DTS Neo:X - What It Is and How It Works

Surround Sound Expansion a la DTS

Official DTS Neo:X Logo with 11.1 Channel Speaker Layout Diagram
Images provided by DTS

In a similar fashion as the Dolby's ProLogic IIz and Audyssey's DSX surround sound processing formats, which provide both height and wide channel enhancement, DTS offers an 11.1 channel surround sound format that they have labeled DTS Neo:X.

Just as with the ProLogic IIz and Audyssey DSX, DTS Neo:X does not require studios to mix soundtracks specifically for the 11.1 channel sound field, however, they do have the ability to do so, if desired, which delivers a more accurate result. The only Blu-ray Disc release on record with a DTS Neo:X optimized soundtrack is ​The Expendables 2 (Review by Home Cinema Choice).

However, even without optimization on the mixing end, DTS Neo:X is designed to look for cues already present in stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 channel soundtracks and places those cues within front height and wide channels that are distributed to added front height and rear height speakers, enabling a more enveloping "3D" sound listening environment.

DTS Neo:X Channel and Speaker Configurations

In order to experience the maximum benefit of DTS Neo:X processing, it is best to have a home theater receiver that provides an 11 speaker layout configuration as shown in the image attached to this article, (supported by 11 channels of amplification), and a subwoofer.

In a full 11.1 Channel DTS Neo:X setup, the speakers are arranged as follows:

  • Front Left
  • Front Left Height
  • Front Center
  • Front Right
  • Front Right Height
  • Wide Left
  • Wide Right
  • Surround Left
  • Surround Left Height
  • Surround Right
  • Surround Right Height
  • Subwoofer (If you use two subwoofers the setup would be referred to as having 11.2 channels)

An alternate speaker setup would remove the Surround Left and Right Height speakers and, instead, incorporate additional Left and Right speakers between the Left and Right Front and Left and Right Wide speakers.

This speaker layout variation allows for the expansion of the surround sound field that fills in the gaps between the surround and front speakers, as well as adding a larger front soundstage with the addition of height channels placed above the front left and right front speakers, and additional sound coming from the rear via back surround height speakers. The sound from these speakers also projects toward the listening position, giving the sensation of selected sounds coming from overhead.

Yes, that is a lot of speakers, and although it is desirable to a have a DTS Neo:X-enabled home theater receiver that supports 11 channels of built-in amplification, DTS Neo:X can also be incorporated into a home theater receiver that has 9 channels of built-in amplification with preamp outputs for connection to external amplifiers that add the needed extra 10th and 11th channels.

DTS Neo:X can also be scaled to work within  9.1 or  7.1 channel environment, and you find some home theater receivers that incorporate the 7.1 or 9.1 channel options. In these types of setups, the extra channels are "folded" with the existing 9.1 or 7.1 channel layout, and also not as effective as the desired 11.1 channel setup, it does provide an expanded surround sound experience over a typical 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1 channel layout.

Additional Control Included with DTS Neo:X

Also, for additional surround control, DTS Neo:X supports three listening modes:

  • Cinema (provides extra emphasis to center channel so that dialog does not get lost in the surround sound environment)
  • Music (provides stability to the center channel, while still providing channel separation of the rest of the elements in the soundtrack)
  • Game (provides more detailed sound placement and directionality, especially in the wide and height channels, in order to provide a more fully immersive surround sound experience)

Hold On! DTS Replaces Neo:X With DTS:X

DTS Neo:X is not to be confused with DTS:X, which is an object-based surround sound encoding format introduced in 2015 which includes overhead sound immersion and is now a standard surround sound option on most mid-range and high-end home theater receivers. DTS:X can be considered an "evolved" version of Neo:X. For some home theater receivers, the addition of DTS:X has eliminated the need for DTS Neo:X on future units, so you most likely won't see both Neo:X and DTS:X included on the same receiver.

On the other hand, some previous home theater receivers equipped with DTS Neo:X are designed to accept a DTS:X firmware update. In these cases, once the DTS:X firmware update is installed, the DTS Neo:X feature is overridden and no longer accessible. If you have a receiver with Neo:X, a firmware update may be provided automatically, but if you are not sure, check with customer or tech support for your specific brand/model to see if it is available.

On the other hand, if you own a home theater receiver that offers DTS Neo:X, and it is not upgradable to DTS:X, it will still work as designed--but if you do switch out to a new home theater receiver, you will be provided with DTS:X and the DTS Neural Up-mixer. DTS:X requires specifically encoded content, but the Neural Upmixer works in a similar fashion as DTS Neo:X, in that it will create a similar immersive effect by extracting height and wide cues with existing 2, 5.1, or 7.1 channel content.