Overview of the DTS:X Surround Sound Format

Experience immersive surround sound with DTS:X

Close up of volume knob on surround sound system

 

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DTS:X is an immersive surround sound format that competes directly with Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D Audio. All three formats illustrate the evolution of surround sound for both the cinema and home theater environments. Let's take a look at how DTS:X fits in.

MDA - Multi-Dimensional Audio

DTS:X has its roots with SRS Labs (since absorbed into DTS and then Xperi), which developed "Object Based" surround sound technology under the umbrella name of MDA (Multi-Dimensional Audio). The key aspect of MDA is that sound objects need not be tied to specific channels or speakers but assigned to a position in 3 Dimensional space.

Using the MDA infrastructure (which is royalty free to the motion picture and audio/video industry) content creators have an open-ended tool for mixing audio that can be applied to a variety of different end-user formats. For example, audio for The Avengers: Age of Ultron was mixed using MDA for output to the IMAX audio format.

Using MDA for creation, and DTS:X as the output format, sound mixers/engineers have a tool in which each sound object (which can add up to hundreds in some films) can be individually (or grouped in small clusters) placed in a specific point in space, regardless of channel assignment or speaker layout.

On playback, the preciseness of sound object placement is more accurate and immersive the more channels and speakers are in place, but you can still get some immersive benefits of DTS:X encoding even a modest 5.1 or 7.1 channel setup. Of course, you also have to have access to content that is mixed/mastered using MDA tools and delivered by DTS:X as well.

MDA Tool Interface with DTS:X Logo
DTS

DTS:X + CINEMA

This application brings DTS:X to cinemas. Although there are some hardware and software requirements, DTS:X is adaptable to a variety of movie theater speaker setups, including those that may already be set up for the Dolby Atmos (also object-based) or Barco Auro 11.1 (not object based) immersive surround sound formats.

DTS:X can "remap" sound object distribution according to the speaker layout that is available. This means that although theater owners need to add a content server and make some tweaks to gain DTS:X certification, the overall cost of adding DTS:X to commercial cinemas is not a significant financial burden.

DTS:X is implemented by several movie theater chains in the U.S., Europe, and China, including Carmike Cinemas, Regal Entertainment Group, Epic Theaters, Classic Cinemas, Muvico Theaters, iPic Theaters, and UEC Theaters.

DTS:X + AVRs:

DTS:X is not just for commercial cinemas, it is also used in the home theater environment. Here is what you need to know.

DTS:X Encoding and Backwards Compatibility

DTS:X is backward compatible with any home theater receiver that incorporates DTS Digital Surround or DTS-HD Master Audio decoders.

If you play back DTS:X encoded Blu-ray Disc (which can still be played on any Blu-ray Disc or Ultra HD Blu-ray player that has the ability to output a DTS bitstream over HDMI) with a DTS:X compatible receiver, you will be able to access the fully immersive DTS:X encoded soundtrack.

However, if your receiver does not have a built-in DTS:X decoder, no problem, the bitstream still contains DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS Digital Surround options as well, you just won't get the more immersive effect that DTS:X provides. You can build your DTS:X Blu-ray Disc collection and pick up a DTS:X compatible receiver on your own timeline.

For home theater receivers that incorporate DTS:X, a companion format is also included: DTS Neural:X. DTS Neural:X provides an option for users to listen to any non-DTS:X encoded Blu-ray and DVD content in a more immersive manner that can approximate the height and wide sound field information of DTS:X, just not as precise. DTS Neural:X can up-mix 2, 5.1, and 7.1 channel sources.

Channel and Speaker Layout Flexibility

DTS:X is channel and speaker layout agnostic. Even though DTS:X for home theater is designed to be optimally used with an 11.1 (or 7.1.4 in Dolby Atmos terms) channel and speaker layout, DTS:X will remap sound object distribution according to the channel and speaker system it has to work with.

This means that if that helicopter is supposed to originate in the top right front of the sound field, DTS:X will place that helicopter in that space as close as possible within a given the speaker layout, even if no height speakers are present (although having height speakers results in more accurate sound placement).

Some question the accuracy of DTS:X in a setup that includes vertically firing speakers instead of overhead/ceiling height speakers, that may already a part of an existing Dolby Atmos or Auro 3D Audio VOG (Voice of God - using a single ceiling height channel) speaker setup. However, there is usually not a problem if the home theater receiver is executing DTS:X remapping properly. Neither setup should present an unreasonable challenge in producing the intended immersive surround sound experience.

Precise Dialog Control

In addition to location, DTS:X provides the ability to control the volume levels of each sound object. Of course, with up to hundreds of sound objects in any given movie soundtrack, this is mostly reserved for the original sound mastering and mixing process, rather than after-the-fact in a home system. However, some of this capability can be provided to the consumer in the form of dialog control.

In DTS :X, dialog control is more than just being able to control the volume of your center channel, as the center channel may also contain other sound elements as well which get raised or lowered along with the dialog.

With DTS:X, the sound mixer has the ability to isolate the dialog as a separate object. If the sound mixer further decides to keep that object unlocked within a specific piece of content, and the home theater receiver manufacturer decides to include a dialog-only level function in the receiver that is part of the receiver's DTS:X implementation, the user then has the capability of adjusting the center channel dialog object completely independent from the other channel levels, adding more listening flexibility.

Home Theater Receiver Options

DTS:X capable home theater receivers are now common from brands, such as Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, Yamaha, etc...

For examples of DTS:X capable home theater receivers, refer to our picks for Best Home Theater Receivers, priced from $400 to $1,299 and $1,300 and up.

Note

Although most 2017, and newer, mid-and-high-end home theater receivers have DTS:X capability built-in, for many 2016 model year receivers, it may be necessary to download a free firmware update to access it. If your receiver falls into that category, consult your user manual or contact the manufacturer's customer support for details.

DTS Headphone:X

A variation of DTS:X is being implemented in the mobile environment via DTS Headphone:X. The Headphone:X application allows any listener, with any pair of headphones, listening to any content, to experience a fully immersive sound field (of course content mixed specifically for Headphone:X will be more precise). Headphone:X capability can be accessed on your PC, Mobile Device such as smartphones, or a Home Theater Receiver that includes the DTS Headphone:X option (manufacturer dependent).

Check out more details on DTS Headphone:X in our article: Headphone Surround Sound, and on the Official DTS Headphone:X Page.

More To Come...

DTS:X is also available on some high-end soundbars (look for the DTS:X logo), and more implementation is planned for the TV broadcast and streaming environments, so definitely stay tuned as information continues to flow in.