Toy Story in 3D and Dolby 7.1 too?

When Toy Story 3 opens this weekend, movie-goers will have the now-commonplace choice of seeing the film in the standard 2D version or the usually-higher-priced 3D version. But those in select markets may also wish to seek out theaters showing Toy Story 3 in the new Dolby Surround 7.1 soundtrack format.

Toy Story 3 Dolby 7.1

Dolby Digital soundtracks were introduced in 1992 with the release of Batman Returns, the first release to include a digital movie soundtrack with 5.1 channels. Since then, almost every movie theater in the United States, with the exception of a few single-screen independent theaters in smaller markets, has converted their sound system to one that supports Dolby Digital. Most support SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) and DTS (Digital Theater Systems) soundtracks as well. Dolby Digital soundtracks became available to the home theater market in 1995 with the release of Clear and Present Danger on laserdisc; I still have my copy. The DTS audio format was available as an option on some laserdisc soundtracks; mainly Universal releases such as Jurassic Park as Steven Spielberg was an initial investor in DTS.

Dolby Digital became the standard soundtrack specification for commercially-released DVDs and then standard definition satellite television. HDTV broadcasts include Dolby Digital as the standard soundtrack format. All of these various Dolby Digital sources can make use of up to 5.1 channels, which offers 5 full-bandwidth channels and 1 LFE (low frequency effects) channel for bass enhancement. The specific audio channels in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix include the Left channel, the Center channel, the Right channel, the Left Surround channel, the Right Surround channel and the LFE channel. For the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Dolby Laboratories teamed with Lucasfilm’s THX division to create Dolby Surround EX, which adds a sixth channel appearing as a Rear Center Surround channel; it’s mixed into the rear digital channels and decoded using an analog matrix decoding technology.

While various forms of 7.1 channel decoding have been available to home theater owners for years, these decoding schemes have been produced by altering the original Dolby Digital (or DTS) 5.1 soundtrack available on the source program (DVD, HDTV, etc.). Now, however, Dolby Surround 7.1 soundtracks will provide theater goers, and soon, I’m sure, home theater owners, with a full complement of surround sound speaker locations. The 7.1 decoding adds a Back Surround Left channel and a Back Surround Right channel.

7.1 Surround Sound Diagram

Read the official Dolby Laboratories press release and then see if Toy Story 3 is playing in Dolby Surround 7.1 near you using Dolby’s theater locator. The nearest theater to me showing Toy Story 3 in 7.1 is about 175 miles away in Melbourne, Florida. It’s difficult to convince friends and family to drive across the state to see a movie because a certain theater has special equipment. Believe me, I’ve tried. Therefore, I’ll likely be missing the 7.1 version. However, I will be seeing it in Sony 4K digital projection!

By the way, to read more about how to identify your best local movie theaters, be sure to read the Digital Media Services December 2009 and January 2010 newsletters; they include a two-part Tech Tip explaining the technical design elements of movie theaters that allow films to be presented as the filmmakers intended and how you can identify which theaters will perform the best.


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