Keeping track of the latest audio and video tech can be daunting. Thankfully, High-Def Digest has you covered. Welcome to our new Home Theater 101 series, where we'll be explaining emerging technologies while also recommending the very best possible A/V gadgets n' gear you can buy at your particular budget level.
And when it comes to recent audio advancements, few are as buzzworthy as the new DTS:X and DOLBY ATMOS immersive surround sound formats.
But just what exactly is DTS:X and how does it work? And what do A/V enthusiasts mean when they throw around terms like 5.1.4 or 7.1.2? Fret not! If you don't know the difference between a channel-based mix and an object-based mix, this guide is here to breakdown the ins and outs of the DTS:X format. So, without further ado, let's dive right into...
HOME THEATER 101
WHAT IS DTS:X?
At its core, DTS:X is an immersive surround sound format that utilizes object-based mixing over traditional channel-based mixing. But what's the difference between the two methods?
With channel-based mixing, movie tracks are designed with audio designated directionally to specific speakers through a predetermined number of discrete channels. For instance, in a 5.1 setup, all sound placement is limited to specific left, center, right, left surround, and right surround channels, plus LFE (the ".1").
But with DTS:X object-based mixing, core channels are now joined by individual audio objects (sound effects, dialogue, etc.). These objects are mixed in a virtual environment using the MDA Creator (DTS' license fee-free, open platform for the creation of object-based immersive audio), allowing sound designers to place separate sounds anywhere in the space at any given time -- not just within a select number of fixed locations. For instance, if a mixer is placing a buzzing bee into a movie soundtrack, they can now move that sound anywhere within the environment, not just between specific speakers. Special metadata is then paired with each sound, giving information about its location and movement throughout the room. A DTS:X-enabled A/V receiver will then take that metadata and place the sounds exactly where they are supposed to go as scaled to a user's specific speaker setup.
And because mixers now have expanded freedom when it comes to sound placement, this also means that audio can now come from locations previously unavailable in traditional surround sound setups -- most notably from above.
With that in mind, the most substantial benefit of DTS:X in the home is the addition of overhead audio. While the DTS:X spec can technically support up to 32 speaker locations, most current consumer products offer support for up to eleven speakers. Unlike Dolby and its Atmos format, DTS has a less rigid take on speaker placement and configurations. Rather than emphasize specific recommended setups, DTS has chosen to highlight their object-based system's extreme scalability, placing layout decisions squarely in the hands of consumers and manufacturers.
In other words, there are no official DTS:X speaker arrangements at this time. That said, it is up to manufacturers to implement their own calibration systems and to decide if they want to design their gear to suit pre-established immersive audio setups. And in that regard, typical Dolby Atmos configurations are still your best bet for a DTS:X system with overhead audio. These include 5.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, 7.1.4, and 9.1.2 setups -- with the first number representing the amount of ear-level surround sound speakers, the middle number designating a subwoofer or two, and the last number signifying the number of height speakers.
DTS:X also differentiates from Dolby Atmos with a potentially handy or controversial new feature: the option to completely isolate dialogue as a separate object in a soundtrack. This means that users can adjust the volume of speech independent from the rest of the track, alleviating some customers' issues with pesky hard to hear dialogue. It's up to content creators to decide whether this option can be used, however, and as of press time, I'm not aware of any discs (outside of demos) that actually offer this feature.
REQUIREMENTS FOR DTS:X
In order to properly play a DTS:X encoded soundtrack, users will need an A/V receiver with DTS:X support connected via HDMI to a Blu-ray player, Ultra HD Blu-ray player, or other media device capable of bitstreaming the DTS:X track to the receiver.
Meanwhile, though users can technically listen to a DTS:X track with any speaker layout, in order to actually add overhead sound to a home theater setup, they will need to resort to one of several options. First, customers can simply install traditional in-ceiling speakers or mount speakers on their ceilings. While this is the most effective method, it won't be suitable for everyone's home and setup.
While DTS has not partnered with any manufacturers to develop up-firing speakers of their own, DTS:X tracks are compatible with Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. These speakers feature an additional up-firing driver positioned on top in order to reflect sound off of the ceiling. This simulates the effect of audio coming from above without the hassle of actually mounting a height speaker. In addition, some companies have even released separate Dolby Atmos modules that can be placed on top of current floor-standing and bookshelf speakers, giving them an upward firing driver without having to buy a whole new speaker. Finally, there are a few DTS:X sound bar options on the market now as well, offering a simpler, all-in-one solution for simulated overhead audio.
DTS:X soundtracks are now featured on a growing collection of Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, including titles from studios like Lionsgate, Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros., covering major releases like Furious 7, Ex Machina, Jason Bourne, the Harry Potter films, and more.
And in addition to native DTS:X content, DTS:X receivers also offer a mode called DTS:Neural:X. This option allows users to up-mix stereo, 5.1, and 7.1 soundtracks to create DTS:X-like effects with simulated overhead audio objects.
Complementing the company's DTS:X surround sound format, DTS has also launched Headphone:X for personal listening. DTS Headphone:X simulates the 3D environment of an audio track's original mixing stage, providing an immersive 360-degree surround sound experience with 11.1 support and overhead audio through any pair of headphones or earbuds on any device. Check out the demo below with your headphones on to hear the tech for yourself!
DTS Headphone:X audio tracks are available on titles from several content providers, including some Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray home entertainment releases from Paramount, Lionsgate, and Universal. Likewise, the tech is also built into select headphones and several mobile devices from manufacturers like ASUS and Acer.
There's currently a wide variety of DTS:X-enabled gear on the market, including products from Denon, Onkyo, Marantz, Yamaha and more. Here's a rundown of some recommended DTS:X components available now...
5.1.2 Onkyo HT-S7800 All-In-One Home Theater System ($899.99) - Perfect for customers looking for a complete DTS:X package on a budget. Includes 5 surround speakers and 1 subwoofer (with 2 Dolby Atmos-Enabled height speakers), and a 5.1.2 AV receiver with DTS:X and Dolby Atmos support. Full review here!
Yamaha RX-A3060 9.2 Channel AVR ($1,999.95) - Geared toward users who want to setup more extensive DTS:X configurations with expandable support for up to 7.1.4 or 9.1.2 speaker layouts. 9.2 channel AV receiver (11.2-ch expandability with 2-ch amplifier) with 150 W (8 ohms, 20Hz-20kHz, 2ch driven, 0.06% THD), MusicCast technology, DTS:X, and Dolby Atmos. Full review here!
SVS Prime Elevation Speakers ($399.98 per pair) - Designed to serve as a versatile DTS:X or Dolby Atmos height speaker with flexible placement options. Likewise, the unit can also be used as a center, front, LCR, side surround and/or rear surround speaker when ideal placement in a room isn't possible. Full review here!
So, there you have it. Those are the basics of the DTS:X immersive audio format. If you still have any questions about DTS:X, please let us know in the forums!