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What is DTS:X? What You Need to Know

DTS:X is an immersive surround sound format that is both similar and different from Dolby Atmos. Find out how DTS:X and its variations work.

DTS:X Logo

Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos definitely get a lot more love from marketing people and publicists and there is far greater brand awareness of those formats in the general moviegoing population. DTS:X has struggled in that regard and what few consumers understand is just how many applications utilize the technology.

DTS:X is everywhere and can be experienced in almost every possible environment; home cinema, gaming, mobile, and more.

Let’s take a deeper look into the format and how it has evolved over the years.

The Roots of DTS:X

DTS:X is an outgrowth of the MDA (Multi-Dimensional Audio) concept, which was originally developed by SRS Labs (which was absorbed by DTS, which, in turn, is now owned by Xperi).

Similar to Dolby Atmos, sound objects are not tied to specific channels or speakers. They are assigned to positions in three-dimensional space.

MDA is open-source, whereas the use of Dolby Atmos requires a license fee from Dolby. This means that content creators use MDA as a tool for mixing audio that can be applied to various output formats. DTS:X is just one format that can be chosen.  

Of course, more channels and speakers (especially vertically firing or overhead speakers) improve the accuracy of sound object placement, but unlike Dolby Atmos, the immersive qualities of DTS:X can be enjoyed with a standard 5.1 or 7.1 channel speaker setup.

The reason for this is that DTS:X analyzes the capabilities, number, and placement of speakers in a given setup and will map the immersive audio effects as closely as possible given the setup. This means that whether you have a 2-channel or 7.1.2 channel speaker setup, DTS:X will try its best to deliver a convincing immersive surround sound experience with encoded content. 

DTS suggests that a 7.1.4 channel speaker layout provides the best result for DTS:X. 

Tip: In a Dolby Atmos or DTS:X speaker setup, the first number refers to the number of speakers placed in the horizontal plane, the second number refers to the number of subwoofers, and the third number refers to the number of vertically firing or overhead mounted speakers.

DTS:X Feature Summary

DTS:X in the Cinema

The ability of DTS:X to adapt (map) to a variety of speaker setups, makes it an affordable option for movie theater owners. 

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For example, if a movie theater already has a system/speaker setup that is optimized for Dolby Atmos, Barco Auro 11.1 (pdf), or another format, DTS:X can remap the sound objects it has according to the requirements of those speaker layouts. 

A growing number of cinemas worldwide include DTS:X as an option with compatible movie content. Check your local movie theater to see if it is offered. 

DTS:X for Home Theater

To access DTS:X at home you need.

  • A home theater receiver or soundbar that is DTS:X compatible. If your home theater receiver or soundbar is not DTS:X compatible but is DTS Digital Surround or DTS-HD Master Audio compatible, you can still play DTS:X encoded content, you just won’t be able to access its added features. 
  • A Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player playing DTS:X encoded discs.

Note: Select media streamers such as Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast with Google TV, and Apple TV support standard DTS, but not DTS:X (at least not yet). However, there are DTS:X variants discussed later in this article that will work with non-encoded content from streaming and other sources. 

DTS:X Promotional Videos

DTS:X Pro

DTS:X Pro Logo

DTS:X Pro extends the capabilities of DTS:X so that it can support up to 32 connected speakers, including height speakers.

Currently, the only product available for consumers that includes DTS:X Pro capabilities is the Trinnov Altitude 32 Preamp/Processor ($20,000+) and Storm Audio MK2 Processors ($15,000+).  

DTS:X vs. DTS:X Pro Speaker Layout
DTS:X vs. DTS:X Pro Speaker Layout

DTS:X Dialogue Level Control

In addition to its immersive surround sound capabilities, DTS:X also provides dialog-level control. DTS:X sound engineers the ability to control the volume level of each sound object which can mean up to several hundred level adjustments before the content is provided to the home listener. 

