As home theater evolved, the need for new surround sound formats grew. Users are now looking for more advanced sound systems that bring more detail and realism to their movie nights. Before you try setting up a surround sound system At home, it is essential to know some basics such as the difference between different home theater audio formats.
The most popular surround sound formats are DTS and Dolby Digital. Both audio compression technologies allow filmmakers to record high-quality surround sound that can be reproduced by your audio system at home, but which one does better?
Learn the difference between DTS and Dolby Digital and see which one delivers the most tantalizing and immersive sound.
What is Dolby Digital?
Dolby Digital is a multi-channel audio format created by Dolby Labs. Even if you’ve never heard of DTS, you’ve probably heard of Dolby Digital before. When it comes to surround sound, Dolby Digital is considered the industry standard. That has nothing to do with his superiority. Dolby Labs has simply been around longer than DTS.
Dolby Digital debuted in Batman returns in 1992. Since then, Dolby has introduced several advanced audio codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos.
TrueHD is a lossless format that promises to deliver sound identical to the movie studio master recording.
Atmos is a next-generation audio system that Dolby says is “the most significant advancement in cinema audio since surround sound.”
What is DTS?
DTS (originally Digital Theater Systems) first appeared in 1993. They immediately began to compete with Dolby Digital for the title of superior surround sound format. The first movie to use DTS was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Parkwhich launched the popularity of DTS.
Since then, the company has started producing consumer hardware and released much more advanced surround sound formats. This included a lossless format known as DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X – a rival to Dolby’s Atmos.
In general, DTS is not as widely known (or available) as Dolby Digital. However, some users believe that it is a superior format because it encodes audio at higher bit rates.
DTS vs Dolby Digital: The Similarities
Most high-end audio systems available to set up at home support both Dolby Digital and DTS. In their basic form, both Dolby Digital and DTS provide surround sound codecs for 5.1 setups – a typical home theater system with five speakers and one subwoofer. More advanced versions of the formats support 7.1 channels, overhead speakers, and HD surround sound.
Today, both standards are equally used by studios to compress dense files with multi-channel audio and save disk space (for DVD or Blu-Ray) or bandwidth for streaming (for services like Netflix).
Both Dolby and DTS have “lossy” and “lossless” codecs. The lossy version’s audio will differ from the source to some degree, while lossless formats promise to deliver studio-level audio performance, but with some compression.
Dolby and DTS use additional technologies such as enhanced surround sound for better immersion, dedicated encoders for stereo sound, and object-based sound effects for added realism.
In addition to your home cinema, you will find both DTS and Dolby Digital on your computer, smartphone, Blu-Ray player or game console.
DTS vs Dolby Digital: The Differences
Each of the standards comes with different quality options (or levels) for different forms of media. Here are the different options for each:
- DTS digital surround: 5.1 max channel sound at 1.5 megabits per second (commonly used on DVDs)
- DTS-HD high resolution: 7.1 max channel sound at 6 megabits per second (supported by services such as Netflix)
- DTS-HD Master Audio: 7.1 max channel sound at 24.5 megabits per second (“lossless” quality available on Blu-Ray discs)
- Dolby Digital: 5.1 max channel sound at 640 kilobits per second
- Dolby Digital Plus: 7.1 max channel sound at 1.7 megabits per second
- Dolby TrueHD: 7.1 max channel sound at 18 megabits per second (“lossless”)
- Dolby Atmos
While both standards are relatively close in terms of audio performance, there are certainly some technical differences that separate them.
The main difference between DTS and Dolby Digital is in the bitrates and compression levels.
- DTS Surround compresses 5.1 digital audio data at a maximum bit rate of up to 1.5 megabits per second.
- On DVD, the bit rate is limited to about 768 kilobits per second.
- DTS requires compression of approximately 4:1 (due to the higher bitrate supported by the format).
- Dolby Digital applies a bitrate of 640 kilobits per second to Blu-Ray discs.
- On DVD, the bit rate is limited to 448 kbps.
- Dolby Digital must use a compression of about 10:1 to squeeze in the same amount of data as DTS.
In theory, the less compression used in the encoding, the more realistic the sound becomes. DTS seems to have a distinct advantage over Dolby Digital due to the higher bitrate in all of its versions on specs alone.
But that’s not enough to determine which of the two standards offers a more realistic sound experience. You should consider other factors such as signal-to-noise ratio, speaker calibration, or dynamic range.
Which is superior: DTS or Dolby Digital?
While DTS may seem superior on paper, the difference between DTS and Dolby Digital is subjective and depends a lot on a specific user and their sound system configuration.
If you haven’t invested a lot of money in your sound system, you may not notice a difference. In that case, you are fine with whichever you choose for your home cinema setup. But if you’re an audiophile looking to spend some serious money on a quality receiver and speakers, it’s best to test both and make a final decision based on your preferences.
DTS or Dolby Digital? What is your personal favorite and why? Share your experience with these surround sound formats in the comments section below.