I’m the Bomb… The DTS Bomb!

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.


  1. Dan P.

    Welcome to the club, Josh. I just recently upgraded the fw on my Denon 3808 to the latest and greatest that supposedly fixes the Star Wars BD bomb. I tried playing the problem area where it’s a known issue and I didn’t hear any bombs, so maybe I’m finally safe. Try a fw update, hope for the best, and keep a fresh change of underwear on stand-by just in case.

    • Josh Zyber

      I also have the 3808. I’ve never updated the firmware on it, and frankly wasn’t even sure that it could be updated. Can you point me to some info on this? I’m not finding anything for this model on the Denon site.

      • Dan P.

        The 3808 is network enabled. That’s how you get the fw updates. You need to plug a network cable from your router into the 3808 and then access the “Check for Update” menu option mentioned on page 36 in the manual. It can take about an hour to get all the various updates for each subsystem. I never updated mine either until just recently because I’ve heard that it can be a bit nerve-racking. I actually had to try it a couple of times before it ran completely successfully. Watch the front panel and you will see it downloading and applying. You know it’s working ok when the percentage counter is moving along.

          • Dan P.

            I had some issues, so I actaully did a hard microprocessor reset, which reverted it back to factory settings. I’ve read that when you do that it improves the chances of a successful update. Clears out some cobwebs I guess. I neglected to backup all my settings first (which you can do with the web interface), so I had to do all that again. I’m not sure if doing the update without a reset will mean your settings are saved. It would be safest to do the backup.

            Here’s the gory details for my experience… http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=21090713#post21090713

            Hopefully yours will go a little bit smoother!

          • Josh Zyber

            Thanks for the info, Dan. I’m debating whether I want to go through with this, considering that I’ve only ever had the problem on one disc that I’m not likely to watch again anytime soon.

  2. You know, I think I had this happen once a few months back. I had no clue what it was, and just thought something wonky was going on. Pulled the power plug on my reciever and Blu-Ray player, and went back to that place, and the issue was no longer there. I can’t even tell you what movie it was, but I know for sure I have had the issue once with my Yamaha reciever and Phillips Blu-Ray player. That being said, with as many DTS soundtracks as I have listened to, and the fact that, in all these years, I have had it happen ONCE, and haven’t been able to reproduce it, I think I am doing pretty good.

  3. Tim

    I’m just guessing, but I’m not sure what you experienced was, in fact, the DTS bomb.

    I experienced it once before when I bitstreamed a DTS-HD MA soundtrack to my Onkyo 705. The sound I heard was a very loud boom or bang. It was a single event and not a crackling as you described. Further, my bomb affected all of my speakers at once; the noise didn’t move from one speaker to another.

    Perhaps what you experienced was not the dreaded bomb, as I believe that this issue was addressed through firmware updates. I could be wrong, however.

    My receiver is several years old and I performed a firmware update, which seems to have fixed the problem. I used to set my player to decode HD audio as I was afraid my speakers would suffer collateral damage. Now, however, I’m back to bitstreaming as the issue seems to have gone away.

  4. Bob Dodson

    Could this be an issue related to the HDMI interconnect in a manner similar to loss of handshake for video, but for the audio signal with the way it is encoded with DTS making the dropout into a “bomb”? It may not be due to a decoder error, but rather bad bitstream data being received by the decoder???? Has anyone encountered it while not using HDMI?

  5. August Lehe

    Sorry, I had fogotten DTS was once heralded as a THX “super” A/V logo or something… like Dolby Surround. I have no idea what I’m talking about, I just know I haven’t HEARD much about DTS lately, SINCE MODERN RECEIVER producers rarely feature or mention it! Can somebody bring me up to date and let me know if I need to avoid it like the plague?

    • Josh Zyber

      There’s no avoiding DTS, and in general there isn’t any need to. DTS has the majority of market share on Blu-ray. More discs are encoded with DTS soundtracks than Dolby. All modern A/V receivers include both Dolby and DTS decoders standard.

      The DTS Bomb is a rare occurrence. It’s not something you should stress about, though when it does happen, it’s really annoying.

  6. August Lehe

    Would it be a total waste of time to survey owners of various receiver/processor brands or Blu Ray Players…Yamaha/Onkyo/Denon/Pioneer/Elite, etc.) to see if some generate or produce fewer ‘BOMBS?’ Well….I tried!

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