DTS and Dolby are now well-known names in the field of audio, but the different terms, logos and names that both companies use do not make it any clearer for us as consumers. DTS recently introduced the new DTS: X, an audio format that we will see on many audio products. But, what exactly is DTS: X, how do you use it and what is the use of it?
DTS: X vs Dolby Atmos
To begin with, it must be said that DTS and Dolby have been closely matched for a long time. Both companies are working on new audio standards and techniques and every year we see something new appearing. This year Dolby was the first to set a new standard; Dolby Atmos. A few months later DTS followed with DTS: X. Although they are quite different in practical terms, these standards are similar in many respects. DTS: X is like Dolby Atmos based on audio objects in a 3D space but unlike Dolby Atmos, DTS: X does not require a special speaker configuration. You do not necessarily need extra speakers, for example above the listening position. But, in order to get the most out of the DTS: X track, this, and especially the speakers above the listening position, is of course recommended. Unlike Dolby Atmos, DTS: X does not currently support virtual ‘ceiling speakers’. For Dolby Atmos, you can place so-called add-on speakers on the front speakers, which then let audio come from above by means of reverberation.
What is DTS: X?
DTS: X is a surround format that allows audio objects to move through 3D space using the open-source MDA (Multi-Dimensional Audio) platform that allows filmmakers to control how sound objects move in space. Almost all major film studios work with this platform, which means that we will see DTS: X soundtracks on the first Blu-ray discs and digital media in 2015.
DTS: X is thus an ‘object-based’ surround format that can bring audio objects from all directions (including above the listening position) to create a more impressive surround experience. The audio format should provide a 3D audio experience that gives the listener the feeling of being in the middle of the action. Objects float, as it were, through space and the feeling that an object comes from a specific speaker must disappear. So we move away from the idea of audio tracks for a specific number of speakers or a specific setup and move towards a free space in which the audio also moves freely. Although additional speakers, on top of the 5.1-channel setup, for example, are not required, you can get the most out of the DTS: X track with ceiling speakers and height or width speakers.
DTS Neural: X
But what if you have DVDs, digital files or Blu-ray discs that do not contain a DTS: X track? For this reason, the company has developed DTS Neural: X, a ‘package’ that comes together with DTS: X. DTS Neural: X ensures that Neural: X-encoded data, non-encoded (PCM) data and ‘older’ DTS bitstreams receive the spatial ‘object-based’ effect of DTS: X. The software ensures that the playback is optimized for the speaker setup you are currently using and optimizes the 3D audio experience for a surround experience in which you should be immersed. Depending on the support that the hardware (for example a receiver) offers, up to 11.x channels are supported with DTS Neural: X.
Hardware DTS: X
It is important for consumers to know that the hardware, in the form of a receiver or amplifier, must support DTS: X. This decoder is backwards compatible with the DTS-HD Master Audio format and can therefore simply play ‘older’ DTS tracks. In addition, thanks to DTS Neural: X, the decoder can convert existing 2-channel, 5.1-channel or 7.1-channel content (or PCM material) to DTS: X by software in order to create a more spacious representation. An additional option that AV receivers with DTS: X support offer is the customization of audio elements. For example, you can give the dialogue more emphasis when the filmmaker has added this feature to the mix. However, this must be specifically supported by the hardware and software (content).
DTS: X will be made available on various receivers via a firmware update in 2015 and new models from Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha will also be equipped with the surround format as standard. Marantz and Denon have already announced that they will add DTS: X to the top models AV receivers later this year through a firmware update.
DTS Headphone: X
But that’s not all because DTS has also developed a special audio format for those who like to watch TV with headphones on. However, headphones are not immediately known for an impressive surround experience, but with DTS Headphone: X this should change.
DTS Headphone: X works quite simply; connect any headphones, including those that use Bluetooth wirelessly, to your TV and you can enjoy virtual surround sound. DTS Headphone: X normally offers 11.1-channel (virtual) surround sound, but the chip in some hardware (TVs, receivers, etc.) keeps this limited to (the still impressive) 5.1-channel surround sound. DTS itself indicates that DTS Headphone: X ensures that the listener no longer hears the music in his head, as with normal stereo sound from headphones, but that audio objects come from virtual speakers in the virtual space.