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DTS:X: Listening in the Theater and Home

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As we are still waiting for consumer hardware, what follows from this point on is largely based in speculation.  We’ll talk about what DTS:X “could” do for the home, but until we see final products, we won’t know for sure.

With object based audio, instead of mixing sounds to specific speakers, sound is mapped to a 3D space, and the decoder translates that into the audio sent to your speakers.  Say you want overhead speakers, because of a wall opening or vaulted ceiling, your left height speaker is much closer to your listening position than your right.  DTS:X claims that they can remap to your speakers locations.  With object-based encoding, your soundtrack can now match your speaker position, even if your speakers are off center or at the wrong angles, though again, we’ll need to see how his plays out in the final hardware implementation.

Control Over Dialog Levels

Another really great trick is the ability to identify portions of an soundtrack, dialog, for example, and increase or decrease the volume of the dialog relative to the rest of the soundtrack.  If you've ever had a hard time understanding dialog, you’ve probably increased the volume level of your center channel, but this also increases the volume of everything else in that channel that's not dialog, like explosions, or ambient noises.  With Object-based encoding, you can increse just the dialog, and leave other center channel effects untouched.

Imagine being able to increase the dialogue level without turning up everything else?  DTS:X does it!

DTS showcased this control over dialog with a sports broadcast.  Let's say, in the simplest terms, that they are two main parts to sports audio: the announcers and the crowd/field noise.  DTS:X allows you to turn up the announcer dialog so that you can understand them better, or turn it down to give more of a feel of being in the crowd surrounded by the noise.

Demo Listening at DTS Headquarters

We were treated to multiple demos of DTS in a number of environments.  The first was a large lab/theater that featured dozens of speakers in many different configurations.  This large space is what DTS uses to develop its various technologies, and with those dozens speakers mounted at various distances, above and around the listener, a seemingly endless number of configurations is possible.  We listened in two different configurations that mimicked a large and small room environment, both essentially a 7.1.4 setup with the .4 being front and rear L/R speaker pairs.  We were also treated to a similar demo in a smaller room approximately 18x25x10 that could stand in for an immodest home theater space.

DTS Test Lab Overhead Speakers

DTS Test Lab Overhead Speakers

As for the vast majority of existing content, DTS:X also takes non-object oriented mixes and upmixes them from a 7.1 mix to a 7.1.4 system, or beyond.  I had brought a flash drive full of familiar music and video material in the hopes of getting a more critical evaluation of what DTS:X could do for existing content, but was told that I wouldn't be able to demo any personal material today.

Instead, I experimented with this by requesting that a music clip available in both formats on the DTS test disc be played, switching between the two as quickly as possible.  The 7.1.4 mix was clearly meant to highlight the capabilities of multiple overhead speakers with backing vocals inexplicably shifting from left to right overhead as though the singer were running around above me.  Unsurprisingly, the 7.1 mix, even when upmixed with DTS:X special sauce, didn't replicate these circus antics, and I was actually thankful for it.  Instead, I would say the effect was simply a more enveloping soundstage, though I can't say for certain the benefit to DTS:X in 7.1.4 over a more simple 7.1 system.

While we were able to listen to content mixed specifically for height channels, and content that was mixed for a traditional 7.1 spatially remapped with height channels, one thing that wasn't available for our ears was a comparison of a standard 7.1 system, versus a 7.1.4 system.  Thus, the question "Are height channels worth it?", can't be answered from this demo.  Did the material sound great with the height channels?  Yes, absolutely.  Would it have sounded almost a great without the need for suspending speakers overhead?  Possibly, but as DTS wasn't focused on making the case for why having height channels is better than not having height channels, I can't say one way or the other.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Whiffer posts on April 22, 2015 09:09
I am excited by the news about DTS:X. I recently purchased a house where the previous owner wired Bose speakers in four corners of a “great room” near the ceiling. I replaced the rears with the Gallo A'Diva SEs that I had used as rear speakers in my previous home After reading about Dolby Atmos, I am in the process of replacing the front with the same and getting four more to place at ear level for surround and rear, so that I will have a 7.1.4 system ready to go as soon as a reasonably-priced receiver is available, hopefully sometime this year or next.
Javan posts on April 21, 2015 00:02
I'm really excited for all of this. Once again, it looks like Dolby may have gotten there first, but DTS is gonna show em what you can really do with the technology. It was Jurassic Park that made me a sound-nut and I hope they keep on trucking.

