I can hardly think of anything more disruptive to the home theater experience than settling in to watch a movie, allowing yourself to get engrossed in the wonderful video and audio of a top-notch Blu-ray disc, and then suddenly leaping out of your seat when all the speakers in your room shriek with electronic distortion at maximum volume. That’s exactly what happens during the so-called “DTS Bomb,” and I got hit with one pretty hard recently.
The DTS Bomb is an authoring error on some DVDs and Blu-ray discs that are encoded with DTS soundtracks. It causes a rare incompatibility with some brands and models of Blu-ray player and/or A/V receiver. If that sounds maddeningly vague, the problem is difficult to diagnose and nearly impossible to predict… until it happens.
Onkyo and Integra receivers seem to be affected most often. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered from the complaints in online home theater discussion forums like ours. Although I’d heard tale of the dreaded problem many times in the past, I’d never actually experienced one on my Denon receiver until watching the ‘Cars 2‘ Blu-ray 3D disc the other week. My Blu-ray player is an OPPO BDP-93 connected by HDMI, with all audio transmitted in bitstream form. I fired up the movie and was blithely enjoying the disc (well, at least as much as it’s possible to enjoy ‘Cars 2’) when, about an hour in and with no warning whatsoever, an extremely loud electronic crackling noise began rapidly ping-ponging back and forth through all of my speakers. This was clearly not part of the movie soundtrack. Frankly, it scared the crap out of me. It stopped after a second, and I resolved to go on. A little while later, it happened again… and again. During that first viewing, I got nailed with about five Bombs in all.
One of the most frustrating things about the DTS Bomb is that, unlike many other disc authoring errors, it’s not always repeatable in the same place at the same time. I had written down all the time codes where it happened to me, and tried to recreate the problem the next day. The scenes in question played through fine, yet other scenes that gave me no issue the first time through suddenly exploded. After hitting a Bomb, I’d back up and replay the scene a few times, to varying results as to whether it would repeat or not. Sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t.
My friend Chris Boylan from Big Picture Big Sound informs me that the DTS Bomb is related to the way that the DTS signal is decoded. Some decoder chips are affected and others aren’t. If I switch my Blu-ray player to internal decoding rather than bitstream transmission, the problem should go away. That sounds like an easy enough workaround, if annoying. Or it would be, if I felt like doing it.
I suppose I should feel grateful that I’d never experienced this before, and the one time I did, it was during a pretty crappy movie that I’m not likely to ever watch again anyway.
Still, this sets a bad precedent. My Denon receiver isn’t immune to the DTS Bomb after all, as I’d long assumed.