‘The Hobbit’ Could Be in 128 Channel Surround
Since the late 1990's, there haven't been that many improvements to theater surround sound. We got THX theaters, which were followed by Dolby Digital, DTS, and SDDS, but since that wave of new sound, we haven't heard as much about audio as we have about the wave of digital productions and projection. But now there's Dolby Atmos. And it offers 128 channels of sound that might be featured on Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit.'
The Hollywood Reporter has a story about how Jackson is considering this, and that the format is about to be launched in ten to fifteen theaters with Pixar's 'Brave.' With Atmos, it's possible that 'The Hobbit' will have nearly three times as many audio channels as frames per second.
On some level this development is no surprise. After years of not really changing the formula, audio designers were going to invent some new next generation movement for theatrical audio, and something that would be impractical at home - just as we've seen more Imax screens and 3-D.
At the same time, though the advancements between mono, stereo, and stereo surround are noticeable, when you hit that many discrete sounds you're basically wasting time and energy to do something that no one can notice, and possibly will involve a lot of cheating. How Atmos functions isn't really clear from the article, as the idea would be this set up would migrate into homes, and on mobile devices. Perhaps this is just a new rebranding meant to get gearheads to pony up more dough to have the newest-latest.