Dolby Atmos for Headphones Changes the Game on Xbox One and Windows 10

I already wrote a post about the new Windows Sonic for Headphones, but I hadn’t yet tried out the Dolby Atmos software.

Well now I have…and let me tell you, it makes me want to play all of my games on the Xbox One. It’s an exceptional implementation of virtual surround sound, and when my free 30 day trial ends I’m absolutely going to spend the 15 bucks to unlock it forever.

The basic concept of Dolby Atmos mirrors that of DTS Headphone: X and Sony’s proprietary 3D Virtual Surround Sound.

The Atmos software creates a room full of virtual speakers inside a headphone environment, and then plays your audio back accordingly. Atmos has a particular focus on placing sounds above and below you, and in specially-encoded video/blu-ray material you’ll get a really great sense of verticality.

It works great on good old Xbox games, too. I’ve particularly enjoyed using it with Rise of the Tomb Raider, which has an aggressive and immersive sound mix. The headphone surround is among the most convincing I’ve ever heard. Sounds can come from an impressive “distance” away from my headphones, and it worked well with several different pairs of cans.

It truly feels like you’re sitting in a room full of speakers, with sound coming from all directions, whether you’re playing a game or watching a movie. I have yet to try an Atmos-encoded Blu-Ray but it’s supposed to support the height effects in those soundtracks as well. But I did watch a little bit of the Total Recall remake (I’m one of the five people that liked that) and it was exactly like watching it in my old home theater setup I abandoned due to space issues.

So. How do you get it? You’ll need the latest Xbox One update or the Creator’s Update for Windows 10. Then, you’ll have to install the Dolby Access app from the Microsoft Store to get the codec download. The software is free for 30 days and then it costs 15 bucks to unlock. The software includes some free demo videos to really show off the technology, and it tells you how to enable the settings to turn it on. If you have a home theater system with Dolby Atmos support, this software also allows you to output Atmos audio to that. I hope that in the future Dolby adds the ability to choose and customize different virtual headphone room environments, but other than that I have no complaints.

Dolby Atmos for headphones can stand proudly next to DTS Headphone: X and Razer Surround as one of the best virtual surround systems for gaming and movies I’ve ever used. It’s 5 bucks cheaper than the Pro version of Razer Surround, too.

Do you absolutely need this?

Well, if you’re way into virtual surround software for headphones, or have a Dolby Atmos home theater, I’d say go for it.

Otherwise, you’re probably fine experimenting with the totally free Windows Sonic for Headphones on these same platforms. I think Dolby Atmos sounds much better and is worth the price premium…but it’s not going to change your mind if you’ve already written-off virtual surround.

For me, this new sound tech has made the Xbox One/Windows 10 my preferred way to play new-release games. The Xbox One now sounds better over headphones than the PS4. It also still throws into sharp relief the fact that Sony charges you a steep premium for their surround tech by bundling it in with their proprietary headsets, and then limiting its use to just those models.

Microsoft is doing this the exact right way, through software, and letting gamers choose what headphones to use. It’s a really classy move.

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