Dolby Atmos is the latest and greatest surround sound format for the home. If you're reading this and you're currently in the process of completing the installation, you probably do not have much to say about Atmos – you're ready to go, so go ahead and skip to "Are you sure about ceiling speakers? "
For those who need the low-down, you can check the left for a comprehensive catch-up.
Are you sure about ceiling speakers?
Before we begin in earnest , let's just double-check something. Are you sure ceiling speakers are the right choice for your Dolby Atmos home theater setup? Installing ceiling speakers can be tricky. If you're not careful, you might end up with a messed up ceiling, hanging over the place, a partner who now sees you as the person who ruined their favorite room, and … no Atmos.
Do not forget, there are other alternatives, like Dolby Atmos soundbars, and Dolby Atmos module speakers that are no more difficult to install than your original 5.1
Plan, plan, plan
The key to any successful installation is to have a well thought out plan. You may need to deviate from that plan if things happen, but always start with a plan. In this case,
How many speakers do you want?
Some Atmos receivers support up to four "height" (ceiling) speakers, so you can choose to do just two. If so, you need to decide if you're going to be near the sitting / viewing area, which is optimal, or, near the front / screen. Perhaps you want to install four speakers in the future? Decide now.
Dolby Labs has published a series of PDF brochures on the best spot for each ceiling speaker. HVAC / plumbing bulkheads are going to make this a non-profit starter.
Your wiring path
How are you going to connect these new ceiling speakers back to the receiver? If you're fortunate enough to work with an unfinished ceiling, or your room is under your attic, this will be a lot easier to figure out.
Your comfort level
This might be the most important part of the plan. Are you comfortable taking on all aspects of the job? If you're working in a finished ceiling, with finished walls, you'll be cutting drywall, running through cavities that may have obstructions, and using tools like fish tape. There's a good chance you'll need to drill holes in wooden obstacles like fire blocks. If you're up to making an "oops," you may need to do a small drywall repair, then prime and paint.
You do not need to be a licensed contractor to do this, but if you're not the patient sort, or do not think your handiwork wants impress, now's the time to decide where your limits are.
Select your speakers
Before the cutting, wiring (and cursing) begins, you should have all of your materials on-hand. This includes the speakers themselves. Although your ceiling speakers should be in an acoustic match for the rest of your home theater speakers, this is not critical. Your subwoofer wants to take care of that. What you should look for is a model that features wide sound dispersion. As Dave Napoleone of Toronto-based Cloud 9 AV said, "The idea is to create a 'dome' of sound above you." Ceiling speakers are highly reflective of this.
How much you spend on these speakers wants to be a function of your budget as well as your existing gear. If your home theater receiver and / or your amp is a budget model, there's little to no doubt about it.
Your ceiling speakers will be anywhere from 6 to 12-inches in diameter, which likely will 't be a problem given that most ceiling joists are 16 inches apart (on center), with a 14-inch gap between them. The height / depth of the speakers, on the other hand, could present a problem. In actual old homes, builders are using massive wood joists that are nine inches tall or more. Modern homes will definitely have less space to play with. Before you settle on a ceiling speaker, make sure your ceiling can accommodate it. Mostly want only three to four inches of clearance, but there are some that need eight or nine.
If you've got an open mind on your drywall, you've got no worries. If you are working in a finished basement, check to see if there are any unfinished areas where you can look up and see the exposed joists. If all else fails, make a tiny hole in your ceiling, and, using an unfolded wire coat hanger, see how far you can push it into the cavity.
Finding a spot
Figuring out your final speaker placement is going to be a combination of Dolby's recommendations and working within the constraints of your ceiling. Your joists want to be the biggest obstacle, literally, so you'll have to figure out where they're located. Most of the time, a student seeks to do the trick, but be warned: Unlike walls, ceiling drywall is often not in direct contact with the joists.
This creates two challenges. First, a stud sensor does not always read the changes in material density that it is a joist is present.
