What Does DTS Stand for in Home Theater Audio?

DTS is an important part of the home theater listening experience

DTS Digital Entertainment Logo

DTS / Wikimedia Commons

Home theater is full of monikers and acronyms, and when it comes to surround sound, it can get really confusing. One of the most recognizable acronyms in home theater audio is the letters DTS.

What DTS Is

DTS stands for Digital Theater Systems (now officially shortened to just DTS).

Before we jump into the role and inner workings of DTS, here is a short historical background on its significance in the evolution of the home theater.

DTS was founded in 1993 as a competitor to Dolby Labs in the development of surround sound audio encoding/decoding/processing technology used in both cinema and home theater applications.

However, it must be noted that DTS is not only a company name, but is also an identifying label it uses to identify its group of surround sound audio technologies.

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.

DTS Digital Surround

As a home theater audio format, DTS (also referred to as DTS Digital Surround or DTS Core) is one of two (along with Dolby Digital 5.1) that got their start with the Laserdisc format, with both formats migrating to DVD upon that format's introduction.

DTS Digital Surround is a 5.1 channel encoding and decoding system that, on the listening end, requires a compatible home theater receiver with 5 channels of amplification and 5 speakers (left, right, center, surround left, surround right) and a subwoofer (.1), similar to the requirements needed for Dolby Digital.

However, DTS uses less compression in the encoding process than its Dolby competitor. As a result, when decoded, many feel that DTS provides a better result on the listening end.

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

In addition, while Dolby Digital is mainly intended for the movie soundtrack experience on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, DTS Digital Surround (check for the DTS logo on the packaging or disc label) is also used in the mixing and reproduction of musical performances, and, in fact, DTS-encoded CDs were also released for a brief 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 a selected number of 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 CDs, DVDs, DVD-Audio Discs, or Blu-ray Discs, you must have a home theater receiver or preamplifier with a built-in DTS decoder, as well as a CD and/or 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 is in the thousands — but there is no complete up-to-date published listing.

DTS Digital Surround Variations

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

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

DTS also supports surround sound for headphone listening via its DTS Headphone:X format. For more details, refer to our companion article on headphone surround sound.

More From DTS

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

DTS Play-Fi is a wireless multiroom audio platform that utilizes an iOS/Android smartphone app that provides access to select music streaming services, as well as music content on local storage devices, such as PCs and media services. Play-Fi then facilitates the wireless distribution of music from those sources to DTS Play-Fi compatible wireless speakers, home theater receivers, and sound bars.