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

DTS Digital Entertainment Logo
DTS Digital Entertainment Logo. Image provided by Wikimedia Commons/DTS

What Is DTS?

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

DTS is not only a company name but is a label used to identify a group of surround sound audio technologies.

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, and processing technology for both 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 (along with Dolby Digital 5.1) that got their start with the Laserdisc format. Both formats migrated to DVD upon its arrival.

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.

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

Digging deeper, DTS Digital Surround is encoded with a 48 kHz sampling rate at 24 bits and supports a transfer rate of 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.

While Dolby Digital is mainly intended for the movie soundtrack experience on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, DTS Digital Surround is also used in the mixing and reproduction of 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 a select 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 AV preamplifier/processor with a built-in DTS decoder, as well as 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 is 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 just the starting point. Additional surround sound formats within the DTS family also applied to DVD include DTS 96/24, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6.

Additional 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 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 entertainment technology: Play-Fi.

DTS Play-Fi is a wireless multiroom audio platform that utilizes an iOS/Android smartphone app to provide access to select music streaming services, as well as 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 also be used as wireless surround speakers for certain Play-Fi compatible home theater receivers and soundbars.