I will say about the amp: the remote. I would have thought this would have been backlit, a bit surprised it isn’t. Of course, home cinema you normally have the lights down low, so you’d have to memorize where these buttons are. They do look like they’d be backlit as well, with the writing on these kind of your clear buttons. Well, surprisingly not. The only other thing I’ll say, hard to press… well, not “hard,” not dead-difficult, but you have to kind of shove them down a little bit they do need a good press to respond to things, which is about all I can really say bad about it; I mean it’s an A/V amp, what can you say about an A/V amp, it does exactly what you need. One thing though, I suppose some people will say it’s not got enough power output, I’ve seen that in reviews saying it’s not really for larger home cinemas and that’s probably true. In my setup here, the volume goes up to 99. I haven’t had it above 80, 80’s the maximum I’d want to listen to anything at; it gets a little too loud then. Any more than that I just don’t like it at all. General listening I’m gonna be more round about the sort of 70 point. So, in a room like this it’s perfectly adequate for what I need. And, good thing about it is with it being HDMI 2.0A HDCP 2.2, all the standards that are current, everything can run through this and feed up to the TV, so I can now just switch between these things, using the A/V receiver. Also, if the A/V receiver is off, it still functions in standby so that you can swap between the different things that you’ve got plugged into it so you can use it as a switchbox even if you’re not running your sound out through your whole A/V system, you’re just watching it on the TV. Now talking of sound, let’s mention these speakers for a second. Well you’ve got to bear in mind that I’m no expert in these, all I can really do is compare them with the ones that were here previously, and I’ve got to say they do sound a lot better than those. And those were pretty good speakers when I bought them; I remember them costing me quite a lot. These ones are a lot bigger, which will presumably be part of the reason why they sound larger. They’ve got a richer, kind of more solid sound to them than the other ones, which were more of a kind of perhaps a novelty-type home cinema speaker. With these you’d be very happy playing music through them. Another thing, they are quite large, as I mentioned, but when I got them all in position, had it all set up, the missus came home, she had a look and she said, “Well that’s quite neat, isn’t it?” Now that’s unusual; normally, put something like this in the room and she would not be happy. But there must just be something about the design of these or the way, of course they blend in with this dark wall, that she really hasn’t got any issue with them. So, you know that gets a seal of approval there. The other thing I don’t like: they have a little bit of a badge on the front here, which can’t be removed off the grill, which I think looks a little bit garish. But really I’m just nitpicking. Now let’s talk about the Atmos effect from my normal home movie viewing position. The last time I went to a cinema was in 2003, I was just checking it on IMDB, looking up the film title. Now the reason I haven’t been since then, I had too many negative experiences. The last one I remember I saw, the film was out of focus, there was chewing gum stuck on the screen, and the sound wasn’t keeping up with the images. So that was the final nail in the coffin (that’s not the name of the film, that was the experience). Ever since then I’ve just watched films at home, and I really enjoy it. And that’s why I spend quite a bit of money on the setup here, because I do watch perhaps 3 or 4 films a week, if at all possible, and of course, as a result I’ve upgraded my equipment over the years. I got a UHD player this year, so I’ve been playing UHD disks and noticed of course they’ve got this Atmos on quite a few of them and thinking I’m missing out here, there’s Atmos effects on there that I can’t listen to. So I felt like I’m paying for something that I couldn’t hear, which is one of the reasons why I upgraded. That, and I needed 4K passthrough, and a few other things like that as well. Now there’s another reason: I mentioned I haven’t been to the cinema for that long, and that’s because, I wanted to say, I haven’t heard Atmos in a cinema. I’ve never been to a cinema with an Atmos setup, so this is my first experience of it. So, have I been missing something? Well, yeah in a way, although it’s not been a kind of blown-away experience like I got when I got Dolby Digital put in and I was amazed how everything was very directional. No, it’s a bit better, that’s really as far as it goes. It definitely adds some atmospherics… It’s a little bit like the difference between UHD (you know, 4K TV’s) and 1080p. You can see the difference if you go up to them, you go “Oh yeah that’s quite a bit better, that.” And you might notice the HDR, but it really requires, probably, someone telling you, saying, “Oh no, this is UHD,” and you go “Oh yeah, I can see it now.” It’s a bit like that with Atmos: if you didn’t tell anyone you had Atmos on, people would just probably watch the film, and think “Oh yeah, sounds pretty good, this,” not really realizing what it is that makes it sound better. The Atmos I’ve got here with the two up-firing speakers is adding sort of a cloud of sound up here, so if you’ve got one of these demos that’s playing, and it’s got something like a thunderstorm, rather than just being through your speakers it definitely feels like there’s something up here, bit of noise going on, but it’s not quite as directional as I was expecting. There’s a rainfall demo, and I was thinking it’s going to sound like rain’s pitter-pattering all around the room, and as it is it just sounds like there’s a bit of something over there, but definitely not directly overhead like I was expecting. I’m not blown-away, however if it was taken away I would miss it. It definitely does add something, this extra height seems to elevate everything up a little bit and it feels more like you’re in the centre of something. If you can afford it, if you’ve got the space for it, if you’re upgrading your equipment anyway, it’s a nice thing to have, but I will say it doesn’t have to be there, it doesn’t seem absolutely essential. For example, if you’re watching a film on a disk and it’s got a normal 5.1 soundtrack or 7.1 or whatever, and there’s a thunderstorm, your thunderstorm’s still gonna come through the speakers you’ve got. It’s not like you’re not going to hear it, they’re just gonna throw a bit more up in the Atmos area as well. I am looking forward to playing some of these films, seeing what kind of extra effects I spot, but I will be listening out for it, and I doubt the missus would notice, she’d probably… I’d say “Oh, did you hear that from above?” She’d go “Uh, I dunno, I’m not too sure.” Yeah, it’s that kinda thing. So overall, nice system I’ve got here now, very happy with the amp, brilliant speakers, excellent quality, I’m just gonna say the Atmos is really the icing on the cake, and that’s about as far as I’m gonna go. So, that’s it for the moment. As always, thanks for watching.


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