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 two main providers of surround sound formats for home theater use, and, their most basic surround sound formats are Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Digital Surround which, in terms of speakers, requires a left front, center front, right front, left surround, right surround speakers (5 total), plus, a subwoofer (that is where you get the .1 designation from).

What Is DTS-ES

In addition to their core 5.1 channel formats, both Dolby and DTS offer up variations. One variation that DTS offers 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, which allows for a sixth speaker that is positioned directly behind the listener's head. In other words, with DTS-ES, the speaker arrangement is front left, front center, front right, surround left, back center, right surround (6 channels), and, of course, the subwoofer (.1 channel).

However, although having a dedicated center back speaker provides the most accurate listening result, if you have a 5.1 or 7.1 channel home theater receiver that offers DTS-ES, you are still OK. In a 5.1 channel setup, the receiver will fold the sixth channel into the surround channels and speakers, and in a 7.1 channel setup, the receiver will simply send the signal intended for a center back speaker into the two surround back speakers, thus creating a "phantom" center backchannel that appears to come from the location that is between the two surround back speakers.

By the same token, to accommodate backward compatibility with 5.1 channel home theater receivers that may not have provide a DTS-ES Discrete decoding or processing, if it provides standard DTS 5.1 Digital Surround decoding, the DTS Digital Surround decoder will automatically fold the matrix or discrete 6th channel of the DVD soundtrack into the left and right surround channels of a 5.1 channel speaker setup.

The Two Flavors of DTS-ES

However, although DTS-ES builds on the foundation of DTS 5.1 Digital Surround, it turns out that DTS-ES actually comes in two flavors: DTS ES-Matrix, and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete.

Here is the difference between the two flavors of DTS-ES. If your home theater receiver provides DTS-ES decoding/processing, DTS-ES Matrix extracts the sixth channel from cues that have been embedded within some 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: left front, center, right front, surround left, center back, surround right, 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, in which 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 environment.

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 you have your home theater receiver set so that it auto-detects incoming surround sound formats, and DTS-ES Discrete and Matrix options are available, the receiver will automatically perform the proper decoding and display which format is in use on your receiver's front panel display if one those signals are detected. If you prefer to manually select the surround sound format you want to use, and your DVD includes a DTS-ES Discrete or Matrix sound soundtrack, just select those options.

The Bottom Line

DTS-ES has been used on some DVD soundtracks, but since the advent of Blu-ray Disc and 7.1 channel home theater receivers, newer DTS surround sound formats, such as DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X have found their way into the mix, leaving DTS-ES behind. And DTS Virtual: X is expanding the experience without additional equipment necessary.

However, many home theater receivers still provide DTS-ES Matrix and DTS-ES Discrete processing and decoding capability (check out your receiver's user manual for details), and for those that have a home theater receiver with DTS-ES decoding/processing capability and also still have 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.