Guide to DTS-ES and How to Use It

The DTS 6.1 channel surround sound formats explained

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Dolby and DTS are the two primary providers of surround sound formats for home theater systems. The most common surround sound formats are Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround. These systems require five speakers in all: front-left, front-right, front-center, surround-left, and surround-right. They also require a single subwoofer, which is what the ".1" designation refers to.

What Is DTS-ES?

In addition to their core 5.1 channel formats, both Dolby and DTS offer a number of variations. One such variation from DTS is referred to as DTS-ES or DTS Extended Surround, which is represented by its official logo:

DTS-ES Extended Surround Logo

Instead of 5.1 channels, DTS-ES adds a sixth channel, allowing for a sixth speaker positioned directly behind the listener's head. With DTS-ES, the speaker arrangement includes six speakers: front-left, front-right, front-center, surround-left, surround-center, surround-right, and a subwoofer.

Although a dedicated rear-center speaker provides a more accurate and immersive listening experience, such systems do not require a 6.1 DTS-ES-compatible home theater receiver. You can use either a 5.1 or 7.1 channel receiver.

In a 5.1 channel setup, the receiver will fold the sixth channel into the surround channels and speakers. in a 7.1 channel arrangement, the receiver will simply send the signal intended for the surround-center speaker to the two rear speakers in the back of the room, creating a "phantom" surround-center channel.

The Two Flavors of DTS-ES

Although DTS-ES builds on the foundation of DTS 5.1 Digital Surround, DTS-ES comes in two flavors: DTS ES-Matrix and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete.

Here is the difference between the two: If your home theater receiver provides DTS-ES decoding/processing, DTS-ES Matrix extracts the sixth channel from cues that are embedded within DTS 5.1 Digital Surround soundtracks. On the other hand, DTS 6.1 Discrete decodes a DTS soundtrack that has the additional 6th channel information present as a separately mixed channel.

DTS-ES vs. Dolby Digital EX

Dolby also offers its own 6.1 channel surround sound format: Dolby Digital EX. The desirable speaker layout is the same: front-left, front-right, front-center, surround-left, surround-right, surround-center, and a subwoofer. However, whereas DTS-ES provides the ability for a sound engineer to mix in a discrete center backchannel (DTS Discrete), Dolby Digital EX is more like DTS-ES Matrix. The center backchannel is mixed in with the left and right surround channels and can be decoded and distributed within 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channel arrangements.

Dolby Digital EX encoding is used in select DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, and streaming content.

How to Select DTS-ES on Your Home Theater Receiver

If your home theater receiver is set to auto-detect incoming surround sound formats (and DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix options are available), the receiver will automatically perform the proper decoding and display the selected format on your receiver display. If you would like to manually select the surround sound format, and your DVD includes a DTS-ES Discrete or Matrix sound soundtrack, just select those options.

The Bottom Line

Since the advent of Blu-ray Disc and 7.1 channel home theater receivers, newer DTS surround sound formats, like DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X, have found their way into the mix. DTS Virtual: X is expanding the experience even more without the need for additional equipment.

However, many home theater receivers still provide DTS-ES Matrix and DTS-ES Discrete processing and decoding. For those that have a home theater receiver with DTS-ES decoding/processing as well as a 6.1 channel setup, check out a listing of DVD Soundtracks that contain DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete soundtracks (along with DTS-ES Matrix and Dolby Digital EX 6.1 soundtracks). The type of soundtracks available on DVDs should be listed on the DVD packaging, as well as a selection provides on the DVD's menu screen.

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