You Asked: Dolby Vision and Atmos for old movies, bad built-in audio

This week on You Asked: Can an old movie really be presented in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos? Is built-in TV audio ever going to get better? What to do with an old TV. And should you disable picture processing before the signal gets to your TV?

Are old movies really mastered in Dolby Vision and Atmos?

The Fifth Element blu ray
Digital Trends

Mark Nota writes: I’m currently watching the 1980 movie Superman II on my Hisense U7G with a Vizio M series soundbar through my Roku Ultra. It says it’s in Dolby Vision and Atmos. Can a 1980s movie be in Dolby Vision and Atmos?

Yes, Mark, it can. Older films can have their video and audio remastered and be presented in Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. However, just because a remastering process is done doesn’t mean it is necessarily good — or that it is as effective as more recent content that’s been remastered.

From what I understand, film negatives allow for an average of about 13 stops of dynamic range. (That is, from the darkest parts to the brightest.) SDR TV allows for about six stops of dynamic range on average, and the film prints that were played in theaters had similar limitations.

Today, HDR allows for about triple the dynamic range of SDR. So, there is plenty of opportunity to take the original film and create a new, high dynamic range master from it. And if you chose to use Dolby Vision to deliver that HDR, then you could be pretty meticulous about how the final HDR master of that film looked.

Of course, one could also phone it in and make something that is only marginally better than the original presentation. It really depends on the quality of the work, which usually is dependent on budget. But, yeah, the original film negatives were more capable of holding a higher dynamic range than either the theater print or the video copy were able to show us. Now that we have HDR TVs and HDR delivery mechanisms, we can remaster old content captured on film and present it in HDR.

It’s a similar, yet slightly more complicated story for Dolby Atmos. You technically can create a Dolby Atmos track out of just about any original audio source. But how good that Dolby Atmos experience will be depends some on the source material, and some on the budget for the production. The more audio tracks one has to work with, the more creative freedom is enabled. But in this day of computer-based audio processing, some pretty incredible stuff can be created using limited original audio resources. So, again, not all Dolby Atmos is equally impressive or even good. But if someone takes the time to do it, a Dolby Atmos audio track can be created and delivered for an older film.

Will TV manufacturers focus on improving onboard audio?

The rear panel of the Samsung S95C.
Samsung S95C Zeke Jones/ / Digital Trends

Zach Harris writes: Do you think that there will come a point in the future where TV manufactures start focusing more on their audio for their TV lineups? It stands to reason that one day TV picture quality will hit diminishing returns and there won’t be much more to entice customers to upgrade. Focusing on premium, enhanced audio systems might be one remedy to help attract people to purchase new sets, especially when many people just end up using their TV speakers anyway.

You know, I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who loves getting out the old crystal ball and peering into the future more than I. Here are my thoughts on this.

First, I think we are further away from reaching such display nirvana that there’s little room left for improvement. I think the next 10 years at least are going to see more exciting improvements in picture quality. We’ve got ongoing work on display technology like electro-luminescent quantum dots (or so-called QDEL displays, which we spotted at CES 2024) and Phosphorescent OLED (or PHOLED), both of which could represent some substantial improvements in picture quality. I think processing is only going to get better as AI and computing power advances. And as bandwidth limitations start lifting, there’s an opportunity for one day getting uncompressed video delivery, and that will be a game changer.

All of that is to say: I don’t see the premise that picture quality hits such a wall that all that’s left to entice folks to buy a new TV is improvements in audio quality.

Also, the TV business will continue to thrive by nature of the fact that tech just eventually dies. Far more folks buy new TVs because their old TV breaks. The number of TVs sold to true “upgraders” pales in comparison from what I’m told.

But I think the real impediments to improved sound quality in TVs are a combination of the laws of physics and consumer preferences.

Here’s what I mean by that. Despite all the advances that have been made in digital signal processing, digital amplification, and transducer materials (that’s the stuff that speakers are made out of), it hasn’t been enough to overcome the fact that sound is just moving air, and moving air sounds best when it is aimed at our ears. Also, to sound their best, speakers need physical space.

