You Asked: Is Dolby Vision a must-have? And how to handle Atmos with irregular ceilings

In this installment of You Asked: Is no Dolby Vision a no-go? Should you try for Dolby Atmos if you have funky ceilings? Is OLED the best replacement for an aging plasma? And streaming versus 4K Blu-ray, which is better and why.

The Dolby Vision dilemma

Closeups of cherry blossoms on a Samsung S95C OLED TV.
Samsung S95C Digital Trends

ZM Knox asks: I’ve been shopping for an OLED TV. And here in the U.S., that means I only really have three brand options: Samsung, LG, and (if I choose to open my wallet further than I really want to) Sony. But I hesitate to go for a Samsung TV because it lacks Dolby Vision support. It seems like most services still only offer Dolby Vision and not HDR10+ content. Does it seem reasonable to cross Samsung off my list of options due to their lack of Vision support? Is this actually an issue in practice?

Well, I’m going to partially answer your question here because I’ve yet to do a real-world Dolby Vision-versus-HDR 10 post that I can point you to. So, for now, I’ll say this:

First off, I am as frustrated as many of you are that Samsung refuses to do business with Dolby. Samsung may argue that Dolby Vision is unnecessary and doesn’t provide a notable benefit. It may argue that HDR 10+ — the standard it helped develop — is just as good and that it doesn’t want to pass the cost of implementing Dolby Vision on to its consumers. You might be surprised to learn that I agree with at least some of its public-facing rationale. But here’s my take:

I would not write off a Samsung OLED TV just because it doesn’t support Dolby Vision. The number of times I’ve seen Dolby Vision content look significantly better than even just HDR 10 content has been minimal. In fact, there were times when the Dolby Vision version did not look as good as the standard HDR version.

The thing about Dolby Vision is that creators are not using it to its full potential. If they were, then it would be a no-brainer — you’d really be missing out by not having Dolby Vision. But as it stands, I’m not convinced that is currently the case. And it’s really hard to say when Dolby Vision will finally become the must-have HDR format because it is so demonstrably better.

So, as far as Dolby Vision being a need versus a want? I still think it is in the want category. However, I can’t side with the idea that Samsung doesn’t want to pass the cost on to its consumers. I think if that were the actual rationale, it would be more like Samsung doesn’t want to absorb the cost and, therefore, make less money because I don’t think Samsung wants to go above market rate with its TVs like Sony does. Also, every other major brand is supporting it — this whole pushback on Dolby Vision has really strong “OLED is inferior” vibes — and we see where Samsung came down on that.

There is so much more to picture quality than just the HDR format that is used. Don’t write off a TV like the Samsung S90C or S95C — those TVs are gorgeous. If you want QD-OLED and you don’t want to spend Sony money, get a Samsung. And my message is the same for anyone who is waffling between a Samsung QLED and a competing QLED TV.

Vaulted ceilings and Dolby Atmos

Family with Sony HT-A9 home theater system.
Sony-HT-A9 Sony

Kutlay asks: My question is about the Dolby Atmos effect in a vaulted (sloped ceiling) room. Our living room at the lower end has a height of roughly 9.5 feet, and the higher part of the ceiling reaches up to almost 18 feet. As you have already explained in your other articles, up-firing drivers rely upon the reflection of the sound from the ceiling. Having such a sloped ceiling is going to affect these intended reflections. So, I assume that creating a Dolby Atmos effect within this room is not realistic (unfortunately, I cannot install any kind of reflector or insulator type of board since my girlfriend didn’t like how they looked).

Is it possible to create such an effect in this room? (I also cannot install roof speakers.) I´ve considered the Samsung 990C and Sony HT-A9 so far. Should I just give up on that and consider a more budget-friendly sound system? Do you have any advice?

It is true that up-firing Atmos speakers do attempt to use reflection points to help with some localized Dolby Atmos effects, and that the nature of your ceiling — from how it is shaped to the texture to the height of the ceiling — can have an impact on the effectiveness of the Atmos effect.

However, as I have learned from trying various Atmos systems in various rooms with wildly varying ceiling conditions, there is almost always some benefit to the presence of up-firing Atmos speakers. The intensity of that difference varies, but I have always gotten something out of it.

I believe this is because those Atmos speakers aren’t just using reflectivity. There is some directionality to the up-firing speakers, so you will hear them in one fashion or another. Depending on the system, processing may be used to play with the phase of the signal to achieve a dome of sound effect. So, while it may not sound like you could point to the airplane as it flies over you because you don’t have a very localized reflected sound, you will get the sense that the plane is going over you and not just around you.
I advise trying the Sony HT-A9, which does some rather clever processing, and see what you think. If you’re not darned impressed, I’d be surprised. The Samsung 990C is an extremely impressive system as well, and I don’t think you would be disappointed with that either; I just think the A9 is so good at processing that it could help overcome some of the characteristics of your room that may seem not so Atmos-friendly.

The best DTS setup

A PS5 sits on a table.
Giovanni Colantonio / Digital Trends

Sasha has a question about DTS and its setup: The setup would be an LG soundbar and PlayStation 5 using the following connection: PS5 to LG C2 via HDMI, then audio from the LG C2 to the soundbar via HDMI eARC. Is that connection method the way to go?

