The events of the past year have impacted many aspects of our lives, including the way we watch movies. During 2020, with box office receipts tanking, movie ticket sales dropped by a whopping 80 percent. As a result, studios started releasing movies directly to streaming services rather than waiting until sometime after theatrical release, as had been the custom previously. In 2021, that trend seems to be accelerating.
With so much great content becoming available for home viewing, now is an opportune time to upgrade your home theater setup. Obviously, picture quality is a huge part of the experience, but we’ll be focusing on sound in this article.
Let’s start by looking at some of the first-run movie content that’s coming your way direct-to-digital this year.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that Netflix, whose business model is based around delivering streaming content, will be the most prolific provider of original movies in 2021, with plans to release 70 original films. And that’s in addition to all of its streaming series, both new and returning.
Because it contracts with other studios to produce many of its movies and binge-worthy shows, Netflix can put out a prodigious amount of content. However, as of this writing, the company has only announced specific movie release dates through mid-March. Some highlights include Malcolm and Marie, (February 5), Space Sweepers (also February 5), To All the Boys: Always and Forever (February 12), Pelé (February 23) and Yes Day (March 12). Many of the most anticipated Netflix movies scheduled to debut this year don’t yet have release dates. These include Don’t Look Up, Army of the Dead, Red Notice and Tick, Tick, Boom.
Netflix supports 5.1 compatible content through Dolby Digital Plus™, the established home theater surround standard. If you have a Netflix Premium membership, you can stream the audio in Dolby Atmos®, assuming that:
a) your streaming device and sound system support it, and
b) the movie or show offers it.
An Atmos system is like a surround setup on steroids. Not only does it spread the sound among speakers placed around the room, but it also features overhead speakers to provide the added dimension of height. (For more information, check out this blog.)
The big news out of HBO in 2021 is that, following on the heels of its recent, and extremely successful release of Wonder Woman 1984, HBO’s parent company Warner Brothers is releasing all of its 2021 movies on HBO Max the same day they go to theaters. However, the films will only be available for streaming for 31 days after their release date.
Some of the high-profile movies with firm release dates include The Little Things (January 29), Judas and the Black Messiah (February 12), Tom and Jerry (February 26), The Many Saints of Newark (a Sopranos prequel, coming March 12), Godzilla vs. Kong (March 26), Mortal Kombat (April 16), The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4) and Space Jam (July 16). Several other films have “expected release dates” rather than firm ones. These include In the Heights (June 18), Dune (October 1) and The Matrix 4 (December 22).
HBO Max is now broadcasting in 4K and supports Dolby® Digital 5.1 surround and Dolby Digital Plus (which can handle 7.1 channels). The service did offer Wonder Woman 1984 in Dolby Atmos, so wider Atmos support seems likely in the months ahead.
In the coming year, Amazon Prime will also be entering the direct-to-digital arena. The highlight so far will be Coming 2 America (March 5), with Eddie Murphy reprising his role from the original 1988 film of almost the same name.
Amazon Prime supports Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Atmos.
One of the prerequisites for a having truly cinematic experience in your home theater is a surround sound system. With one, you’ll be able to get a lot more enjoyment from streamed content, including the direct-to-digital releases listed here. What’s more, you don’t necessarily need surround sound to be Dolby Atmos-capable … although that would be the ultimate.
If you are thinking of upgrading to a surround system, it makes sense to use an AV receiver as the hub. Good choices here include the Yamaha RX-A2A, RX-V6A or RX-V4A, all of which provide the ability to receive, amplify and output multichannel audio.
The 7.2-channel RX-A2A, for example, supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X™ and Yamaha Cinema DSP, among other formats. It also lets you stream music over Bluetooth® — you can even connect a turntable if you want to spin some vinyl between movies.
Remember that your ability to stream high-quality multichannel audio depends not only on your sound system but also on whether your streaming device or smart TV — and the movie or show you want to watch — supports the particular audio format. You could have a super tricked-out Dolby Atmos setup, but if your smart TV doesn’t support it, or the movie doesn’t offer it; you’ll have to listen in a less immersive format.
Even if you don’t have the budget or space to put in a multi-speaker surround system, you can still improve your audio experience significantly over what’s being delivered by your TV speakers by adding a sound bar, which is typically mounted right under the TV.
For example, the Yamaha SR-B20A is equipped with two woofers, two tweeters and two subwoofers. It will provide a much fuller sound, with tons more bass than you’ll get from TV speakers. If you don’t have a lot of space, consider the compact Yamaha SR-C20A, which is just a shade under 24″ wide.
The SR-B20A supports DTS® Virtual:X™, which creates a virtual 3D surround experience from 5.1-channel, 7.1-channel and even stereo signals. For the latter, it “upmixes” the stereo audio to simulate a surround mix and spreads the sound around the room with its multiple speakers and some creative digital signal processing (DSP). Many sound bars also let you stream Bluetooth audio to them from your mobile device, giving you another way to listen to music.
No matter what audio setup you end up with, the plentiful releases planned for 2021 will provide you with a great opportunity to immerse yourself (pun intended) in first-run movie-watching experiences from the comfort of your home. Only time will tell whether the direct-to-digital movie trend will continue at this level going forward, but it’s certainly possible. In the meantime, enjoy your home theater!
Be sure to read our “Comparing Streaming Service Audio and Video Quality” blog for more information about the leading streaming services and the audio formats they support.
Also check out these related blog articles:
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Click here for more information about Yamaha sound bars.
Click here for more information about Yamaha speakers and subwoofers.