Dolby Atmos introduced height channels to a lot of people’s home theatre setups. However, contrary to what many believe, height channels existed in the form of presence channels introduced by Yamaha in 1985 with the DSP-1 which could extract 4 height channels from 2-channel content. The DSP-1 was released a year before the introduction of Dolby Pro Logic.
So height channels aren’t a new concept and reducing Dolby Atmos to height channels is a gross oversimplification.
Dolby Atmos introduced a new way to mix content: instead of focusing on channels and speakers, the sound engineer simply steers content in 3D space and let the Dolby Atmos encoder and decoder worry about mapping the content to channels and speakers.
This actually allows content creators to focus on the content more as opposed to the technology.
The result is that Dolby Atmos content can sound more precisely steered with a better sense of movement and spaciousness than normal channel-based Dolby or DTS soundtracks.
This also somewhat translates to the fallback Dolby TrueHD (or DD+) soundtrack embedded in Dolby Atmos content as the mastering tools still allow the same mastering flexibility and translate the object based layer to the channel based encoding.
Now sure, height information is now also included in the Dolby Atmos soundtrack but it isn’t only for flyover effects. It’s there to allow the content creator to place sounds anywhere in 3D space and create more immersion.
When listening to a Dolby Atmos track, listen for the precision of sounds being steered around the room, even without content being put directly into the overheads. This clarity and precision is what sets object-based soundtracks – such as Atmos – apart from channel-based encoding and can be enjoyed even without having to wait for those flyover effects.