Jeff Cowan, vice president of training for the Americas at D+M Group, reveals his thoughts on the competing formats based on the company's testing.
The first point he makes is that the formats have more in common than they have differences. But differences there are.
Dolby Atmos has much more specific requirements as to speaker placement but that’s not really a negative except in a few oddly shaped or really small home theater environments. Remember that, for example, from its beginning THX certification has had rigid placement specs resulting in the ultimate good of the final event.
DTS, on the other hand, touts on its website that “because DTS:X doesn't require any specific speaker layout, you can arrange your home theater system however you want.”
According to Cowan, “Ahhh. That’s not exactly the case. Speaker placement is more forgiving with DTS:X but simple physics says you can’t just put them anywhere.” Furthermore, DTS:X prefers but doesn’t require a circle of speakers at ear and height level and no requirements for overhead speakers to create a credible height layer.
Much has been made in blogs about DTS:X’s ability to have the option for treating dialog as an object rather than a channel. In other words, dialog level can be adjusted independently of other enter channel content. It could solve one of the most frustrating aspects that has dogged home theater since its inception—persistent weak dialog syndrome.
Learn More: The 20-Year Battle Behind Dolby Atmos vs. DTS:X
Before DTS:X if the center channel volume was increased, everything else in that channel became louder as well, which often not only defeated the purpose but made matters worse. It should be noted that this “dialog as an object” feature must be embedded in the content from the engineer’s console as it is mixed. One hopes these folk are as annoyed as we are with weak dialog channels.
The last difference is actually almost more political and/or commercial than technical and it concerns content, specifically older non-“3D” software/movies aka backwards compatible titles. For example, when Cowan reviewed the top 100 best selling Blu-ray titles of 2015 he found that 90 of them were mastered using DTS:HD rather than the competing Dolby Digital format.
He declined to speculate as to why that might be but opined that not only may older backward compatible titles mixed with DTS:HD sound more “3D-ish” with DTS:X but the studios might also choose DTS:X when mixing new titles in the new MDA (Multi Dimensional Audio) formats.
As we’ve unfortunately seen for a while, audio has taken a back seat first to video, then network control, home automation and IoT among other phenomena in the hearts and minds of CE professionals and, by extension, their clients. As a card-carrying audio dinosaur, I for one am thrilled that the engineers from these companies have come up with a true advancement in the genre. These advancements, while obviously making the home theater experience better, should help everyone’s bottom line as well.