Now that the new tier situation has kicked in, though (from Jan. 29 in the U.S., and Feb. 6 in the UK), it turns out that Amazon’s unconventional approach to introducing an ads tier to its video subscription model comes with more bad news attached: the Prime Video with ads tier also denies subscribers the previously available benefits of Dolby Vision high dynamic range pictures and Dolby Atmos sound.
So as well as having to put up with adverts on a subscription they may well have taken out months ago out with no expectation that ads would be involved, basic tier subscribers now find that they also no longer get the same potential premium picture and sound performance features they once had.
As far as I can tell, Amazon makes no mention of this major new performance limitation in the information it put out on its new ads tier. Maybe it forgot. Or maybe it figured that it was awkward enough telling people that they were suddenly going to have to put up with ads on the tier they’d already subscribed to, and so just couldn’t bring themselves to also mention the lost Dolby features. Or maybe, just maybe, the whole thing is a technical error.
[UPDATE: Since I first published this article, Amazon/Prime Video has now confirmed to me that moving Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos to the ads-free tier is deliberate, and not the result of a technical issue.]
Whatever Amazon’s reason for not mentioning it, though, it is indeed the case that neither ultra-immersive Dolby Atmos object-based soundtracks nor Dolby Vision’s premium version of HDR (which adds extra scene by scene image data to the HDR feed to help compatible TVs deliver better picture quality) are still available on the ads tier, while they are still available if you pay the extra to access the ads-free tier.
This development was first reported today by German tech website 4kfilme.de, which was tipped off to the situation by some of its readers before checking the situation for themselves on Sony, LG and Samsung TVs (though Samsung TVs don’t support Dolby Vision HDR in any case, it should be said).
I have also now checked the situation out for myself on a recent TCL television, by setting up a new basic Prime Video account and toggling between it and an ads-free account and playing an episode of Amazon’s Dolby Vision/Dolby Atmos-encoded “Jack Ryan” TV series. In the ads-free account the TV throws up its own confirmation boxes to say that the show is playing in Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos. In the basic with-ads account, however, the TV’s Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos pop up boxes remain stubbornly absent.
To add a bit of confusion to the mix, on the TCL TV I used, the Prime Video header information for the “Jack Ryan” show that appears on the with-ads basic account shows Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos among the supported technical features – yet when you start to play the episode, neither feature is delivered to the TV.
Even more strangely, while Dolby Vision HDR has gone on the with-ads service, you still get HDR10+. This alternative/rival premium HDR format to Dolby Vision also delivers extra scene by scene image data – though the fact that HDR10+ remains available in the Prime Video basic tier when Dolby Vision (which the TCL TV defaults to if both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ encodes are available) does not raises questions, not for the first time, over whether the version of HDR10+ Amazon deploys is quite the same full version of the format available elsewhere.
The quirks described in the previous couple of paragraphs had initially, when I first published this story, added some credence to the idea that losing Dolby Vision and Atmos from the ads-based Prime Video tier was more accidental than deliberate. Now, though, as per the update from Prime Video, it’s clear that it is a definite commercial decision – and as such subscribers to the ads tier should not expect their previous Dolby features to come back any time soon. If ever.
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