No, that is not how you would want to do it. The problem here is that the LG C2 and G2 don’t pass a DTS signal through the TV and out via the HDMI ARC connection. So, you could send DTS to the TV, but what comes out will not be DTS. I’m actually not sure what the LG will spit out in terms of audio in that case. I’d need to test that. It may transcode it to PCM. This wouldn’t be bad — but your question is how to get DTS to the soundbar.

So, in that case, you want to connect the PS5 directly to the soundbar and then run a signal that passes the video to the LG C2 OLED from the soundbar’s HDMI output. That’s if you wanted DTS for a very specific reason. The thing is, that’s a Dolby Atmos soundbar, and unless you have some very specific DTS:X material you want to listen to, I would think you’d want to stick with Dolby Atmos. Your PS5 supports Dolby Atmos — whether the app you’re using does or doesn’t is another question. But, frankly, I would just run your proposed connection and go with Dolby Atmos and forget about DTS. But, as I said, if you have something specific you’re going for with DTS, going to the soundbar first, then to the TV with your PS5 signal is the way to go.

Upgrading from plasma

Green plant shoots push up through dirt in a clear vessel seen on a Sony X90L.
Sony X90L Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

Gerrit from Germany asks: I currently have an old Sony 60W605B plasma TV and I finally want to upgrade to 4K, HDMI 2.1, and all the good things the last 10 years of TV development brought us.

In several forums, I read that the only sensible way to upgrade from plasma would be an OLED TV, since I would be underwhelmed with the picture quality of an LCD in comparison to my old plasma. Do you agree? Or would, for example, a Hisense U8K or similar also be a significant and reasonable upgrade not only from a technical standpoint and also from a picture quality standpoint?

I mostly watch movies and TV shows via streaming apps and YouTube and play on my PS5.

I will neither agree nor disagree with those forum folks because I don’t want to draw the ire of the forum folks. Anyone who has ever drawn the ire of forum folks knows what I’m talking about. It ain’t pretty. And it definitely ain’t helpful.

But I will say that I think I understand why they are saying what they are saying. They are probably thinking that you’re used to perfect black levels and no blooming, and that the only TV tech that can do that is OLED, so to help keep you from being frustrated with your new TV, they want you to steer clear of LCD-based technology. And all that makes a lot of sense. I can’t say I disagree with that logic.

However, some LCD TVs are extremely impressive. You’re going from a non-HDR TV to an HDR TV, which is in and of itself a massive upgrade, so long as it is a decent HDR TV. Also, some of the best LCD-based TVs have local dimming systems so good that they do a fine job of approaching OLED black levels and manage to minimize blooming a great deal.

So, I think that a really great LCD-based TV like the Sony X90L, Hisense U8K, or TCL QM8, for example, would feel like a huge upgrade to your plasma in many respects. It really depends on how sensitive you are and what strikes you when looking at a picture.

I will caution that the Hisense U8K in Germany is not necessarily the same as the Hisense U8K we have and rave about here in the U.S. So, I’m not sure that model is the one you should be looking at. That brings up an entirely different discussion, but I will have to stop there for now.

4K HDR streaming vs. Blu-Ray

A Marantz A/V receiver and Sony 4K Blu-ray player controlled with an IR blaster from an Amazon Fire TV Omni QLED TV.
Digital Trends

Jherrimiah asks: I have an LG G1, ATV4K, PS5, Sonos Arc & Sub. Any current 4K HDR content I consume is via iTunes movie purchases and streaming via ATV, Max, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Prime.

I saw the 4K Blu-Ray release from Criterion of Wall-E. If I were to play that 4K Blu-Ray via my PS5 Blu-Ray drive, would I notice a dramatic difference in picture and audio fidelity compared to the 4K/DV/DA version I own via iTunes and the version on Disney+?

So, I’m using this question to discuss the best movie streaming service option and how streaming versus 4K Blu-ray compares while also trying to answer the question.

First, I don’t know how to quantify “dramatic” to you in terms of the difference between a 4K Blu-ray playback and streaming. I can say that I can clearly see the difference, mostly in big color areas, where I’ll see banding on the streaming version and no banding on the disc version. Detail is also better on the disc, and there’s less noise. That’s because the disc has so much more information. The disc also has lossless audio, which many folks report offers a clearly audible improvement over the lossy streaming version of the soundtrack. For me, disc-based playback is definitely superior to streaming in almost all cases.

Now, as a Blu-ray player, the PS5 is OK. It’s better than the Xbox Series X. Still, you might want to consider a dedicated player for the best Blu-ray playback. It’s not necessary, but because you clearly care about getting the best quality, you might want to consider a standalone player. You don’t have to shoot for the moon on a player. A solid Sony or Panasonic will do fine.

As for streaming playback, though. Consider getting Movies Anywhere. This is not an ad. Movies Anywhere takes all your digital movie purchases, including from iTunes, and puts them in one place. But the real benefit is that Movies Anywhere has been shown to offer the highest bitrate compared to other streaming services such as iTunes, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video. If you have a bandwidth cap, that could be an issue, so keep that in mind. But also, discs don’t touch your internet, so if you do have a bandwidth cap, there’s another reason to get the disc. Also, with the disc, you own the movie for real. Nobody can take it away from you. I can’t say that about the digital versions, for what that’s worth.

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