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DTS:X: what is it? How can you get it?

DTS:X: What is it? How can you get it?

DTS:X was introduced back in January 2015, with its initial focus on home cinema use. It subsequently rolled out into cinemas, taking the opposite approach to its rival surround sound format Dolby Atmos, which started life in the cinema before heading into the home.

The majority of AV manufacturers now support the format as standard, 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 that 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, the majority of the home AV industry supports DTS:X, with many manufacturers either releasing firmware updates for existing receivers or launching whole new models that support it.

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 older products.

On newer products - those on today's shelves - DTS:X comes as standard, just as support for Dolby Atmos does. This includes our 2019 Award-winning AV receivers, including the Denon AVR-X4500H and Sony STR-DN1080.

As mentioned earlier, you don’t necessarily need to add extra height channels to take advantage, but additional channels will help create a more effective 3D sound experience. You can listen to a sample of a DTS:X soundtrack on DTS's website.

Another way to experience DTS:X is through the IMAX Enhanced experience, which is one of the latest AV certifications that promises top-notch home cinema quality. DTS and IMAX have partnered with "award-winning Hollywood sound mixers" to use a special variant of the DTS:X codec found within home audio kit. This should produce an IMAX signature sound experience.

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 six or seven years), you're golden.

What is DTS Virtual:X?

Similar to Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization, DTS Virtual:X is a way of getting three-dimensional surround sound without extra speakers, and it's something you may well have seen on the spec sheet of an AVR or soundbar.

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. Virtual:X doesn’t require special, upward-firing speakers within the soundbar or speaker package 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.

The first product to feature Virtual:X was the Yamaha YAS-207, our current Award winning budget soundbar. LG's  SL5Y and SL6Y soundbars are based on Virtual:X technology too. AV receivers from the last couple of years will typically support DTS Virtual:X mode too.

What DTS:X content is available?

Now that DTS:X is well established, there are hundreds of Blu-rays and 4K Blu-rays available that support DTS:X – just as there are many that support Dolby Atmos. Just look out for the badge on the back of the box.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video don't support DTS:X or Virtual:X. Whether that will change in the future remains to be seen.

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