Dolby Atmos’ upcoming FlexConnect may simplify wireless home theater audio

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friends watching a scary movie in a living room during scary moment, with popcorn flying
Enlarge / Robust home theater audio can intensify a scary movie moment.

Dolby Laboratories today announced Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, a feature with the potential to add flexibility and simplicity to home theater audio setups. The company says FlexConnect allows supporting TVs to optimize Dolby Atmos audio output among the TV’s speakers and paired wireless speakers. Currently, Dolby is only announcing the feature with upcoming TCL TVs, but it could expand elsewhere.

FlexConnect, which will work with Atmos, 5.1, and stereo sound, is about adapting to people’s audio setups, with considerations for things like speaker count and placement. The upcoming feature aims to bolster Atmos audio in situations where speaker placement is limited due to obstacles like room size, furniture, or outlet locations.

According to Dolby, FlexConnect will mean users can hear the same experience regardless of where they’re sitting in the room, and that audio is tweaked based on each speaker’s location and capabilities.

Ars Technica asked Dolby to elaborate on this, and a company spokesperson told us:

After each speaker is placed, the TV will undergo an automatic calibration using acoustic mapping, [using TV microphones], to understand the location of each speaker. The TV then intelligently and seamlessly optimizes the sound image after analyzing this data combined with information the TV can gather on each speaker’s acoustic capabilities. Together, this information allows the TV to adjust the rendering of each speaker to optimize the sound to ensure listeners are enjoying a great audio experience.

An example of how FlexConnect could adapt audio based on speaker capabilities is with low frequencies, which many TVs struggle with. If there’s a more capable speaker connected, the TV’s speakers could “offload the bass to these speakers, which frees up power to allocate to other parts of the frequency spectrum,” Dolby’s spokesperson said.

“This could allow the TV speakers to allocate more power to dialogue, ensuring the best combination of bass and intelligibility,” the rep said.

Dolby also provided an example of how FlexConnect could adapt audio based on speaker location. If a user puts two wireless speakers in the back of the room, FlexConnect “will put more of the audio load onto the TV speakers so that the TV speakers cover the front soundstage and the dialogue.” But if the wireless speakers were in the front of the room, the TV/center speakers would focus on dialogue.

Currently, Dolby’s refraining from saying that FlexConnect will work with all brands of wireless speakers. We asked Dolby about which speaker brands the feature will support and will update you if we hear back. However, platform-agnosticism would make FlexConnect much more valuable. There are already similar TV features that lock you into a certain brand, such as Samsung Q-Symphony, which synchronizes audio with supporting Samsung TV speakers and Samsung soundbars, and LG Wow Orchestra, which synchronizes audio with supporting LG TVs and LG soundbars, or Sony’s Acoustic Center Sync, which (I think you know where we’re going with this) synchronizes supporting Sony TV speakers with an external Sony soundbar or audio system and claims to help sound to “match exactly what’s displayed on the screen, exactly where the character is standing in the scene.” Unlike some of those features, like Q-Symphony, FlexConnect doesn’t require an HDMI or optical cable-connected soundbar, though.

If Dolby manages to get FlexConnect shared across many TV brands, it could eventually streamline home theater audio setups for mainstream users. At present, though, only TCL’s 2024 TV lineup has committed to supporting FlexConnect. Unless other TV brands implement FlexConnect, its reach is limited. The feature also relies on central TV speakers, which could have varying quality among models, though you could supplement that with external speakers.

Dolby said it will demo FlexConnect at the IFA 2023 trade show in Berlin that starts this Friday.

Correction: This article previously stated the FlexConnect only works with Atmos content, but it also works with stereo and 5.1 channel sound. Dolby also reached out to inform us that it can’t confirm the feature will work with wireless speakers of any brand. 

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