Oh, and if you all haven't heard how amazing DTS: Headphone X is, you can experience it with one of the Z+ apps. I've shown it to at least a dozen people and pretty every single person has their mind blown. The look on their faces when the demo starts is fantastic. It's more than just psuedo-“surround” sound, it actually makes the sounds like they are coming from “over there”. It's not just left, right, above, no it's the sense of depth that is truly astounding. It doesn't take any special hardware, it's just a special mix. The Mockingjay Pt 1 blu-ray has it on there and it sounds incredible on my phone, just like the demo.

And if you don't get it's so awesome to have that technology in headphones, I guess you aren't too excited about the leaps and bounds we're also going through in the VR world.
Javan posts on April 20, 2015 23:55
MrPirate2882, post: 1080242, member: 9342
I thought Atmos allows the same “place speakers anywhere”, and movie sound sources are mixed in realtime according to their 3D space coordinates?
They do… sorta. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with that on the licensing side of things but I asked one of the Atmos engineers about the ability for AVRs and pre-pros to do that and he was pretty tight lipped about it. As far as I know Trinnov (no surprise there as they've had directional microphones in their calibration process for some time now) and Yamaha are the only two that take into account the actual location of your speakers and adjust accordingly. Yamaha only does it for a few speakers though, not the whole set-up. Trinnov, I'm not sure.

I imagine one of the big differences that's been a topic of discussion ever since the start is that DTS is keeping everything open-source and Dolby is keeping everything proprietary.
shadyJ posts on April 20, 2015 20:10
Very nice report Audioholics, it was very informative. It looks like DTS:X is doing what I had hoped Atmos would have done, that is calibrating existing speaker layouts for the surround sound field. After all, in these kind of setups, the speakers are just objects like the individual sounds, so it shouldn't be too hard to do. I wonder if the reason it wasn't implemented in Home Atmos is because of the complexity of the mic? Like the video showed, it seems like you would need a multiple mic setup to triangulate the position of the speakers.

One thing which was interesting to note was DTS's setups was much like you see in a ‘7.1.4’ Atmos layout, that is, the side channels will be at ear height and the overhead speakers positioned much like you see where the ‘top’ channels in an Atmos setup are proscribed. That tells me that Dolby and DTS have come to the same conclusions about the most optimal layout for surround speakers are. It's interesting that you do not see a diagonally placed speaker in either setup, but at least DTS:X can accommodate that if that is what you already have.

I liked seeing that DTS MDA is going to be free! I looked into Atmos mixing software, but it is a plugin for Protools HD, so that is a fairly expensive software package. Hopefully I can mess around with DTA MDA and have some fun with it. I wonder if encoding DTS X soundtracks will be free too? At the moment, if you want to encode a DTS MA sound track, it will cost you.

DTS X headphone is interesting. Honestly though, I don't see it doing much that a conventional headphone mix can't do with some clever engineering, but it looks to make those tricks easier to accomplish. Hopefully it will put to bed the idiotic gimmick of ‘5.1’ or ‘7.1’ headphones. God those things are dumb!
andyblackcat posts on April 20, 2015 18:13
Live 90 piece orchestra and your sat in lower stalls listening to it. All those instruments are spread over a wide area and depth as well. Some instruments are nearer to you some are further away and all have own different frequency tone and range.

So why not record all instruments separately then play them all back on 90 small speakers placed at different positions in front of the room with one speaker slightly higher the other. Then play it back to see if it sounds like it has any dimensional depth. In theory. We all seen concerts and lol where camera goes nearer to part of the orchestra and shouldn't there be a few db increase? If I was walking around and between them all that is what I would hear, no ifs or buts about. But wife would say “I want a divorce” to 90 speakers in the front of the room.

If there is a crowed room and your walking between lots of people you hear some part of conversation for brief seconds then it fades away then you hear the next short but brief conversation. That's 3d sound with no boundaries not speakers placed on walls and further away. But a home cluttered with 500 same size small speakers wife would get the axe out the shed.
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