Mark Cerny, the lead architect of the PS5, has sent a candid letter to tech experts Digital Foundry, explaining exactly how Dolby Atmos works with the system’s upcoming firmware update. Fans had been hoping for the surround sound functionality to be supported from day one, but Sony instead emphasised its own proprietary Tempest Audio engine. But according to the Marble Madness maker, this won’t change much when it comes to audio engineering for the console.
“Up until the most recent update, the Tempest engine would render the information in the Ambisonic channels into headphones, stereo TV speakers, and 5.1 and 71 audio setups,” he explained. “Now 7.1.4 has been introduced, with its four overhead speakers, but really nothing changes in the overall Tempest rendering strategy: the 36 Ambisonic channels already include audio coming from all directions, including above the player.”
He added: “It is true that the game teams could not test with these speaker setups but support should be pretty automatic, the necessary game audio data is already there in Ambisonic form. Going forward, there's an opportunity for improvement as the sound designers can verify the highest quality of audio on 7.1.4 speaker setups as well.”
So, in other words, the Tempest audio system is already rendering sound in a 3D space, and that information is then simply being mapped to the Dolby Atmos format, when a user has the requisite hardware. Moving forward, audio engineering teams will likely test their mixes in 7.1.4 speaker setups for optimal quality, but the transition should be fairly automatic even in games programmed before the firmware update.