DTS returned to cinema sound after more than two decades with DTS:X, an object-based sound technology that’s a successor to DTS HD, and a rival to Dolby Atmos.
DTS:X was introduced back in January 2015, with its initial focus on home cinema use. It subsequently rolled out into cinemas. This is the opposite approach to its rival Dolby Atmos, which started life in the cinema before heading into the home.
The majority of AV manufacturers now support the format, including Anthem, Arcam, Denon, Krell, Marantz, McIntosh, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, Trinnov and Yamaha.
But what exactly is DTS:X? And what do you need to take advantage of it in the home? Allow us to explain…
What is DTS:X?
DTS:X is an object-based audio codec, which aims to create a multi-dimensional sound that “moves around you like it would in real life”.
You may think that sounds a lot like Dolby Atmos, and you’d be right. But where DTS:X differs lies in the required speaker configuration.
While Dolby Atmos requires you to add extra overhead channels to your 5.1 or 7.1 setup, DTS:X works with standard surround speaker setups – just like the one you might already have at home. It can support up to 32 speaker locations and up to an 11.2-channel system.
DTS says it’s a flexible codec, and will work with “any speaker configuration within a hemispherical layout”.
This is thanks to DTS:X’s Multi-Dimensional Audio (MDA) platform, which is open and licence-free and allows movie producers to control the placement, movement and volume of sound objects.
DTS has also made it possible for users to adjust the volume of just the voices on a soundtrack, making once hard-to-hear dialogue a lot easier to understand.
DTS:X in the home
Fortunately, around 90% of the home AV industry is supporting DTS:X, with many manufacturers either releasing firmware updates for existing receivers, or launching whole new models.
Denon was one of the first to update its AV receivers. You can see a list of updates here, with details of how to update here. Arcam, Marantz, Onkyo and Pioneer have also issued updates to their existing products.
On newer products, DTS:X comes as standard. These include the new five-star Denon AVR-X2400H and the upcoming Sony STR-DN1080 AV receivers.
As mentioned earlier, you don’t necessarily need to add extra height channels to take advantage, but additional channels will create a more effective 3D sound experience.
You can listen to a sample of a DTS:X soundtrack on DTS’s website.
Is DTS:X backwards compatible?
Yes, DTS:X is backwards compatible, so it will work with your current 5.1 or 7.1 configuration. There’s no need to go out and buy a new surround speaker package, or even a new Blu-ray player.
DTS:X is layered on top of the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack already existing on Blu-ray discs (much like how Dolby Atmos is encoded on to Dolby TrueHD), so any film with DTS:X will be playable on your existing kit.
As long as your Blu-ray player and AV receiver can handle Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (which they should, if bought within the last five years), you’re golden.
What is DTS Virtual:X?
DTS Virtual:X is a way of getting three-dimensional surround sound without extra speakers.
Instead of being encoded into the Blu-ray disc (like DTS:X), Virtual:X is a post-processing technology that aims to create the effect of a 7.1.4 surround set up (that’s 11.1 channels, including four height channels) through a soundbar or standard 5.1 speaker system.
The first product to feature Virtual:X will be the new Yamaha YAS-207. The $300 soundbar is out in July 2017, although the Virtual:X firmware update is due to roll out the month after.
Unlike Dolby Atmos soundbars – which also attempts to recreate three-dimensional sound – Virtual:X doesn’t require special, upward-firing speakers within the soundbar to work.
DTS claims Virtual:X achieves its effect regardless of the standard of the audio source, meaning it can be used to boost legacy DTS content.
You will need new hardware with the Virtual:X engine built in to get the effect. We expect other manufacturers to announce Virtual:X support for more soundbars, AV receivers and even TVs later in the year.
What DTS:X content is available?
There are dozens of Blu-rays and 4K Blu-rays available that support DTS:X.
These include Crimson Peak, Nerve, Zoolander 2 (all Blu-rays), and Ex Machina, The Bourne Identity, Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2, Fast and Furious 6, Furious 7, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 (all 4K Blu-rays).
And there are plenty more on their way, such as the first four Harry Potter films and Fast and Furious 8 in 4K Blu-ray.
Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video don’t support DTS:X or Virtual:X (they don’t support Dolby Atmos either). Whether that will change in the future remains to be seen.