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DTS Makes The Case For DTS:X

Calabasas, Calif. – DTS:X’s ability to fix real-world problems for consumers puts it ahead of rival next-generation surround technologies, DTS executives said Thursday.

The executives cited DTS:X’s ability to adapt to speaker configurations optimized for Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D surround, correct for imperfect speaker placement, and potentially let consumers improve dialog intelligibility by raising dialog levels without raising the level of other center-channel sounds.

During presentations to the press, executives also revealed that:

–DTS:X-equipped audio/video receivers (AVRs) priced down to $599 will appear this year.

–DTS is “confident” that DTS:X will appear this year on Blu-ray discs and on cinema soundtracks for playback in movie theaters.

–and the first U.S. movie theaters will be outfitted with DTS:X playback equipment in the spring.

Bill Neighbors, DTS’s VP of cinema initiatives, also said delivering virtual height information through a standard 5.1-speaker system is “way do-able” but won’t appear in the first round of home products.

DTS:X soundbars “are on the roadmap,” added Dave Casey, DTS:X program manager.

The company also added Outlaw Audio to its list of audio suppliers planning in 2015 to offer AVRs or audio/video processors (AVPs) with DTS:X decoding. Executives previously confirmed that Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, Steinway-Lyngdorf, Theta Digital, Trinnov Audio, and Yamaha would offer AVRs or AVPs in 2015 with DTS:X. The company’s web site also points to 2015 products from Anthem, Krell, and McIntosh.

Executives detailed DTS:X’s advantages of flexibility and interactivity over rival formats:

Flexibility: DTS:X-equipped AVRs and AVPs will remap DTS:X soundtracks to work optimally with speaker configurations intended for Atmos and Auro 3D playback, said Casey. Dolby Atmos object-based surround and Auro-3D channel-based surround doesn’t offer a similar capability, suppliers said.

Remapping includes the ability to remap DTS:X height information to Dolby Atmos height-speaker modules, which can be placed on top of left-right and surround speakers to bounce height sounds off ceilings.

The implementation of these capabilities is left up to audio manufacturers, but DTS has received “no feedback that AVR companies won’t implement them,” Casey said.

Also unlike Atmos and Auro 3D, DTS:X corrects for imperfect speaker placement, delivering accurate placement of sound objects with seamless panning between speakers even if, for example, a left-front speaker is placed farther to the left of the display than the right speaker is to the right of the display.

Even 5.1- and 7.1-channel home-theater speaker systems lacking dedicated height speakers will benefit from DTS:X decoding, Casey said. DTS:X decoders will deliver more control over sounds reproduced by such speaker systems than earlier surround formats, allowing for smoother panning of sounds around listeners, he explained. The proximity of sounds, however, would still be set at the distance of the speakers from listeners, so a sound object couldn’t move closer and farther away from listeners.

Users would also be able to control dialog levels in these speaker system without changing the level of other sounds, he said.

Remapping any sound object to any speaker location “is a huge selling feature for exhibitors [cinemas] as well as for consumes whose living rooms “are not built purely for sound,” Casey said.

Cinemas can reuse speaker configurations optimized for Auro 3D or Dolby Atmos, including their height speakers, to deliver DTS:X’s benefits, Casey said. That leaves those cinemas’ DTS:X-implementation costs to a DTS:X renderer priced at $5,000 to $6,000, said Neighbors. Cinemas adding Atmos and DTS:X for the first time would also have to rewire side-wall speakers to deliver discrete sounds.

Interactivity: Because dialog is treated as a separate audio object, consumes could select the dialog object and raise the dialog level to enhance dialog intelligibility without raising the level of other sounds. Content creators, however, have to enable that feature in their content.

Although content creators might be reluctant to hand over creative control to consumers, they’ll be able to sell a lot for discs if they enable the feature, said Randy Smith, SVP of mobile, PC and connected-home solutions.

Consumers could use the feature to raise dialog levels to improve intelligibility during noisy passages without raising the level of other sounds. The feature would be particularly useful for late-night viewing when other people are trying to sleep.

The capability is superior to other technologies that simultaneously raise dialog along with other center-channel sounds, the company said.

The technology, however, won’t let consumers select individual voices to delete.

Home-audio products available in 2015 will incorporate dialog control, and future products could incorporate enhanced interactivity.

Interactivity, for example, could be applied to future TV-sports broadcast that adopt object-based audio formats. Consumers could opt to listen to the voice of the TV announcer or the microphones of coaches or players.  The capability could be delivered by broadcasters that adopt any object-based audio format because the capability can be separated from DTS:X.

Theater rollout: Carmike Cinemas, one of the three largest motion picture exhibitors in the U.S., will upgrade seven theaters to DTS:X beginning in the spring. The theaters are located in Columbus and Atlanta, Ga.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Rosemont, Ill.; Franklin, Tenn.; Thousand Oaks, Calif.; and Huntsville, Ala.

“The flexibility of DTS:X allows us to deliver an immersive experience to a broader audience,” said Fred Van Noy, Carmike SVP/COO. “We love the fact that DTS:X adapts not only to numerous room designs; it also enables us to continue working with our existing equipment provider, QSC.”

Separately, GDC Technology will provide DTS:X installation and certification of about 350 screens throughout Asia beginning in May.

DTS also said its MDA object-based mixing tools have already been deployed in about a dozen major mixing studios in Los Angeles, Northern California and Canada to evaluate DTS:X. Content announcements will be made by the studios when ready, DTS said.

Content options: In other comments, executives said DTS:X will appear first on Blu-ray discs before it is adopted by streaming services. The technology is also expected to appear on future 4K Blu-ray discs, given that DTS:X metadata is delivered in conjunction with DTS-HD Master surround soundtracks, which are approved for use on Blu-ray discs and will appear on future 4K Blu-ray discs.

DTS:X soundtracks on Blu-ray discs, the company added, will be playable on existing Blu-ray players and emerge through the players’ HDMI outputs to AVRs and AVPs for decoding.

Separately, AVRs and AVPs without DTS:X decoders but with DTS-HD Master decoders will play DTS:X soundtracks, though without delivering DTS:X’s benefits.

In addition, DTS:X decoders will upmix traditional 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundtracks to add height effects.

Initial AVR launches in 2015 will be limited to supporting 11.1-speaker configurations, including height speakers. It wasn’t certain whether AVPs available in 2015, however, would be limited to 11.1-speaker outputs.

DTS:X supports home-speaker configurations with up to 32 speaker locations.

DTS:X used in conjunction with DTS Headphone:X in tablets and smartphones will deliver object-based audio performance through standard headphones, though the company is not yet close to commercial development of a head-tracking version for use in virtual-reality headsets, said EVP/CMO Kevin Doohan.

DTS:X won’t be used in future over-air TV broadcasts conforming to the ATSC 3.0 specification under development. DTS removed DTS:X from contention but didn’t explain the reasons for its decision. The remaining object-based contenders are Dolby AC-4 and MPEG-H, developed by a group of companies including Fraunhofer.