The Dolby Premier Studio Certification programme is designed to "measure technical excellence at every level of a studio's operation" and see if your space is fit to create Dolby Atmos mixes. The certification demands certain standards in room acoustics, audio and picture monitoring, quality of installation, accuracy of synchronisation and your all round technical competence. While we can't make you a better mixer, we can help you unpick exactly what hardware and software you need to get certified. Here's what you need to know...
There are three variants of Atmos certification, each of which qualifies you to create Atmos mixes for different destinations. They're known as home, commercial & trailer, and theatrical certifications. While it’s possible to have a room that is technically capable of playing back a Dolby mix without an official rendering unit (RMU), you’re not going to get certified without one.
The RMU manages the panning, configuration and calibration of your audio objects, and converts them to an .atmos file containing not only your audio, but also all the metadata needed for your sound to be played back correctly in different environments. Dolby have partnered up with Dell to develop two powerful host servers for two models of RMU: one which can handle mixes destined for Blu-ray, home theatres and OTT streaming, which is the model you need for a home or commercial and trailer certification, and a more powerful version for theatrical mixing, which has to be leased from Dolby. You can connect to this via MADI if you’re working from a PC workstation, and MADI or Dante if you’re working from a Mac.
To get Dolby approval, your mixing room needs to be able to send 128 channels of MADI (ten for the base layer of 9.1 restricted channel audio that's used to create a basis for your Atmos mix, and 118 for the objects you'll pan around the room). This means you'll need at least two HDX cards, three if you want to monitor through Pro Tools too.
Earlier this year, Dolby released a third version of their rendering software, and with it, theyadded support for two new Mastering Suite hardware configurations: the Dell 7910 Rendering and Mastering Workstation with Dante I/O (qualified with Focusrite RedNet PCIeR card), and a Mac Pro Rendering and Mastering Workstation with Dante I/O (qualified with Focusrite RedNet PCIeR card).
While there’s not much that’s new per se, there are a number of subtle adjustments that could have a knock-on effect on your workflow. The Atmos Monitor application has been replaced with a new applicationthat’s common to the Dolby Atmos Master Suite and the Dolby Atmos Production Suite. The difference between the two is which workstation the application is installed on, which product is licensed, and which audio and LTC interfaces are used. As such there are UI features that will be used for one or the other, i.e. the audio settings.
They’ve added a new “Renderer Remote” application for controlling the Mastering Suite workstation and updated the re-render output matrix to allow up to 20 live re-renders and unlimited offline re-renders, and direct export to BWF ADM, support for mastering at 96kHz (for archive only) and support for Nuendo with the Dolby Atmos Production Suite via the Dolby Audio Bridge virtual Core Audio driver.
Newly added Binaural metadata for headphone mixes and Trim metadata for 7.1/5.1 down mix control, which have been added to address future capabilities in other Dolby tools. Dolby promise us more information about their use cases as these new announcements are made.
Dolby will want to inspect your studio. Monitor placement and calibration are extremely important when it comes to getting your Atmos mix right, and sticking four speakers to the roof of a 7.1 room won't quite cut it. You'll need to set aside a couple of days to get your speakers calibrated to Dolby's specifications – they're actually quite relaxed about which model of speaker you're using, with pretty much any brand being fine as long as you can demonstrate the correct SPL, EQ and rolloff when asked.
To calibrate your monitor setup to Dolby's requirements, you have a few options, with the most popular coming from Avid’s own SPQ cards, the JBL Intonato range, and Trinnov D-Mon range.
If you’re running your speakers straight out of a Pro Tools | MTRX interface and managing them using DADman software, it makes sense to stay within the Avid family and use SPQ cards for calibration. You’ll get 1024 IIR filters across 128 channels per card (up to 16 filters per channel), the ability to save and recall configurations for any audio format (including Atmos), and you’ll get tight integration with both DADman and Pro | Mon. However, there’s no automated EQ option available in this scenario, so you need someone in the room who’s confident that they can EQ the room and set the delays at Dolby’s required level (we can provide this person for a very reasonable fee).
If you’re not relying on MTRX and DADman and would prefer an external monitoring box, you’ve traditionally had to opt for the effective-but-expensive DSS range. However, JBL’s Intonato manages to do much the same job at a far more affordable price point, and is a great alternative for anyone trying to keep their initial costs low. It also comes with external remote controls, so you don’t have to worry about integrating it with Pro Tools, and has limited automated EQ abilities.
A slightly higher-end option is the Trinnov D-Mon range, which boasts all the benefits of the Intonato, but with EUCON support, so you can control it directly on your Avid control surface, and far more advanced automated EQ. It’s also nicely scalable: you can buy the entry-level model for a stereo room, and then add more I/O as needed while you’re working your way up to a full Atmos room.
We have our own Atmos setup in Soho, where you can hear a full 7.1.4 mix and try creating an Atmos mix of your own. If you’re just starting to spec out a room, we can help with room design, installation and configuration, including monitor calibration and EQ. And if you’re looking to tweak an existing room, we can assess your space and calibrate it to Dolby’s standards for you, so you’ve a much better chance of getting certified straight off the bat. To book a demo or find out more, all you need to do is get in touch with the team on the details below.
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