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Technology, Theory and Design

Digital Theater Systems

The DTS demo at Surround Professional 2002 was geared more towards promoting the unique technologies of Digital Theater Systems than the exclusive multi-channel recordings on their DTS Entertainment label. Many different music clips were played, demonstrating multi-channel’s dual abilities to have pin-point localization of sounds while simultaneously enveloping the listener with ambience. It was continuously pointed out to us which recordings were in DTS ES Discrete 6.1 and which ones were in the DTS 96/24 format.

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Obviously, this meant that even though we were listening to DVD-Audio discs, we weren’t actually hearing any of the true high-resolution MLP tracks but lossy DTS instead. This was unfortunate, because a comparison between 96kHz 24-bit MLP and DTS 96/24 would have been interesting. Looks like I’m going to have to buy yet another copy of Queen's ‘A Night at the Opera’ album.

Of the wide variety of material demonstrated, one of the real standouts was a song by Insane Clown Posse. While the song itself was typical rap/metal that is all the rage these days, the discrete 6.1-channel mix was anything but the typical surround sound experience; in fact, I found it to be a most effective demonstration of how creative music-in-surround can be. Rather than generating any sort of recognizable sonic landscape, the song used the various channels to move vocalists and instruments around the room: from whispering lyrics softly over your shoulder to yelling them at you from far away; from background rapping taking place all around you to important passages being presented ‘in your face’. Instead of coming off as gimmicky, the aggressive mix was completely appropriate for the material. Amusingly, the material itself did raise a few eyebrows: nothing like having raw and profane language, including everyone’s favourite four-letter word, hurled at you from 6.1 discrete directions. I’d repeat some of the clever lyrics, but this is a family site. The DTS demo staff mildly apologized in case anyone was “bothered by the language” but, having grown up in New York, I wasn’t fazed one bit.

Classic songs by the rock group Queen were used to show DTS’s two core-data/extension-data technologies in action, though with less than stellar results. The overused ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was trotted out once more to demonstrate the higher resolution of the DTS 96/24 format. Having just heard the difference between 44kHz 16-bit and 96kHz 24-bit PCM versions of a new Dishwala recording at another seminar, the DTS demo presented nothing so noticeable. Perhaps an almost three-decade old recording was not the best material to demonstrate new “hi-res” (supposedly) technology or perhaps the demo should have contrasted this recording with a CD-DA version; either way, when told that we were listening to a DTS 96/24 recording, most of the listeners simply shrugged. The response wasn’t much better when ‘We Will Rock You’ was presented in DTS ES Discrete 6.1. While there were some sounds swirling around the room and some neat vocal presentation, ultimately the song was simply too sparse to be an effective demo. I can’t fault the technology here because the Insane Clown Posse song clearly showed how terrific ES 6.1 can sound when skillfully implemented.

Finally, kudos to DTS for presenting a listening environment with minimal distractions; lighting was kept comfortably low and the room itself was set-up with judicious use of sound treatments. Because wall reflections were effectively tamed, intelligibility was quite good, allowing listeners to appreciate the wide dynamics of some of the demo material. However, because reflections were tamed, lateral sounds were virtually nonexistent. The real culprit though wasn’t the absorptive walls but rather the speaker placement. Like many set-ups at Surround Professional, the DTS demo room was configured using ITU multi-channel speaker placement specs as a guide. Two surround-back speakers, barely separated by 18 inches, were placed directly between the surrounds. Thus with all four surround speakers falling within a 120 degree arc behind the listener and all three main speakers within a 60 degree arc in front of the listener, there was hardly any localization to the sides of the listening position: no stable phantom imaging, not even reflected sounds. A more typical 7.1-speaker configuration, with speakers behind and directly to the sides of the listening position, would have allowed DTS to better demonstrate that they could place discrete sounds to the listener’s left and right, front and back, and everywhere in between. The DTS ES Discrete 6.1 format practically begs for this sort of speaker layout, instead of the ITU plus surround-back configuration used at the demo. Too bad, because most everything else in the DTS room sounded so good. []


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Show report last updated: 2nd February 2003.

 

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