Consumers have voted against elaborate onboard TV audio systems over and over again. Remember when Sony bookended some of its TVs with flat-panel speakers? This design was … not warmly received, which is why Sony quit doing it. Likewise, super-bulky TVs don’t seem to sell as well as thin and light TVs. The bottom line is that the vast majority of consumers are just fine with “good enough” when it comes to sound. And if they want excellent sound, they are willing to jump through some hoops and make some sacrifices to get it.

What should I do with my old TV?

Toshiba LCD TV
Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

Jolyon Watts writes: What should I do with an old TV?

Well, if it is an older CRT TV, I’d look into selling it. You’d be shocked how much money old CRT TVs are going for these days, mostly because of a rabid retro gaming fan base.

If it’s an older LCD TV? Well, again, you could try selling it for a few bucks. You never know who might be willing to take it off your hands and put it in their garage or toss it in their RV. You could also try giving it away if it is decent enough to use, but you can’t get any money out of it. Sometimes underfunded schools and other institutions can make good use of an older TV that still has some life in it.

Or if nobody seems to want it, you can hire someone to pick it up and recycle it, or you can haul it down to your local waste management or recycling company and dispose of it there. Anything that prevents it from going into a landfill.

LG OLED vs. Hisense U8N?

LG C4 OLED Douglas Murray / Digital Trends

Kim Strom writes in, saying that they are ready to upgrade from their Hisense U9G and are considering an upgrade to a Hisense U8N, but they are also enticed by OLED and are considering the LG G4 or G3. They watch a lot of sports — hockey specifically — and are also interested in upgrading in size, from 65 inches to either 77 or 85.

The first thing that jumps out to me here is that you are looking at upgrading to a 77- or 85-inch TV. And with OLED, the bigger you go, the more you have to pay. The upgrade fee for larger OLEDs is considerably higher than the upgrade to larger LCD-based TVs.

If cost were no object, I’d say get the biggest LG G3 or G4 you can. But cost is — and should be — a consideration for most folks.

I’d say if you have your heart set on OLED, consider getting a 77- or 83-inch LG C3 or C4 OLED. That will get you the OLED picture quality in a larger screen and help keep the cost down. Also, the processing in the C3 and C4 is pretty outstanding and that better processing will help keep your broadcast TV signal looking as good as it can at those larger screen sizes.

For bang for your buck, though, there’s just no denying the Hisense U8N will give you some amazing picture quality — it’s a big upgrade from your U9G, for sure. And you’ll be able to get to that 85-inch screen size without taking out a second mortgage on the house. It will also be brighter than the OLEDs if you need that and you don’t have to be concerned about wearing the OLEDs down if you watch hours and hours of hockey every day.

How do I set up my LG TV with Apple TV and a Blu-ray player?

apple tv 4k match dynamic range frame rate
Digital Trends

Joseph Green writes: Help! I’m in picture mode jail. I have an LG QNED 85, an Apple TV, and, a Panasonic Disc player. I want to adjust the picture mode settings so that I can get the best, most accurate picture. The problem is they all have their own separate picture settings. The Apple TV has Dolby Vision. The LG has all kinds of picture modes, and so does the Panasonic. Do they combine when you use them, or does one override the other depending on what you use? How do I set it and forget it?

The best thing you can do with the Apple TV, in my opinion, is to not let the Apple TV force Dolby Vision on your TV. Some people like the look, but not everyone is a fan of how it makes non-Dolby Vision native content look. I turn that off, and then I set the Apple TV to match the frame rate and dynamic range of the content source.

I wouldn’t use any of the “picture modes” on your Panasonic, unless you find they look better than using your LG’s picture modes alone.

And this brings up a good message for everyone to hear: Your TV is going to apply processing to the signal your source sends, be it an Apple TV, disc player, Nvidia Shield, or whatever — whether that signal has had processing applied already or not. It doesn’t know the difference. Sometimes, if you have a TV that isn’t all that advanced, letting your source device do some processing might help. But more often than not, the picture processor in your TV is going to be significantly better than whatever is in that source device. And since most TVs can’t undo processing that’s already been done, that means it will apply processing to processing, and that doesn’t always make for the best result.

And on your LG: If you really want the most accurate picture, then FilmMaker Mode is the way to go.