How to set up your game studio for Dolby Atmos

If you’re considering mixing your next game in Dolby Atmos, you’ll want to get your mix studios ready so you can create an immersive soundscape in spatial audio. Here are three tips to get you started:

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1. Setup your audio middleware to output Dolby Atmos

Both Wwise and FMOD support Dolby Atmos right out of the box, so it’s easy and free to start dynamically panning sounds in three dimensions.  
If you use Wwise 2017 or newer, you’ll find the Microsoft Spatial Output plugin listed on Audiokinetic’s website. If you’re using FMOD 1.10 or newer, you simply need to point your master bus to the 7.1.4 output on your Windows 10 PC and add a FMOD Spatializer effect.  
For a quick walkthrough on how to output Dolby Atmos from your audio middleware of choice, check out the tutorial videos below, created by Kristoffer Larson, award-winning sound veteran at Formosa Group and Senior Sound Supervisor on Ori and the Will of the Wisps

2. Add overhead speakers to your mix room 

A key element of Dolby Atmos and spatial audio is overhead sound. It adds a new dimension to your soundscapes and gives you new creative opportunities to make players feel like they’ve stepped into the world of your game, like the roar of a dive-bombing dragon or the unexpected creak of a footstep upstairs that signals there’s someone else in the house. 
To monitor that overhead sound, Dolby Atmos mix studios use overhead speakers. Professional Dolby Atmos mix rooms are based on a traditional 7.1 surround sound setup, with an additional four speakers overhead. This speaker setup is known as 7.1.4, where the third number denotes the number of overhead speakers. 
Dolby Atmos can pan sounds all around and above the listener without affecting timbre or frequency. Ideally, all monitors (except for the subwoofer) should be of the same make and model to avoid any timbral shift due to unmatched frequency responses. If this is not possible due to budget or logistics, some monitor manufacturers produce models that are designed to match the frequency response of their other model lines, but in a form factor that is easier to mount to the ceiling. 
Alternatively, when you're away from your mix room or you want to get some work done before you show up in the studio, you can mix with Dolby Atmos for Headphones, which is available for free with developer kits. Just connect any pair of headphones and you can still experience sound all around and above you.

3. Connect everything together

Now that you’ve set up your workstation to output Dolby Atmos and have either a speaker or headphones monitoring solution, it’s time to connect it all together. There are two common signal setups.
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Most AAA studios prefer to use a multiple source path with a monitor controller, allowing them to audition a mix from the digital audio workstation (DAW) or from a development PC or console connected by HDMI to a consumer level audio video receiver (AVR) enabled with Dolby Atmos. Connect your DAW to the monitor controller either through the I/O unit or the mixing console, then use the analog preamp outputs to connect the Dolby Atmos AVR to the monitor console. 
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In some use cases, you may be able to use a simpler setup with a single signal path by using a consumer-level AVR enabled with Dolby Atmos as an all-in-one renderer and monitor controller. Simply connect your DAW and your development PC or console to the AVR, and then connect the AVR to self-powered monitors. It is important to note that this configuration works for monitoring in-game Dolby Atmos content — but your maximum channel support for linear content creation would be limited by the AVR's preamp input, typically, eight for a 7.1 channel signal). It's also worth noting that most multichannel preamp inputs do not route through the bass management circuit, which means this should be handled elsewhere.

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