One of the highlights of attending Berlin’s IFA trade show is getting a sneak peek at new technologies that are set to hit the market in the near future. This year, I had the opportunity to witness a demonstration of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, an innovative technology that allows you to wirelessly connect compatible external speakers to your television and create an Atmos-enabled spatial audio setup.
What caught my attention the most during Dolby’s presentation was their claim that Atmos FlexConnect is more forgiving when it comes to speaker placement. Unlike other similar wireless technologies, such as DTS’s Play-Fi Home Theater standard, Atmos FlexConnect doesn’t require perfectly symmetrical speaker placement. With this technology, you have the flexibility to place your external speakers anywhere in the room with your TV, allowing them to seamlessly integrate into your existing living space without the need to rearrange furniture or mount speakers on walls. For example, you can place one speaker on a bookshelf to the left of your TV, while the other sits on a side table to the right of your couch. Atmos FlexConnect is designed to handle this asymmetry and still deliver exceptional audio quality.
I experienced the demonstration of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect at TCL’s booth at IFA. TCL is Dolby’s launch partner for this technology and will be the first to offer Atmos FlexConnect on its 2024 TV lineup. This means that we can expect to hear more about this technology at the CES event next year. While Dolby has plans to expand the availability of Atmos FlexConnect to a wider range of TVs and speakers in the future, for now, TCL will be the exclusive provider.
The demonstration began with a calibration process, during which the two Atmos FlexConnect speakers being paired played a series of test tones that were picked up by the TV’s microphones. These test tones were used to determine the locations of the speakers and the acoustics of the room. From a technical standpoint, the Atmos FlexConnect standard can connect to dozens of speakers simultaneously. However, it ultimately depends on the specific hardware inside the TVs. For TCL’s 2024 TV lineup, the maximum number of speakers that can be paired will be two, though more affordable mid-range models may only support a single external Atmos FlexConnect speaker.
For the first demonstration, TCL and Dolby showcased the system using a stereo arrangement of speakers. One speaker was placed front-left, while the other was placed front-right. However, these speakers were not placed symmetrically as you would expect for a typical stereo setup. The calibration process took just over 12 seconds, and afterward, the TV displayed the locations of the two speakers in the room. These prototype “Tutti Choral Speakers” were equipped with five drivers each, including two upfiring drivers that create the illusion of sounds coming from overhead. It’s important to note that the branding, design, and driver configuration of these prototype speakers are still subject to change before their official release.
To showcase the capabilities of the system, Dolby played one of their standard Atmos demo reels, featuring various sounds that highlight the height dimension, such as forest sounds, rain, and thunder. As expected, the addition of the external speakers resulted in a significant improvement in audio quality compared to the TV alone, particularly in terms of bass. The audio sounded much more spacious than what you would typically experience with a standard stereo setup. Unlike traditional soundbar setups where the TV’s built-in drivers are turned off, Atmos FlexConnect is designed to allow internal and external speakers to work together. This may explain why the audio didn’t sound off-center despite the slightly asymmetrical speaker arrangement. The TV’s speakers were still handling the audio that should come from the front, while the two external speakers provided additional impact, especially in the lower frequencies that are more challenging for the TV’s built-in speakers to reproduce.
For the next demonstration, one of the external speakers was moved from the front-left of the room to the back-left to showcase how the system handles a completely asymmetrical setup. The calibration process was rerun, and the TV’s interface updated to reflect the new placement of the speaker. Surprisingly, the spatial audio presentation was very similar, despite the drastic change in speaker arrangement. Even though listening for the midrange and treble frequencies revealed the location of the speakers in the room, Dolby’s virtualization technology effectively smoothed out any disparities.
Unfortunately, my time with Dolby Atmos FlexConnect was limited, so I couldn’t provide a comprehensive assessment of its performance compared to more traditional alternatives such as a wired home cinema amplifier connected to multiple symmetrical speakers or an Atmos soundbar with upward-firing drivers. However, based on my experience, it seems that Atmos FlexConnect is not intended to directly compete with these options. Instead, it offers a solution for individuals who want to strike a balance between their TV setup and the layout of their living spaces. TCL and Dolby’s proposition is that you can place your extra speakers wherever it’s most suitable and let their virtualization technology optimize the audio output.
During the IFA event, TCL didn’t disclose pricing details for its Atmos FlexConnect-enabled TVs or speakers. However, they are expected to share more information when they reveal their 2024 TV lineup.
In conclusion, the demonstration of Dolby Atmos FlexConnect at IFA showcased a promising technology that enables wireless connectivity between external speakers and TVs, creating a spatial audio experience. The flexibility in speaker placement and the seamless integration with existing living spaces make Atmos FlexConnect an attractive option for users who prefer not to make drastic changes to their room arrangements. With TCL as the launch partner and plans for wider availability in the future, Dolby Atmos FlexConnect looks set to revolutionize the way we experience audio in our homes.