Sound systems have been able to place audio at the periphery of theaters for more than 30 years. The Dolby Atmos system lets audio editors move sounds over an audience as well. An Atmos-equipped theater has up to 64 speakers, half of which hang from the ceiling, so editors can program the whir of a helicopter to go from back-right to front-left. Disney/Pixar used Atmos for Brave this summer, and Dolby expects at least 15 more films to use it in 2013.
I applaud Dolby for this radical shift which is by my estimation exactly what current technology can be pushed to do. Here's the dilema: home theaters have the capability of being so advanced there is no reason, other than opening day, to go to the multi-plex and see a movie. With this in mind Hollywood should push every technical possibility to the absolute limit to regain its advantage. We've seen larger screen with curvatures to provide a more enveloping visual. We've seen 3D which seeks to "WOW" the audience immersively (which to my estimation still largely fails). But, audio is still pretty much just "loud and either in front or in back" as far as I can tell. Dolby clearly recognizes this and I believe, without even actually experiencing a demo of ATMOS, that this is one of the crucial keys to that truly immersive experience that in a humble way can rival reality more and get the public back to the multi-plex and out of their homes. I'm an old audio geek and have always respected Ray Dolby and his company. This is evidence that his genius is being carried forward finally in the digital age in a game-changing way the way his original noise reduction did in the 60's. Bravo Dolby Laboratories!