Digital Theater Systems (DTS) - dummies

By Danny Briere, Pat Hurley

Digital Theater Systems (DTS) has invented a lineup of surround-sound encoding schemes. As with Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround provides 5.1 channels of digital audio. However, DTS uses less compression (higher data rate) than Dolby Digital.

Where Dolby Digital encodes six channels with 384,000 or 448,000 bits per second, DTS, in its higher-quality mode, encodes 1,536,000 bits per second, which many audiophiles believe delivers a better sound quality. Of course, that means that the DTS encoding takes up more space on a DVD, so the DVD doesn’t have as much room for extra features, such as foreign languages, commentaries, and multiple versions of the movie.

The DVD powers-that-be require all NTSC (the North American standard) DVDs to carry either a Dolby Digital or a PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) — a common digital audio format — soundtrack to ensure compatibility with all DVD players. Because DTS is an optional feature of DVDs, DTS has an uphill battle getting studios onboard because the space on DVDs is limited.

You might hear of some other DTS innovations:

  • DTS-ES: DTS-ES Discrete uses existing digital multichannel technology to deliver the 5.1 channels of regular DTS. It also adds a discrete full-bandwidth back surround channel — meaning that each channel is individually encoded rather than being matrix decoded from the others. That additional channel may be played through one or two speakers, allowing for the ES — Extended Surround — that gives DTS-ES its name. More prevalent is the DTS-ES Matrix system, which is electrically identical to Dolby Digital EX but uses Neo:6 matrix decoding to derive the three surround outputs.

  • DTS Neo:6: DTS Neo:6 Music and Neo:6 Cinema are decoding techniques for stereo or Dolby Surround-encoded two-channel sources. Neo:6 Music keeps the front left and right channels intact while synthesizing the center and surround channels from the 2-channel source. Neo:6 Cinema can create a 6.1-channel signal from 2-channel movie sources.

The bottom line on DTS is that the DTS folks have some innovative algorithms, but the sheer prevalence of the Dolby solutions clearly makes Dolby Digital the most common choice for studios and home theater enthusiasts. Most A/V receivers offer both DTS and Dolby Digital options, so you can try them both and set your receiver (or choose your DVDs) according to your preference.