5.1 Surround Sound, Dolby or DTS?

5.1 Surround Sound in Dolby or DTS?

What is 5.1 surround sound?

5.1 Surround Sound refers to this speaker set up: (left front, left rear, right front, right rear, and center), plus a subwoofer channel (the .1 in 5.1)

What is Dolby Digital Surround Sound?

This is the most common format for surround sound on media such as movies. It’s a discrete channel surround sound format because the output has been controlled to come from a variety of speakers, allowing a car to sound like it is moving across the screen etc…

What is DTS?

DTS (Digital Theatre Systems) is a digital surround-sound system first introduced in theatres in 1993. DVDs encoded with a DTS soundtrack require a DVD player and stereo receiver equipped with DTS-processing capability. This is partly due to the DTS demands for more data space on a DVD (often sacrificing bonus features), but many believe the audio quality to be superior to that of Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround sound.

I don’t happen to be ‘the people’ but reading up and around the issue DTS has a higher data rate and so that roughly translates into ‘better’ sound. Where as many Dolby fans argue that low compression but higher data rate provides ‘better sound’….

I’ll need another 10 years to provide a better description of ‘better sound’ but many blogs start with the underdog against the giant, like in all fairy tales…

I should be pointed out that both Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround encoding schemes now have even higher sampling rate of 48 kHz at 20-bits per sample, thus yielding an even wider dynamic range between sound level extremes of approximately 120dB.

They both have to be compressed in some form to fit on the disk so that is always going to be an issue, raw data over efficiency is hard to prove when sound is subjective.

“Compression and bit-rate are not the only differences when comparing Dolby vs. DTS formats. For example, the added rear surround channel in Dolby’s extended surround format ‘Dolby Digital EX’, is matrixed over the two left and right surrounds, rather than discrete; instead the DTS counterpart uses a discrete channel. This also explains why DTS ES (Extended Surround) can provide a more precise location for the rear-effects soundstage than the Dolby EX format.” – Source here

“Both Dolby Digital and DTS audio are capable of achieving similar end results in delivering surround sound, even though the lower compression/higher bit-rate of DTS Digital Surround should theoretically yields apparent benefits in sound quality.

At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that these two formats make use of different coding schemes and syntax to perceptually compress audio.

This means that efficiency in terms of data utilization between these two formats is different. Therefore, a Dolby vs. DTS direct comparison based solely on these formats raw bit rates cannot be taken as a measure of sound-quality.

Thus, while it is objectively possible to compare the resultant sound quality for the same audio format encoded at different bit rates, and therefore, to determine whether the same format in a movie house application sounds better or worse than in a consumer implementation in home entertainment, it is not so straightforward when dealing with different formats.

Rather, the reality is that for identically sourced audio content, it would be much easier for the listener during a Dolby vs. DTS ‘blind’ listening test to notice a change in sound quality when changing the playback equipment say between different brands, than when changing from a Dolby Digital to the DTS surround audio track.” – Source here

So it is down to choice really and if it you set up your theatre, home cinema etc… then you might notice one suiting your needs better, Sadly this is going to be a never-ending debate but at least you can argue both ways forever with your friends.


Matt Price

Matt Price

I am a London Based Sound Mixer and Sound Recordist working on Feature Films, Creative Content, Documentaries and Commericials.

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