Q&A: DTS on Play-Fi Success, Virtual:X Audio Format for Home Theater

CE Pro speaks to Geir Skaaden, chief products and services officer, Tessera Holding Corp., about the evolution of DTS offerings like Play-Fi, Headphone:X and Virtual:X for home theater.


Over the past couple of years, DTS has built upon its staple array of home theater formats with the introduction of its Play-Fi wireless whole-house audio platform.

The company has also sought to improve the headphone listening experience through the launch of its Headphone:X format.

Speaking with CE Pro about how these technologies, as well as its core home theater formats, are evolving, Geir Skaaden, chief products and services officer, Tessera Holding Corp., explains what's new with DTS in the world of consumer audio.

Many people view DTS as a surround-sound company, but DTS has a diverse line-up of whole-house audio, personal audio, commercial audio and home theater. Is the company's success in the home theater market fueling interest in its other products? Is DTS surprised by the growth of Play-Fi?

We haven’t been surprised by the growth of DTS Play-Fi at all. The technology has been on the market for more than five years and our vision of interoperability amongst brands has resonated with retailers, consumers and audio brands.

Once companies realized the whole-home category was a market they needed to participate in, DTS Play-Fi was an obvious choice with its breadth of music services, class-leading functionality, and wide ecosystem compatibility.

The biggest challenge was getting partners to put their toes in the water. As they saw the success of other DTS Play-Fi partners, the momentum built and today we are the leading whole-home ecosystem with more than 20 licensed partners and more than 200 interoperable products on the market in 2017. 

Is the growing adoption of Play-Fi based on dealers' ability to mix and match products from top brands (like Paradigm, Fusion Research and Rotel) or is it the continuing improvement of the Play-Fi app, a key component of today's wireless whole-house audio systems?

Interoperability is certainly a component of that, and we’ve put a substantial amount of resources in making our apps a great user experience across all platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows and Kindle Fire.

Most importantly, dealers have seen our commitment to continuously improve the technology over the years with hi-res audio, surround sound, A/V synchronization and an always-growing roster of music services.

DTS Play-Fi is something that retailers and customers can be confident making an investment in. DTS is in this for the long run.

As part of the Play-Fi update, DTS announced discrete speaker support for the platform and a 24-bit/192 Listening Mode. How can dealers and homeowners benefit from these updates?

Hi-res 24/192 has largely been left to traditional audio components and shunned by networked music systems. Consumers had to choose between great sound quality or in-pocket convenience. That’s not the case anymore with the latest DTS Play-Fi update.

Play-Fi supports the best of both worlds with a critical listening mode supporting music up to 24/192 in bit accurate quality. We also can do on-the-fly transcoding when users want multiroom convenience, rather than saddle audio reproduction with the dropouts associated with extreme network congestion.

The only way to solve this conundrum before was to have two music collections—one hi-res for critical listening and one not for everything else. We solved this in a seamless way for customers.

Headphones are a big part of the modern audio experience. At CES 2017, DTS announced the expansion of its Headphone X technology. How does this technology improve the listening experience and support the growing VR category?

DTS Headphone:X for VR technology leverages DTS’s leading headphone rendering technology for VR Cinema and 360 video applications. This technology will enhance a VR experience to create an immersive audio experience over any pair of headphones.

Leveraging our portfolio of codecs and tools, listeners will enjoy multichannel, immersive, surround sound created from multichannel mixes. Through this enhanced soundscape, the experience will be as natural as if you were actually there.

DTS Headphone:X technology for VR provides the listener with an immersed viewing experience by not only accurately rendering a multichannel environment, but also locks the soundscape orientation to the virtual room as the listener moves their head.  

Today, many 360 videos available for viewing lack the spatial audio cues that keep the listener from experiencing the story as the creator designed it. When using standard ‘inside the head’ two-channel stereo sound, the listener is left ‘hunting’ for the visual counterpart to the audio element. DTS Headphone:X for VR solves this problem with accurate 3D spatial audio rendering to properly point them into the direction the story intends.

A big home theater announcement for dealers is DTS Virtual:X. Should dealers present this technology to clients as a means to maximize the performance of their existing speaker systems?

DTS Virtual:X will begin to appear in 2018 AVRs early next year and may be available from select AVR makers as firmware updates later in 2017. Those consumers in the market for new soundbars will find DTS Virtual:X-enabled sound bars on the market this summer at mass-market prices.

DTS Virtual:X essentially bridges the gap between typical consumer home entertainment setups and new immersive movie content on Blu-ray Disc and 4K UHD Blu-ray Disc that is broadly encoded into immersive bitstreams such as DTS:X, delivering immersive height information to the living room.

However, consumers commonly have a 2.0 to 5.1 channel soundbar systems or just 5.1 to 7.1 speakers connected to their home theater—often all in the horizontal plane with no height speakers. DTS Virtual:X compensates for the lack of height speakers in the home by translating and virtualizing immersive audio over these common consumer speaker layouts.

DTS Virtual:X also brings a more immersive sound with height perception to legacy Blu-ray 7.1 and 5.1 channel-based mixes to dramatically improve the consumer entertainment experience.

What is the best way for dealers to learn about DTS products and technologies? Is it through the DTS website? Is DTS actively planning on engaging dealers in other ways to help them properly implement DTS-based systems?  

DTS.com provides information on our technologies for consumers and professionals alike. Additionally, we are always looking at new ways to engage dealers and our efforts will be evolving throughout the year.

About the Author

Robert Archer
Robert Archer:

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons and Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Binda Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; both schools are located in Haverhill, Mass.


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