DTS Virtual:X Surround Sound - What You Need To Know

Pushing Surround Sound Up and Out With No Extra Speakers

DTS Virtual:X Logo and Illustration
DTS Virtual:X Logo and Illustration. Images provided by Xperi/DTS via PRNewswire

DTS Virtual:X is a complicated name, but it basically means making just a few speakers sound like a lot of speakers.

Why is There a Need for DTS Virtual:X?

One of the intimidating things about the home theater experience is the sheer number of surround sound formats. Depending on what brand and model of home theater receiver, AV preamp/processor, or Home theater-in-a-box system you have will determine what surround sound formats you have access to.

What most of them have in common, unfortunately, is that they require a lot of speakers.

However, with the increasing popularity of sound bars and headphone listening, the question is how do you get a surround sound experience without all those speakers?

DTS has taken on this task with the development and implementation of its Virtual:X format.

Built upon the foundation of the already established DTS:X and DTS Neural:X surround sound formats, DTS Virtual:X expands the trend towards a more immersive listening experience without the need for lots of speakers.

DTS Virtual:X is designed primarily for home theater receivers and sound bars, but can also be used to enhance TV sound systems.

How DTS Virtual:X Works

The technology behind DTS Virtual:X is very complex, but in basic terms, when activated, analyzes incoming audio signals in real time, and then employs sophisticated algorithms that make the best guess on where specific sounds should be placed in a 3-Dimensional listening space where no speakers may be present.

The sound space may include either rear and/or overhead sounds.

The process tricks the listener's ears into perceiving the presence of additional "phantom" or "virtual" speakers even though there may be as few as two physical speakers present.

What this means is that DTS Virtual:X can work with any type of incoming multi-channel audio signal, from two-channel stereo, 5.1/7.1 channel surround sound, to immersive 7.1.4 channel audio and, use up-mixing (for stereo) and added processing for other sound formats, that create a sound field that includes height and/or vertical surround elements without the need for additional speakers or wall or ceiling reflections.

DTS Virtual:X Applications

DTS Virtual:X is a great option for sound bars, as it can deliver an acceptable immersive surround sound experience even though you only have 2 (left, right) or 3 (left, center, right) channels (and maybe a subwoofer) placed in the front of the listening area.

Also, for home theater receivers, if you don't want to connect height or overhead speakers, DTS Virtual:X processing provides an alternative that you might be satisfied with, as the horizontal configured surround sound field is intact, but the Virtual:X can extract the overhead channels without the need for additional speakers.

Examples of sound bar and home theater receiver setups DTS Virtual:X might be suited for include:

  • Sound Bar or sound bar with subwoofer: DTS Virtual:X can create 2 phantom horizontal surrounds and up to four overhead channels.
  • Sound Bar with physical surround speakers and subwoofer: DTS Virtual:X can create up to four phantom overhead channels to supplement the sound bar system's existing speakers.
  • Home Theater receiver with traditional 5.1 or 7.1 channel speaker setup: DTS Virtual:X can create up to four phantom overhead channels in addition to the physical speakers already present. For example, DTS Virtual:X can both add a phantom sixth and seventh channel and two height channels to a 5.1 channel receiver or up to four overhead channels to a 7.1 channel receiver.

    DTS Virtual:X and TVs

    Since today's TVs are so thin, there is not enough room to incorporate speaker systems that can provide a credible surround sound listening experience. That is why it is strongly suggested that consumers opt to at least add a sound bar - after all, you reached into your wallet to buy that big-screen TV, you deserve good sound too.

    However, with DTS Virtual:X, a TV would be able to project a more immersive sound listening experience without the need to add that extra sound bar. It is expected that the first DTS Virtual:X equipped TVs will become available in early 2018.

    DTS Virtual:X and Two-Channel Stereo Receivers

    Another possible configuration that is possible, although not implemented by DTS at this point, is to incorporate DTS Virtual:X processing into a two-channel stereo receiver.

    In this type of application, DTS Virtual:X could enhance two channel stereo analog audio sources with the addition of two phantom surround channels and up to up to 4 phantom overhead channels (similar to its use in with a sound bar setup).

    If this capability is implemented, it would certainly change the way we perceive the traditional 2-channel stereo receiver, providing added flexibility for use in both an audio-only or audio/video listening setup.

    How to Set Up and Use DTS Virtual:X

    DTS Virtual:X does not require extensive setup procedures to use. On sound bars and TVs, it is just an on/off selection. For home theater receivers, if you "tell" your home theater receiver that you are not using physical surround back or height speakers, then DTS Virtual:X can be selected.

    In terms of effectiveness based on room size, that would be partially determined by how much amplifier power support your sound bar, TV, or home theater receiver provides. Sound bars and TVs would be more appropriate for smaller rooms, whereas a home theater receiver would provide be more appropriate for a medium or large size room.

    The Bottom Line

    The number of home theater surround sound formats can sometimes be quite intimidating for consumers - causing confusion as to which one to use for any given listening experience.

    DTS Virtual:X simplifies the expansion of the surround sound listening, by providing primarily the perception of height channels, without requiring additional speakers. This solution is very practical for incorporation into sound bars and TVs. Also, for home theater receivers, it provides a practical solution for those that don't what to add physical height speakers but still desire a more immersive listening experience.

    However, it is important to point out that for best results in a full home theater environment, adding dedicated physical height speakers (vertically firing or ceiling mounted) provides the most accurate, dramatic, result. However, DTS Virtual:X is definitely a game-changer in the crowded field of surround sound formats.

    The first DTS Virtual:X equipped products (via firmware update) available to consumers are the Yamaha YAS-207 sound bar and the Marantz NR1608 home theater receiver.

    As implementation increases, CDs, vinyl records, streaming media sources, TVs programs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs can all benefit from DTS Virtual:X processing. Stay tuned as more information becomes available.