Dolby Atmos is about to get a whole lot more adaptable. Today, Dolby is announcing Dolby Atmos FlexConnect, which it describes as “a new feature that seamlessly pairs together a TV’s sound system with accessory wireless speakers to deliver a more extensive and immersive Dolby Atmos sound experience.” Since it factors your TV speakers into the equation, FlexConnect doesn’t require a soundbar at the center of everything. TCL will become the first TV manufacturer to offer FlexConnect with its upcoming 2024 TV lineup, and it also plans to release a line of wireless speakers optimized to support the feature.
Dolby says that FlexConnect “intelligently optimizes the sound for any room layout and speaker setup, offering the freedom to place one or more wireless speakers anywhere in a room without having to worry about whether they are placed perfectly.” There’s no long setup required; Dolby will use the TV’s built-in microphones to locate and calibrate each wireless speaker in the room.
According to the company, “audio is intelligently spread from the TV speakers to each wireless speaker, dynamically optimizing the sound signal based on the capabilities and location of all available speakers.” So if your TV’s speakers aren’t all that capable when it comes to bass — and most aren’t — Dolby Atmos FlexConnect will know to leave those frequencies to the wireless speakers instead of pushing the integrated drivers too hard. At least, that’s the impression I get; Dolby plans to demo the new feature at IFA this week, so hopefully one of my colleagues traveling to Berlin will be able to preview it firsthand.
The whole point of FlexConnect is to let people “make the best use of room dimensions, power outlet locations, and furniture arrangements as desired without compromising audio quality.” I’ve obviously got some questions about how all of this comes together in practice. Will there be any potential latency or audio dropout issues? Won’t this dissuade some people from investing in an Atmos soundbar to put front and center beneath their TV? I’ve yet to come across a TV that produces convincing height effects with its own speakers, so I feel like that’s where I’d notice the soundbar’s absence.
We’ve seen companies like Samsung, LG, and Sony try to blend and sync audio from their respective soundbars and TVs for a fuller listening experience. Samsung calls the feature Q-Symphony. Sony’s flagship HT-A9 7.1 Atmos system also provides customers more flexibility with speaker placement. It seems as though Dolby is trying to address both points with Dolby Atmos FlexConnect.
That said, we’re talking about a feature that’s going to require a completely new TV (and of course some new wireless speakers), so that will immediately limit the appeal of Dolby’s latest innovation for anyone who has purchased a 4K HDR television over the last few years. But by the time your next TV upgrade comes around, hopefully Atmos and wireless surround sound in general will have grown much more convenient.