If you’ve spent any time researching or shopping for home theater products — whether TVs, soundbars, or full surround-sound systems — chances are you’re familiar with the phrase “Dolby Atmos.” Introduced in 2012, Dolby Atmos is one of the most immersive surround-sound formats available today.
Consumer tech has a tendency to put hardware before software. The rabbit hole world of home theatre devices is no exception. You can buy an 8K TV ,, but what can it do? Various A/V industries have managed to meet the Atmos standard. Dolby Atmos can be experienced on select Blu-rays as well as through a variety of streaming platforms including Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.
This brings us to the main point of this article — how to stream Dolby Atmos surround sound via Netflix. If you want Atmos, you will need to pay for the most expensive Netflix streaming service.
Let’s first understand Atmos in a little more detail.
We’ve covered this revolutionary audio codec before, but it is worth reviewing the basics.
Before Dolby Atmos, traditional surround-sound layouts were most commonly designated as 5.1 and 7.1 systems. The “home theater” in a 5.1 arrangement is composed of three front speakers, also known as the left, right and center channels. The directional speaker family also includes two rear speakers (left, right and center channels), with a subwoofer to complete the sound staging for lower frequencies (the “.1” in 5.1).
In a 7.1 arrangement we retain the speaker and subwoofer layouts and add two additional channels to the array. These speakers can be placed either on the sides or above the front speakers.
Dolby atmos is, in large part, a surround format that uses additional, height-focused channels. What is the end result? The end result? A 3D surround sound experience that will bring you as close as possible to being in a movie theater.
Common Atmos configurations are 5.1.2, 7.1.2 and 7.1.4. The first digit represents the main speaker configuration. The second digit indicates how many subwoofers have been used and the last number is how many Atmos height channels are available.
While the best way to achieve complete Dolby Atmos immersion is with dedicated, down-firing ceiling speakers in arrangements of two or four, you can also buy Atmos-ready floor-standing and bookshelf speakers that feature additional drivers on top of the cabinets. These top-speakers emit sound upwards toward the ceiling where waves bounce back down to create a “height” effect.
If you’re limited on available real estate but still want to get as close to a full Atmos experience as possible, there are also some pretty amazing Dolby Atmos soundbars that are built from the ground up to tackle Atmos sound.
One of the most popular ways to experience the mighty power of Dolby Atmos sound is through your Netflix subscription. To get started, you will need to pay a bit more upfront. This is because Netflix locks Dolby Atmos movies and shows behind the paywall of their most expensive monthly plan — the $20-a-month Premium tier.
Sure, Netflix’s $15. 50-a-month Standard plan gets you unlimited HD streaming on two screens at once. If you already have an Atmos soundbar or speaker system, you may be able to get unlimited HD streaming on two screens at once. For $20 a month, not only does Netflix’s Premium plan unlock Dolby Atmos sound (for available titles), but you also get access to a huge library of Netflix UHD movies and shows on up to four screens at once.
You’ve upgraded your Netflix plan and can now proudly call yourself a “Premium” subscriber. Great, so when does the Atmos-fun begin?
First things first: In addition to all of those Dolby Atmos speakers you painstakingly installed last weekend, in order to get complete Atmos sound, you need to ensure that every single component and connection lined in and out of your A/V receiver, soundbar, and TV is properly equipped to handle and output Dolby Atmos.
If you plan on accessing Netflix from a streaming device like an Apple TV 4K or a Roku Streaming Stick, these devices need to be compatible with Dolby Atmos. The same goes for whatever HDMI cables (18Gbps or higher) you’ll be using to connect this hardware to your A/V receiver or soundbar. And yes, you guessed it: Your receiver and soundbar absolutely need to be built to process the Atmos codec as well.
Are you interested in accessing Netflix via your smart TV? You’ll need to make sure your TV is capable of outputting Dolby Atmos back into your A/V receiver or Atmos soundbar through HDMI ARC. Also, make sure the Netflix app that you have installed on your TV or A/V device supports Atmos. It’s not easy, but Netflix’s Atmos performance may vary depending on the hardware. This was something we found when looking at the format in detail.
When browsing through Netflix’s library of movies and shows, titles that are available in Dolby Atmos will display an Atmos icon next to their description.
Please note that not all episodes or seasons of Dolby Atmos-compatible shows will work with Atmos. A few language issues are also to be considered. Not every Netflix movie or TV show supports Atmos in every language.
With all that being said, is there a surefire way to know that the audio coming out of your Atmos speakers is actually Atmos sound? Yes, the short answer is yes. The majority of A/V receivers or soundbars will have a display panel that displays the surround sound codecs it is currently using. When decoding Atmos audio, most displays will display “Atmos” and “Dolby Atmos”.
If you’re outputting Atmos from a smart TV and into an A/V receiver or soundbar, there’s a decent chance your TV will throw up some kind of quick Atmos indicator when you start streaming your Atmos movie or show.
Better still, if you have a TV remote that has an Info or Status button, press one to see a small display on your TV screen. This will tell you the resolution, refresh rate, and type of audio being processed. Your TV is sending Netflix-powered Atmos to your A/V system if “Atmos” appears in its entirety or abbreviated.
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