Netflix announced today that it’ll start supporting Dolby Atmos surround sound for select titles later this month, starting with Okja. That’s great news: Atmos is the next generation of surround formats, using audio processing to place sounds in 3D space around you instead of just playing things through individual surround speakers.
But Netflix is only going to support Atmos on the Xbox One, One S, and and 2017 LG OLED TVs at first. That’s a short list, which is made even worse because 2016 LG OLED TV owners have been persistently asking LG to add Atmos support to their TVs for a while now. There are long AVSForum threads, deep dives into the technical details of Atmos compatibility, and reps from streaming companies like Vudu saying they’ve raised the issue with LG to no avail. It’s gotten to the point where there’s a Change.org petition with over 450 signatures asking for Atmos support on 2016 LG OLED TVs — which generally had starting retail prices of around $2,799. I’ve asked LG about the situation and the company doesn’t have an answer today, but I’ll update when I hear back.
Why is this a problem? Because LG OLED TVs are among the few devices that support Dolby Vision HDR, but you have to use the built-in webOS apps to get it. Since the TV doesn’t support sending Atmos audio out through HDMI to your speakers, you’re basically stuck choosing between the best picture quality or the best audio quality on a year-old TV that cost thousands of dollars. Sure, you could buy an Xbox to get Atmos, but the Xbox doesn’t support Dolby Vision — just HDR10. And then you have to buy and manage another box, which seems like a silly penalty for buying LG’s best TVs a year before the company added a software feature you need. And it’s ridiculous that Dolby makes both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos but getting both is impossible right now unless you buy an entirely new TV.
I know this because I have a 2016 LG B6 OLED TV, and it looks terrific, especially with Dolby Vision movies and TV shows. The webOS interface is... fine! It looks a little ridiculous at times, but it controls my Atmos-capable Denon receiver over HDMI-CEC without any problems, has all the streaming apps I need, and generally works well. I shouldn’t need to add another box to the fragile mix of a working CEC setup — especially not another box that doesn’t support the highest picture quality my TV offers.
And look, this TV is a computer. It runs an operating system originally designed for smartphones! In 2017 we expect our computers to get better over time — to have bugs fixed and new features added. Why put a smartphone OS on your TV if you’re not going to update it?
There’s some speculation out there that Atmos support is limited by the specific HDMI configuration of 2016 LG OLEDs, but none of that is confirmed, and it’s not like LG didn’t know Atmos was coming when it shipped and sold these TVs as its flagship models. Not designing extremely expensive consumer products that get mounted on the wall in a way that supports known future standards also seems like a huge miss.
Anyway, there are rumors that the next-gen Apple TV will support all these advanced formats, so maybe we’ll all just have to buy that in the end.