Dolby’s David Gould gives us the lowdown on what Renderer application you need to start mixing in Atmos
In many presentations you will hear me (and others) talk about the Dolby Atmos Renderer and how it is the brain of any Dolby Atmos mixing setup. We also discuss the “Renderer application”, “Dolby Atmos Production Suite”, “Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite”, and “RMU” (Rendering and Mastering Unit). In this post, I hope to clarify what all of these things are and who needs what to get started working in Dolby Atmos.
Nothing is Atmos without the Dolby Atmos Renderer application
The Renderer application is where all the Dolby Atmos magic happens. It has 128 inputs that can be either beds or objects (we’ll discuss the differences later), and uses the Dolby Atmos rendering technology to output your Atmos mix to speakers, headphones, and/or a master-file for delivery to encoding. The hardware you decide to run the Renderer application on and how you connect audio in and out of it is very much dependant on your creative and workflow needs.
Start small and grow
The great thing about Dolby Atmos mixing is the ability to get started at a very affordable price. You could easily buy the Dolby Atmos Renderer application direct from the Avid store as part of a product we call the Dolby Atmos Production Suite (DAPS). This “suite” also contains the Dolby Audio Bridge – a virtual core audio device that allows Pro Tools to send audio to the renderer. This combined with Pro Tools | Ultimate gives you everything you need to dip your toe into the immersive world of Dolby Atmos. Download and install the Renderer, enable connection from Pro Tools via peripherals, load one of the supplied Dolby Audio Bridge templates and i/o files and you are ready to go. Import some audio into the template, set the headphone output to binaural in the renderer and with the Pro Tools surround panner (or freely available Dolby Atmos Music panner, more on that later) audio outputting to the Renderer via the Dolby Audio Bridge you are hearing your first Atmos mix!
Ok, so “mix” may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but I think you can see that it’s only a matter of adding audio to your session, import that song mix you’ve been meaning to finish for a few years and start panning.
Beds and Objects
As I mentioned earlier inputs to the Renderer application can be assigned as beds or objects. If you are familiar with the concept of 5.1 audio, either as a theatrical film mixer on a large soundstage or at home watching Netflix on your 5.1 surround set up (or anything in-between) then you are familiar with the concept of beds. Audio can be placed directly in a speaker or panned somewhere between speakers, and with Dolby Atmos we support bed widths up to 7.1.2 (seven surround channels, one LFE channel and two overhead channels – left and right over head being spread over however many overhead speakers you have). However, an Object is an audio source that can be placed anywhere in the room with pinpoint accuracy and uses metadata to describe where that audio should play back. There’s even the ability to control the perceived size of audio objects, giving you even more control over the sound. The default setup of inputs for the renderer is one 7.1.2 bed, plus 118 of these audio objects. However, this can be configured how you wish and the choice of what is a bed or an object, or how many beds to use, is entirely up to you.
Wired for surround:
Because people rarely spend all their time listening to music and watching films with headphones on you may wish to add some additional speakers to your Atmos mix room. These can be set up in a variety of configurations including 5.1.4, 7.1.4, or 9.1.6 depending on your room size and budget, but 7.1.4 tends to be the most common configuration for Dolby Atmos nearfield mixing rooms. The beauty of Dolby Atmos, and audio objects, is that you can be confident that an object placed in a position in an 9.1.6 room will be reproduced as accurately as possible when listened back in a 5.1.4 room, or anything in-between. Of course, adding speakers means adding wires and more importantly adding hardware. Any multichannel external hardware can be used to feed the speakers, as long as it has more than 10 outputs. If you are working with the Dolby Atmos Production Suite, the Avid Pro Tools | MTRX Studio makes a great choice – built-in speaker tuning means you can start benefiting from an excellently tuned room with ease. Simply adjust the room setup on the Renderer software to match your physical configuration and get mixing.
Power on demand
Is a simple in-the-box setup all you need to submit mixes to Netflix? Yes. But as you know, a large Pro Tools session with all your source audio, Atmos Beds and Objects, and plugins outputting (and subsequently recording) 128 channels of audio can get quite power hungry, and this, combined with running the Renderer on the same system can begin to be in need a little extra help. Enter the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite. The software suite includes the ability to run the Renderer application on a separate Mac or Windows machine (also known in the industry as a rendering and mastering workstation or RMU). The software is then controlled locally with the included Dolby Atmos Renderer Remote application, allowing full control from your main workstation, but with all the rendering processing offloaded to a separate machine freeing your main workstation up to just concentrate on running Pro Tools. Audio connection can be via MADI or Dante, and so when running with the Mastering Suite, Avid Pro Tools | MTRX makes a great choice to get from Pro Tools into your rendering and mastering workstation. With a full 128 channel MADI or Dante system recording live re-renders back into your Pro Tools system is also possible, allowing you to deliver all the requested stems, and M&E deliverables in one single recording pass. This setup also includes the ability to support multi-system source and record workflows, for more complex mixing workflows, as well as support for speaker array processing for when you need to outfit a larger mix room. The Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite and minimum spec hardware is available from your local Dolby Atmos dealer (list of dealers available here).
Check out this chart comparing the capabilities of the Dolby Atmos Production Suite and Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite.
There are two other software packages that are freely available that may be useful to you, depending on your workflow. First of all, the Dolby Atmos Conversion Tool is a free utility software that allows for converting files between the various master file formats, performing basic editing functions (topping/tailing etc.), and frame rate conversion. You can download that here (and watch out for some exciting updates to the Conversion Tool, coming soon!). Secondly is the Dolby Atmos Music Panner plug-in, available for free download here. The Music Panner is specifically designed for panning objects in music production workflows, allowing you to easily create dynamic, tempo-synced panning sequences and positions, and it can work alongside the Pro Tools | Ultimate surround panner for ultimate flexibility.
You’re ready to mix!
I hope I’ve begun to demystify a lot of terminology around Dolby Atmos and it now seems more accessible! You are only restricted by your imagination – if you want to get started right away, you can download a fully functional trial version of the Dolby Atmos Production Suite here. You can also get more support and information on getting started at the Dolby KnowledgeBase, and forums.