Should you buy a new A/V receiver with Dolby Atmos?

Bragging rights. Come on, you know we love ’em. According to my research, a lot of you folks reading this blog are guys, and guys love bragging rights. We want the cars that go faster, the houses that hold more, and as much as anything else, we want our sound systems to rival the ones found in commercial movie theaters. Right? You know you all are with me on this.

So, you’ve probably been drooling over the new generation of audio receivers just beginning to hit stores that support Dolby’s new Atmos technology. Atmos is a jump far beyond what you’ve seen in home audio in the past. Atmos theater technology allows for a programmable matrix of 128 different tracks going to speakers that can be anywhere. The system dynamically balances the sound so that if you have enough speakers it’s possible to position a sound literally anywhere in 3D space, in real time. When used in the home, it allows for 35 channels that include 24 primary audio channels and 11 effect channels. From there, the channels can be remixed by your audio receiver to work with the speakers you have. Let’s be honest, you’re probably drooling a little just thinking about it.

Except, you know, there isn’t anything out there that actually uses it.

OK, that’s a little harsh. Here’s the complete list of every piece of media in the world that uses Atmos at this point in time, early 2015:

American Sniper (Blu-ray™)
The Expendables 3 (Blu-ray)
Gravity: Special Edition (Blu-ray)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Blu-ray)
Jupiter Ascending (Blu-ray)
John Wick (Blu-ray)
On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter (Blu-ray)
Step Up All In (Blu-ray)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Blu-ray)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-ray)
Unbroken (Blu-ray)

Yep, that’s it. And there are no streaming services that use Atmos. None, zero, zip. Now, of course no one knows if this technology will take off running and within a year you could find Netflix, Hulu, and major pay-TV services using Atmos. But most likely not. Dolby Digital 5.1 is deeply, deeply entrenched in the world of broadcasting, not only over-the-air but in pay TV, and it’s also the standard for streaming video. It’s going to take a lot to convince content providers to start encoding everything for 35-channel sound, especially when they look at how much of their entertainment is streamed on phones and tablets with one or two speakers.

On the other hand… if you absolutely have to buy a new home theater receiver this year there is a technology you need to be aware of. It’s called HDCP 2.2 and it’s a must have for 4K. There are a lot of home theater receivers out there that claim they have a 4K passthrough but again, as of right now, there are only about 15 receivers that actually support HDCP 2.2. Without this technology your home theater receiver is useless. USELESS. Because eventually the 4K revolution will grind into high gear, and every piece of 4K content will be copy protected with HDCP 2.2… without it your home theater receiver won’t even pass those signals through.

Personally I would wait about 6 months before looking for a home theater receiver. I’ve read that the lower-end manufacturers are all planning to release 2015 models that support HDCP 2.2, and if you were to buy right now you’d be in for a $500 purchase that you don’t need. Come time for the holidays I’m guessing even your $100 soundbar will support HDCP 2.2. It’s just going to be everywhere.

And as for Dolby Atmos, unless you care so much about bragging rights that you’ll buy something you’ll never ever use… just don’t worry about it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.