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Earlier this week I went to see Toy Story 3, the latest Pixar offering. Already a critical success, the film will no doubt become a commercial success too. So, I’m not going to go on about the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed because you’ve no doubt heard it all before (yes, take a box of tissues with you)

The film is also offered in 3D – again, this is nothing new. If you’re like me, you’ll instantly understand how 3D works better with animation. Sorry, Avatar purists, but I’m right. In fast sequences the image doesn’t break up, or blur. 3D animation will always trump 3D live action.

For me, seeing Toy Story 3 has one big selling point; the introduction of Dolby Surround 7.1 which brings 2 extra audio channels into the cinema. When it comes to audio in film, trust me –more is definitely more.

From the moment the CGI 7.1 sting was played on the cinema screen, I knew I was in for something special, and right now, unique. – But let us take a step backwards.

It’s easy for the average cinemagoer to forget about the sound in a film. It’s probably one of the elements that we take for granted. It’s often that I’ll come out of a cinema and over hear people talking about the grand special effects, or the leading actor and sometimes the director. But I have never heard anyone talk about the sound. Why is this? I think the reason for this is simple: if you’re totally engrossed in the film, you don’t really notice it. For a while now 5.1 or 6.1 channels (if you’re lucky) have been enough – you hear the action from the side, from the back from the front – In horror movies, it’s usually the sound that has you jumping out of your seat. Remember Cloverfield? The film split audiences – some people thought it was a masterpiece – some people wanted to see more. I can tell you now, I came out and said “Everyone needs to see this film in the cinema, because it was the sound that made it” – and what friends of mine have told me, who didn’t see Cloverfield in a cinema, was that they didn’t like it. That’s how important sound is. It enhances the film and in some cases turns a good film, great. This is why it’s important for film lovers to have the best audio experience when watching a film.

7.1 is upping the ante.

It gives you a feeling that the film is not only around you, but penetrating you. As an audience member, you’re no longer an outsider looking in, but it allows you to have a stronger emotional attachment to the film; When Woody and Buzz were in Peril, I was in peril. When characters are being chased, I was being chased.

What Dolby 7.1 Surround does is add an additional 2 rear channels into the mix, encapsulating the audience into the film, creating a bubble in which, for the duration of the film you can go anywhere the director intends.

The Past

5.1 has 6 channels: Centre, left, right, rear left, rear right and the Subwoofer. But there was nothing coming from behind, the film was essentially coming from 3 sides of a square, cinemas may have speakers at the back though, but the audio isn’t specific.

The Future

The great thing about having specific channels of sound coming from each of the four walls of our hypothetical square means that something can be thrown from a point behind you and land in front and you can be completely sold that it’s totally real because it doesn’t feel like an emulation. It feels real.

Unfortunately, a lot of cinemas are yet to install 7.1, but here is the good news – it’s not expensive – most cinemas have rear speakers, so a few extra wires and some fancy new hardware and those rear speakers could be blasting specific sounds, literally turning the film up to 11.

It’ll make 3D films, truly three dimensional.

You can search for cinemas that currently have Dolby 7.1 Surround installed here

If your local cinema isn’t listed – ask them why? And if they say it’s because it’s too expensive to install, tell them to get their facts straight – and also tell them this:

With Blu-ray, 1080p HD screens and 5.1 home audio becoming more and more available, coupled with the fact that films are being released for home entertainment 3-5 months after their release. Why should people pay for overpriced drinks and popcorn, when the cinema isn’t offering anything extra that isn’t available at home?

And, the next time you’re watching a movie – listen carefully – because it might be right behind you.

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