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Does a 5.1 mix = Dolby Digital?


Joe Riggs
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No. Dolby Digital is a specific encoding method for a release medium, like a DVD or a downloaded file. A 5.1 surround mix can be analog, it can be digital, it can be DTS, it can be separate tracks, it can be a polyphonic WAV file, it could be separate monophonic files, it can be a lot of different things. 

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Dolby Digital 'AC-3 encoding'  is often used for DVD and BD  and will play on practically all off-the-shelf players. This is a different method from a Dolby theatrical release and no certified mix stage or no specific Dolby gear or personnel is needed aside from the encoder software, sometimes included with a NLE or authoring software.

 

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There are also two different aspects of the term.

Dolby Digital is an encoding standard, which can be applied to any film mix if you have the right software, and then burned to DVD or whatever.

HOWEVER, to be able to say Dolby Digital on the credits or marketing materials - or use their logo at all - you have to go through their certification process for that specific film. This costs money, and includes the use of their technicians and hardware in a certified room, to make sure the piece is properly encoded. They have a sliding scale, which last time I checked was a bit more than $2k for a tiny-budget feature and went up from there.

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Dolby Digital really refers to the process of getting the Mix to a 35MM print, which requires an approved room and  Dolby Engineer, a Dolby Meter Bridge, a Dolby DMU that creates the MO disk (with a form of AC3) which then goes to the Lab where they marry the picture and MO disk.  The Dolby Digital is then put in packets between the sprocket holes.  It being an AC3 for DVD's came much later.  To make an AC3 or a TrueHD encode of a mix requires no room approval or Dolby Engineer.

ATMOS comes with requirements similar to the 35MM process but evolved and more involved that that.

You are allowed to use the double-D logo on a DVD or BluRay if you use one of their encoders, you do not need to go through a pay-license process.  You only pay (paid) for the 35MM license and logo use.  ATMOS you also have to pay.  The license for the 35MM included the above process with the engineer and gear.  VERY few 35MM releases anymore, though....

5.1 as wave files are just the surround mix files.  There is no format (ok, well, there really is, but no trademarked format).  You can put those 6 files into a DCP and not have to do anything or pay anyone else.

Part of the confusion comes from Distributors and Exhibitors (especially Festivals) not really understanding what any of this means and giving mis-leading multiple choice questions on the submission forms.  Like, "Format of your Film, check one : Dolby Digital. Stereo".  When you have 6 mono files that make up the 5.1 mix, or an interleaved 5.1, the answer is neither.

 

 

Edited by minister
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