Fortunately, there's a very reliable hack: Get a set of rare earth fridge magnets, and glide one across the surface of the ceiling in a growing spiral pattern, starting at the center of where you want to put a speaker. Go slow, and keep gentle yet constant pressure on the magnet. Eventually, you'll feel it tug – that's the head of a drywall screw, and it's a reliable indicator of the presence of a joist or a metal strap. Leave it in place and do the same thing with a few more magnets. Usually, you walk across the floor, so you'll find the next screw in a straight line towards a wall. You should now have a line of magnets that show you where one joist is.
To find the next joist, measure 16 inches. Start your next magnet sweep here, this time keeping your path parallel to the first line of magnets.
Fish tape is a flexible but very strong spool of spring steel. It's perfect for pulling cables through conduits, or walls, or any other location that is fully enclosed, but with few or no obstacles. It is quite easy to do so by simply pushing it. As long as nothing blocks its path, you can push a fish tape very long distances.
For instance, if you're running the top of a wall at the bottom of a wall, you insert the fish tape at the bottom of the wall and run it up, the end of the fish tape emerges at the top.
Start by wrapping the tape around the fish tape, and then around the cable too, so you've created it a sock of tape around the end of the cable – this will prevent it from snagging on the drywall or any other objects. Wrap the tape as tightly as possible;
Once secured, gently guide the cable to an inch or two back into the hole at the top of the wall, until the taped portion is no longer visible. Now you can return to the bottom of the wall. Make sure there is something in the top hole; you may want to ask someone to help with that task. If you encounter anything more than gentle resistance while pulling, stop. Push the fish tape back in a few inches and try again. You may need to do this several times, and combine it with a twisting motion. Be patient, and do not give up.
Cable fishing rod
Cable fishing rods are actually quite similar to regular fishing rods, in that they are designed to be straight, rigid poles, that have enough flex that you can guide them from an angle. They come in a variety of lengths, and you can usually connect multiple rods to achieve virtually any total length. Most offer a few screw-on accessories like hooks and eyes. Unlike fish tape, which will naturally curl, a fishing rod stays straight. When running through a ceiling, you need to stay above hazards like recessed lighting, and drywall strapping. A fish tape spool makes this very difficult as gravity always pulls the tape down, usually right into the obstacles you want to avoid. A fishing rod can be maintained on the roof of the house, it will stay there, it will stay clear. For enclosed ceilings, a fishing rod is a must.
Another benefit to a cable fishing rod is you can push as well as pull the cable. You probably need to pull back on the rod. If there's any slack on the cable, it could get looped around at obstacle making it impossible to retrieve.
Installing the speakers
Assuming everything worked out with your cable runs, this is the easy part. Strip the ends of your two copper wires by ¾ of an inch. For each wire, twist the copper strands until they form a tight, single bunch. Making sure you respect the positive and negative wires, connect them to the appropriate terminals on the speaker. Some speakers are red and black, while others can be white and black. Always connect the black wire to the negative terminal.
Gently lift the speaker into the hole, while taking care to keep your excess wire from sitting on top of the speaker housing – this could cause unwanted vibrations. Using a screwdriver, slowly turn the screws for the locking tabs. You'll hear the tabs swing out from their home position and begin to descend their guide rails. Keep turning until you encounter resistance, and repeat for all four tabs. For your last step, apply some gentle pressure to each tab to make sure the tab is well seated against the drywall. Do not over-tighten these tabs … there's no need to do so, and if you accidentally snap them they'll be useless.
Grab your speaker's grille and, depending on the child, either snap it into place or let the built -in magnets do the work for you. Congrats, you're all done!
Configuring your system
Do not forget, now that you've installed and connected your new Atmos height speakers, you'll need them there. Using the settings menu, find the appropriate section for speaker configuration, and follow the on-screen instructions. You may need to repeat the automatic leveling procedure if your receiver came with a room mic.
Add the Atmos
Of course, the final step is auditioning your new Atmos speakers with a really good Atmos-enabled movie. You'll need Ultra-HD Blu-ray player for this, and a selection of the best Atmos movies. Now, let it rip!