DTS:X The Promise of Open, Immersive and Flexible Object-Based Audio

Last week, DTS, perhaps best known today for their DTS-HD Master Audio codec that dominates Blue-rays, announced further details on their object-based, multi-dimensional audio technology, called DTS:X.  At the Consumer Electronics Conference (CES) this past January, DTS unveiled DTS:X and announced a huge litany of manufacturers who would be supporting the technology but failed to provide any real details.

With traditional mastering of stereo and multichannel recordings sounds are mastered to a particular speaker or channel.  With object-based audio, however, a sound or object (such as a guitar, trumpet, violin, bird sound, etc) are placed in a space and then the processor or receiver determines what speaker or speakers should reproduce the sound so that it rendered in its proper space or location in your room.  In other words, you no longer master to the left or right channel but the place where the sound should come from.  The technology then does the rest. Multidimensional object-based audio systems use overhead or ceiling channels to render a true 360 degree sound field.  To date, the dominant players have been Dolby Atmos and Auro3D.
Both Dolby Atmos and Auro3D require a recommended speaker placement to achieve the 360 degree sound field.  Many critics have argued that the placement options are unrealistic for most installations.  At last week’s media event, DTS confirmed that DTS:X will be compatible with both Dolby Atmos and Auro3D installations and also will be one of the most flexible object-oriented solutions available.  DTS says that DTS:X is not tied to prescribed speaker configurations or a specific number of audio channels. Instead, DTS:X adapts to the viewing environment, allowing for a flexible speaker configuration that best fits the viewing space.
A number of features that are important to note about DTS:X include:
  • Flexible Speaker Layout:  DTS:X allows the placement of home theater speakers virtually anywhere. The freedom of object-based audio enables optimized playback on a multitude of speaker layouts, with any number of speakers. The DTS speaker remapping engine supports any speaker configuration within a hemispherical layout based around the listening position in the room.  2015 DTS:X AVRs can support up to 11.2 speaker output channels.  Content created for a specific speaker layout can be remapped for reproduction through a different layout.  DTS:X is capable of supporting up to  32 speaker locations (though we can’t imagine any scenario where this will be realistically implemented for even high end solutions.
  • Lossless Audio: Just like DTS-Master Audio, DTS:X is lossless to ensure the highest fidelity. DTS:X supports up to 96k for object mixes and will still support up to 192k for stereo and multi-channel mixes
  • Backward compatibility: The DTS:X content is backward compatible with the DTS-HD decoder.  The DTS:X decoder supports DVD, Blu-ray Disc (BD) and streaming media file formats.  DTS:X can spatially reformat stereo, 5.1 or 7.1 content to take full advantage of all speakers in a surround system.
  • Enhanced Dialog Intelligibility Control: With DTS:X, you will be able to control the volume of specific audio elements at home, such as increasing dialog volume to match their listening preferences.  Dialog, as an object, can be lifted out from the background sounds when clarity and intelligibility are desired.  Content creators will have the choice to implement this feature in their content mix.
Unlike Dolby Atmos and Auro3D, DTS:X has gained huge support from processor and AVR manufacturers—from entry level to ultra high end audiophile solutions.
According to DTS, manufacturers representing nearly 90 percent of the home AVR and surround processor market will launch DTS:X-enabled products beginning in early Summer 2015, with additional manufacturer and model announcements to follow in the coming months. Confirmed AVR partners include:
  • Denon – AVR-X7200W available now / DTS:X firmware upgrade later in 2015
  • Integra – launching several models by Fall 2015
  • Marantz – AV8802 available now / DTS:X firmware upgrade later in 2015
  • Onkyo – launching several models by Fall 2015
  • Pioneer – details to follow
  • Steinway Lyngdorf – P200 Surround Sound Processor available Summer 2015 / DTS:X firmware upgrade in Fall 2015
  • Theta Digital – Casablanca IVa available Summer 2015
  • Trinnov Audio – Altitude32 available now / DTS:X firmware upgrade Summer 2015
  • Yamaha – launching DTS:X ready models in Fall 2015

It remains to be seen if DTS:X will take off and in what way it will take off.  On the one hand, the ability to have flexible speaker placement is an enormous achievement. On the other hand, the promise of more spending on yet more speakers is a daunting proposition for many—especially architecturally challenged or wife-challenged installations.   Whatever happens, DTS:X looks like it will be a dominant force simply because of manufacturer adoption and flexible speaker layout.

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