On January 29, Amazon started showing ads to Prime Video subscribers in the US unless they pay an additional $2.99 per month. But this wasn’t the only change to the service. Those who don’t pay up also lose features; their accounts no longer support Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos.
As noticed by German tech outlet 4K Filme on Sunday, Prime Video users who choose to sit through ads can no longer use Dolby Vision or Atmos while streaming. Ad-tier subscribers are limited to HDR10+ and Dolby Digital 5.1.
4K Filme confirmed that this was the case on TVs from both LG and Sony; Forbes also confirmed the news using a TCL TV.
“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,” Forbes said.
Amazon hasn’t explained its reasoning for the feature removal, but it may be trying to cut back on licensing fees paid to Dolby Laboratories. Amazon may also hope to push HDR10+, a Dolby Vision competitor that’s free and open. It also remains possible that we could one day see the return of Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos to the ad tier through a refreshed licensing agreement.
Amazon has had a back-and-forth history with supporting Dolby features. In 2016, it first made Dolby Vision available on Prime Video. In 2017, though, Prime Video stopped supporting the format in favor of HDR10+. Amazon announced the HDR10+ format alongside Samsung, and it subsequently made the entire Prime Video library available in HDR10+. But in 2022, Prime Video started offering content like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in Dolby Vision once again.
Amazon wasn’t upfront about removals
Amazon announced in September 2023 that it would run ads on Prime Video accounts in 2024; in December, Amazon confirmed that the ads would start running on January 29 unless subscribers paid extra. In the interim, Amazon failed to mention that it was also removing support for Dolby Vision and Atmos from the ad-supported tier.
Forbes first reported on Prime Video’s ad-based tier not supporting Dolby Vision and Atmos by assuming that it was a technical error. Not until after Forbes published its article did Amazon officially confirm the changes. That’s not how people subscribing to a tech giant’s service expect to learn about a diminishing of their current plan.
It also seems that Amazon’s removal of the Dolby features has been done in such a way that it could lead some users to think they’re getting Dolby Vision and Atmos support even when they’re not.
As Forbes’ John Archer reported, “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.”
As streaming services overtake traditional media, many customers are growing increasingly discouraged by how the industry seems to be evolving into something strongly reminiscent of cable. While there are some aspects of old-school TV worth emulating, others—like confusing plans that don’t make it clear what you get with each package—are not.
Amazon didn’t respond to questions Ars Technica sent in time for publication, but we’ll update this story if we hear back.