On Tuesday, multiplex chain PVR and Dolby announced that the former plans to install Dolby's Atmos sound equipment in 50 screens across India, over the next two years. This is the largest rollout of Dolby's technology in India since it launched in December 2012, with the first cinema to use the technology being Sathyam Cinemas in Chennai. Over the next two years, Dolby would see a total of around 50 screens adopting its technology; in January 2015, Dolby announced that another 50 screens would adopt the technology, bringing the numbers up to 100.
PVR, which has 474 screens across 43 cities in India, is the biggest multiplex chain in the country, but like many cinemas here, it's been facing greater challenges in getting people into the halls and out of their homes. At the launch on Tuesday, Ajay Bijli, the Chariman and Managing Director of PVR, talked about how Atmos could have an impact on attendance.
"Our first cinema, Priya, started with Dolby technology," Bijli said. "Atmos is the highest quality movie experience, and lots of movies are being made in this format now. This will help people come back into the halls."
(Also see: Building India's Largest Dolby Atmos Theatre)
Dolby's Atmos technology moves audio around the theatre, even overhead, sending audio to individual speakers instead of "channels" of sound. This allows audio to move from one side to the other, or pass overhead, in a much more natural fashion.
The PVR chain will see 25 Atmos installations each year, and will stick to "prime properties", mostly in the major metros, Bijli revealed. The first PVR Atmos hall has come up in the PVR in Select Citiwalk mall in Delhi, and more will come up in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Chennai soon. Ticket pricing, he confirmed, will not be impacted by this move.
Bob Borchers, the Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President, Dolby, was also present at the launch on Tuesday, and talked about how the number of filmmakers using the Atmos technology has been steadily rising.
(Also see: Making Bollywood Movies With Dolby Atmos)
"There are over 1,200 Atmos screens worldwide, and over 100 mixing facilities," Borchers said. "In India, there are already 10 mix studios and one more is about to be deployed."
In fact, the list of Indian movies that make use of Dolby Atmos includes recent blockbusters such as Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and Bahubali, along with upcoming films such as Bajirao Mastaani, and Phantom.
While Borchers did not have anything to say about the immediate future for Atmos beyond this deal with PVR, a source mentioned anonymously that at least one more "big deal" should be expected this year. What's not clear is how many cinemagoers actually care - 20 or 30 years ago, the difference between home audio and a Dolby surround sound experience in the cinema was tremendous. Today, the gap is thinning, and as Dolby itself brings the Atmos experience to the home user, the difference is very limited.
Such systems are still not easily accessible for most people though, and for the majority of users, the best experience will remain that of the cinema. But when a weekend ticket starts to cost around Rs. 500 per person, it's not surprising that people are looking for alternatives.