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February 14, 2013

Dolby Theater Cranks It Up for the Oscars

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

This year's Academy Awards will be coming from the Dolby Theater this year, the first time since Dolby picked up the old Kodak (News - Alert) Theater and rebranded it. But it's more than just slapping a new name on the side of an old building and expecting it to be ready for the's a complete retooling of the acoustics, putting some of the greatest theater technology known to mankind to work, cranking the Oscars up potentially even past 11 for one of the biggest nights in film.

Ever since the rechristening of the Kodak Theater to the Dolby Theater took place back in June, there have been plenty of events going on in the theater to get it in fighting trim for the Oscars. The Dolby Theater played host to films like "Brave" and "Zero Dark Thirty," while also opening up for some live events like Cirque du Soleil's "Iris." While "Iris" didn't last very long owing mainly to low ticket sales, the fact that the Dolby Theater could accommodate such an event in the first place was a point to its credit.

But Dolby sees the events it's hosted so far more as prelude than anything else, with an eye toward the Oscars to come. Kodak formerly paid out $3.6 million per year for the naming rights to the theater, and it's a safe bet that Dolby isn't paying less. No one's saying just how much Dolby pays for the naming rights to the 3,600-seat venue, but still, it's not likely to be cheap. That means Dolby's got a real opportunity to turn that cash into an investment, but it also means that Dolby's going to have to be on top of its game to really make the most out of that investment.

To that end, Dolby has tricked out the Dolby Theater with a wide array of audio-visual gear. It has installed 187 new speakers in the space, and has plans to continually update the Dolby Theater with the biggest and best as it becomes available. In fact, Dolby even has its eye on one particular goal: getting the entire Oscar event broadcast in Dolby Surround 5.1, from every film clip to every pre-taped segment. Dolby also updated the overall look of the theater, renamed the ballroom outside the theater for founder Ray Dolby, improved the lobby lounge and added sculptures.

Given that the Oscars are set to remain with the Dolby Theater for the next 20 years, this could be the start of something very big indeed. But the Dolby Theater also has plans to host another three movie premieres this year as well.

It's not surprising to see Dolby try to get more involved with theater in general. Dolby is a name to conjure with in terms of theater audio--home or otherwise--so using the now-Dolby Theater as a way to exhibit its overall power in the cinema and beyond is a smart idea. This is a great way to show off what Dolby can do in terms of sound and image presentation, not to mention call attention to new developments and just what those developments can do in terms of putting on a proper show.

The gains in home theater technology over the years require ever-improving hardware quality to maintain its edge against the full theater, and Dolby may well be just the folks to provide those advantages. The Dolby Theater, meanwhile, may well be the best place to see just what all those advantages can do.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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