Just like music, surround sound platforms are available in multiple standards. The two big ones supported by most high-end home audio systems are Dolby Digital and DTS (short for the owner of the standard, Dedicated To Sound). But what’s the difference between the two?
Both Dolby and DTS offer surround sound codecs for 5.1, 6.1 (rare), and 7.1 setups, where the first number indicates the number of small surround speakers and the “.1” is a separate channel for a subwoofer. For the most common applications, playback of movies and TV shows via DVD, Blu-ray, and cable or satellite TV systems, both standards are used by the studio to compress the dense files necessary for multi-channel audio and decompress it by your receiver for playback.
In addition to 5.1 and 7.1 speaker playback in various formats, both standards have multiple extra technologies, like specific encoders for enhanced stereo, the older Pro Logic standards that simulate surround sound, converting up or down to match a non-standard number of speakers, enhanced surround for extra immersion, and so on. But for the purposes of a standard Blu-ray or satellite system with a high-end audio receiver, we’re going to focus on the surround sound playback.
relatively inexpensive 5.1-speaker setup with an integrated Blu-ray player. It may not be compatible with the highest bitrate Dolby and DTS standards.
Both formats use compression to save space (either on the disc, in the case of DVD and Blu-ray, or streaming bandwidth, in the case of services like Netflix). Some forms of DTS and Dolby Digital are “lossy”, meaning it has a degree of audio degradation from the original source, while others get around this audio loss for “lossless” studio levels of performance while still offering some compression for space savings (see below).
Dolby Surround and DTS are proprietary formats, so a complete examination of the technology they use isn’t really possible (unless you happen to work for either company). But we can look at some of the specific specs available and make a rough determination.
First, each standard has its own “tiers” of quality, which you’ll find in different forms of media. Here are the options you’ll find for each:
As you can see, the propagation of two competing companies with evolving standards has resulted in roughly comparable levels of surround sound quality across three different tiers. There are some more technical differences between the codecs—for example, DTS-HD Master Audio can sacrifice the compression rates on some of its channels to boost encoding to a maximum of nine separate channels, and both DTS:X and Dolby Atmos are alternative “immersive” modes that offer even more distinct surround sound. But for most standard applications, you’ll be using one of the above.
At first glance, DTS seems to have the clear advantage on paper due to its higher bitrate encoding at all three tiers. But remember, we’re dealing with proprietary technology used in the original studio recording and in playback. Higher bitrate does not necessarily mean higher quality, because you aren’t comparing apples to apples…just like comparing MP3 bitrates to AAC bitrates isn’t exactly fair.
The difference between the lossless and lossy tiers is highly subjective as well, not to mention dependent upon the quality and setup of your specific home theater. The differences in bitrate between the lower and upper tiers will become more apparent with more expensive, higher-quality speakers…assuming that your hearing is actually good enough to discern the difference in the first place.Read More...
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