What Does DTS Mean in Home Theater Audio?

DTS is an important part of the home theater listening experience

Home theater is full of monikers and acronyms. When it comes to surround sound, things can get confusing. DTS is one of the most recognizable acronyms in home theater audio. DTS is both a company name and a label used to identify a group of surround sound audio technologies.

DTS Digital Entertainment Logo

What Is DTS?

DTS, Inc. started life as Digital Theater Systems. Eventually, the company officially shortened its name to the acronym DTS.

A brief background on the significance of DTS in the evolution of the home theater includes:

  • DTS was founded in 1993 as a competitor to Dolby Labs in the development of surround sound audio encoding, decoding, and processing technology for cinema and home theater applications.
  • The first credited theatrical movie release that employed DTS audio surround sound technology was Jurassic Park.
  • The first home theater application of DTS audio was the release of Jurassic Park on LaserDisc in 1997.
  • The first DVD that contained a DTS audio soundtrack was The Legend of Mulan in 1998 (made for video, not the Disney version).

DTS Digital Surround

As a home theater audio format, DTS (also referred to as DTS Digital Surround or DTS Core) is one of two formats, along with Dolby Digital 5.1, that got its start with the LaserDisc format. Both formats migrated to DVD when it became available.

DTS Digital Surround is a 5.1 channel encoding and decoding system that, on the listening end, requires a compatible home theater receiver with five channels of amplification and five speakers (left, right, center, surround left, surround right) and a subwoofer (.1), similar to the requirements needed for Dolby Digital.

DTS uses less compression in the encoding process than its Dolby competitor. As a result, when decoded, DTS provides a better listening experience, according to some listeners.

Digging Deeper Into DTS Digital Surround

DTS Digital Surround is encoded with a 48 kHz sampling rate at 24 bits. It supports a transfer rate of up to 1.5 Mbps. Contrast that with standard Dolby Digital, which supports a 48 kHz sampling rate at a maximum of 20 bits and a maximum transfer rate of 448 Kbps for DVD applications and 640 Kbps for Blu-ray Disc applications.

While Dolby Digital is mainly intended for the movie soundtrack experience on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, DTS Digital Surround is also used to mix and reproduce musical performances, and DTS-encoded CDs were available for a short time.

DTS-encoded CDs can be played on compatible CD players. The player must have either a ​digital optical or digital coaxial audio output and appropriate internal circuitry to send a DTS-encoded bitstream to a home theater receiver for proper decoding. Due to these requirements, DTS-CDs are not playable on most CD players but are playable on DVD or Blu-ray Disc players that include the needed DTS compatibility.

DTS is also used as an available audio playback option on select DVD-Audio discs. These discs can only be played on compatible DVD or Blu-ray Disc players.

To access DTS-encoded music or movie soundtrack information on CD, DVD, DVD-Audio Disc, or Blu-ray Disc, you need a home theater receiver or an AV preamplifier/processor with a built-in DTS decoder. You also need a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc player with DTS pass-through (bitstream output via digital optical/digital coaxial audio connection or via HDMI).

The list of DVDs encoded with DTS Digital Surround worldwide number in the thousands, but there is no complete, up-to-date published listing. Check for the DTS logo on the DVD packaging or disc label.

DTS Surround Sound Format Variations

Although DTS Digital Surround is the most widely known audio format from DTS, it is only the starting point. Additional surround sound formats within the DTS family also applied to DVD include DTS 96/24, DTS-ES, and DTS Neo:6.

Other variations of DTS, which are applied to Blu-ray Disc, include DTS HD-Master Audio, DTS Neo:X, and DTS:X.

DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X are also included on select Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

Another variation of DTS is DTS Virtual:X. This format provides some of the benefits of the DTS:X format but doesn't require specially coded content and doesn't require a lot of speakers, making it a practical option to include in soundbars.

DTS also supports surround sound for headphone listening using its DTS Headphone:X format.

Play-Fi From DTS

In addition to its surround sound formats, Play-Fi is another DTS-branded entertainment technology.

DTS Play-Fi is a wireless multi-room audio platform. It uses an iOS or Android smartphone app to access select music streaming services and music content on local storage devices, such as PCs and media services.

Play-Fi facilitates the wireless distribution of music from those sources to DTS Play-Fi-compatible wireless speakers, home theater receivers, and soundbars.

Select DTS Play-Fi speakers can be used as wireless surround speakers for certain Play-Fi compatible home theater receivers and soundbars.

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