However, due to differences between each home setup, DTS:X can also provide some of this capability in form of dialog control that does not affect the sound balance of other elements of the content you are listening to.

Check your home theater receiver or soundbar user guide for this setting option.

DTS Neural:X

DTS Neural:X Logo

Home theater receivers that incorporate DTS:X also include a companion format called DTS Neural:X. This feature provides an option for users to listen to any non-DTS:X encoded Blu-ray.  DVD, and other select content sources in an immersive manner. It approximates the height and wide sound field information of DTS:X, just not as precise. DTS Neural:X can up-mix 2, 5.1, and 7.1 channel sources.

DTS Virtual:X

DTS Virtual:X Logo with Illustration

DTS Virtual:X is built on the same principles as DTS:X, which is to provide an immersive listening experience that includes overhead sound effects. However, where it is different from DTS:X (and DTS Neural:X) is that it provides an immersive listening experience without extra speakers.

DTS Virtual:X works with both DTS:X and non-DTS:X encoded content.

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Using proprietary algorithms Virtual:X analyzes audio signals in real-time and guesses where rear and height sound objects should be directed in a 3D listening space. For example, you can add virtual surround and height to a system that only has two speakers, or add virtual height channels to a standard 5.1 or 7.1  channel speaker system.  

The DTS Virtual:X processing tricks your ears into perceiving the presence of additional “virtual” speakers and does not require wall or ceiling reflections to work.

DTS Virtual:X can be included in TVs, soundbars, and home theater receivers at the discretion of the manufacturer. When shopping for a TV, soundbar, or home theater receiver, check to see if it offers DTS Virtual:X processing. 

Using DTS Virtual:X is easy.

  • On soundbars and TVs, it’s an on/off selection.
  • For home theater receivers, designate that you are not using physical surround back or height speakers, then DTS Virtual:X can be activated.

DTS Virtual:X Promotional Videos

DTS:X and IMAX Enhanced

DTS:X is an integral part of the IMAX Enhanced format that brings the IMAX visual aspect ratio, video, and audio processing to home theater setups. The goal is to bring an IMAX theatrical experience to the home environment without spending $400,000 or more to set up your own IMAX Private Theater

For audio support, IMAX has selected a variation of DTS:X as the IMAX Enhanced audio format. 

When IMAX Mode is activated on a compatible TV, the DTS:X variant adapts IMAX audio requirements with the speaker setup you have.

The DTS:X IMAX Enhanced Mode is compatible with 5.1, 7.1, or more channel setups. However, IMAX recommends a 5.1.4 or 7.2.4 channel set up for an optimum listening experience. This means that if you already have a Dolby Atmos speaker setup, DTS:X will map the IMAX audio soundtrack.

Select TVs, video projectors (mostly Sony), and AVRs (various brands) that include IMAX Enhanced Capability. 

IMAX Enhanced content is available on select UHD Blu-ray Discs as well as select streaming content from services such as Disney+ and Sony Bravia Core.

NOTE: Bravia Core is only available on select Sony Bravia XR TVs. It can’t be accessed through other streaming devices.

NOTE: Streaming content may include IMAX Enhanced on the visual side, the IMAX Enhanced DTS:X audio is available on Sony Bravia Core, but not on Disney+.  

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DTS Headphone:X

DTS Headphone:X Logo

Another variation of DTS:X, known as DTS Headphone:X is optimized for PCs, mobile devices, and game consoles. DTS Headphone:X doesn’t require special headphones, as the audio processing is incorporated into the playback device.  

Of course, good quality earphones and headphones and also headphones labeled as DTS Headphone:X compatible will provide better results. Similar to DTS Virtual:X, Headphone:X works with both encoded and non-encoded content.

DTS Headphone:X Features

Home Theater Receivers and Soundbars with DTS:X 

There are a growing number of Home Theater Receivers and Soundbars that include DTS:X here are some examples.

Home Theater Receivers

Soundbars

Related reading: What is WiSA?

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