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Issue #029 - What's new
The Practical HT Guide Update brings you the latest additions in a series of informative home theater design articles, unbiased system reviews, practical guidelines and free advice. If you like this e-zine, please do a friend and me a BIG favor and "pay it forward."
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Welcome to the March 2007 issue of
The first theatrical release using DTS surround sound came in 1993 with Jurassic Park - a year after Dolby Digital debut with Batman Returns. It has since then started to steadily invade the home; the first home video release came in 1997 on laser disc - again with Jurassic Park.
DTS Digital Surround has now become the second most popular audio format in use today - despite fierce competition from Dolby Digital in both theatrical and home applications, as well as from SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) in theatrical applications.
Further more, even though DTS is not compulsory on DVD releases, a large number of titles have so far been released for home entertainment on DVD-video with a DTS surround sound track as an alternative to the mandatory Dolby Digital sound.
Today, the family of DTS surround sound formats includes a variety of newer versions ranging from:
More information on the complete range of DTS audio formats is available on our site at https://www.practical-home-theater-guide.com/dts-surround-sound.html.
Many audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts argue that DTS surround sound formats can deliver higher quality sound in comparison to their corresponding Dolby formats, with improved dynamic range, better representation of subtle detail in audio content, and improved signal-to-noise ratio.
Partly, this reasoning arises out of the fact that DTS surround sound is usually encoded at a higher data rate than Dolby Digital and its lineup of associated formats.
This is more than understandable. We are dealing with lossy compression techniques. A higher bit-rate for the same format should normally implies superior sound during playback, as less compression in the encoding process should result in a better representation of the original sound source.
In this Dolby vs DTS debate, DTS people argue that they are after 'sonic perfection, not space consumption' - hence the higher bit rate and lower compression. However, Dolby would counteract that their codec is more efficient and therefore, it can operate at a lower bit rate.
In other words, one cannot simply draw conclusion on sound quality based on raw bit rates and compression figures alone; it also depends on how well designed are the encoding/decoding algorithms. And this also makes sense, but then...
There are relatively big differences in raw bit rates and compression levels when comparing Dolby vs DTS sound formats, implying a too wide a difference in codec efficiency - circa 3 times as much - in favor of Dolby. Is it possible that Dolby sound formats achieve this level of codec efficiency?
The truth is that when dealing with different sound formats, the whole equation starts to get extremely complicated as it is not that easy to define what constitutes better sound.
To understand why this Dolby vs DTS surround sound controversy prevails, it is necessary to have an understanding of the main differences between these formats - in particular, the differences in bit-rate and compression levels as applicable to Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround. There are also significant differences in the way these formats are implemented in moviehouse applications and in home entertainment... More on this controversial topic can be found here.
One may think that audio CDs (CD-DA) provide the perfect sound. Yet many audiophiles would soon tell you that in comparison to high quality analog audio recordings on LPs, CD sound is relatively cold and harsh especially when it comes to handling the upper most frequencies.
Partly, the popularity of the CD-DA format arises out of its ease of use - which also explains the incredible large market that this 20-year old medium still holds today. Nevertheless, its substantial limitations such as occasional frequency clipping, limited dynamic range, spectrum limitations, and the development of new digital interconnects that are capable of supporting the transfer of high definition multi-channel audio and video in digital form among devices in the playback chain, is leading to a shift among music lovers towards DVD-Audio discs and SACDs.
At the same time, one has to acknowledge the fact that though the Super Audio CD and the DVD-Audio disc have been around since 1999 and 2000 respectively, yet the shift towards these two high definition audio formats has been slow - especially in the first few years of their existence.
The reason was that universal players capable of playing both formats were initially selling at around $1,000 - too expensive for these formats to gain popularity. In fact, it was not before 2003 that we started to see the first combined DVD-Audio disc/SACD players at under the $200 price tag. It was also at around this same time that DVD-Audio and SACDs were being priced at CD levels.
Today, you can get a good quality universal DVD player capable of handling DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD, and CD, at around $150. A case in point is the OPPO DV-970HD Up-Converting Universal DVD Player which can produce excellent image quality when playing DVD-Video, supports SACD, DVD-Audio, and CD among others, and is also capable of upconverting to 1080i via its HDMI. Ok, built quality may feel a bit too plastic and not up to the same standard as high-end players, but at this price bracket, the OPPO DV-970HD delivers some of the best value for your money.
DVD-Audio, SACD and other High Definition Formats
DVD-Audio discs and SACDs are capable of delivering up to six full-range channels of high resolution audio. These are not the only high definition audio formats; both Dolby and DTS have a full lineup of high definition formats that are capable of delivering high resolution multi-channel sound using either lossy or lossless encoding techniques.
But these Dolby and DTS formats are mainly audio-for-video formats, thus supporting full motion video in addition to the high quality audio on the same optical disc. In contrast, DVD-Audio and SACD are music-delivery formats, and though both support 'limited' visual content, yet neither is intended for movie viewing.
DVD-Audio Discs and SACD - a format war?
It is an undeniable fact that the main players behind DVD-Audio and SACD are in a format war with each other. Yet it is our opinion that the availability of inexpensive universal media players like the OPPO referred to above, and with optical media selling at rock bottom prices, will not only guarantee the co-existence of both formats, it will even render this format dispute between these two major players, rather transparent to the end user.
This is being stated as DVD-Audio discs and Super Audio CDs are both capable of delivering practically the same level of high fidelity audio, where the end quality is mainly dependent on the playback setup rather than the audio format. And this, despite the fact that as we will soon see in this series of articles, DVD-Audio and SACD use fundamentally different processes to achieve the same end result.
More information on DVD-A and SACD, including the DualDisc and the Hybrid SACD, can be found in a series of detailed - but easy to follow - articles appearing on our site. These articles discuss the various aspects - from disc specs and related technology (MLP lossless and DSD), to sound quality, playback issues, content protection implications, as well as available music titles. The following links will take you straight to the respective articles:
Hope you will enjoy and profit from these additions to our site. More new content will follow soon, so...
Take care and stay tuned to Practical Home Theater Guide!
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