DTS Answers Atmos: Dave Casey on DTS:X

In early April—a full nine months after Dolby Atmos had its coming out party in New York—DTS officially announced DTS:X, an “object-based, multi-dimensional audio technology” for commercial cinema and home theater. We spoke with Dave Casey, senior director of program management for DTS:X to learn more about the new format and find out how it differs from Atmos.

S&V: Why does the world need another surround format? What does DTS:X bring to the home theater experience?
Dave Casey: DTS wants to bring immersive sound to as many people as possible. DTS:X provides flexibility and customization that will allow more people to experience incredible sound in their home.

S&V: How does DTS:X differ from Dolby Atmos?
DC: As DTS:X is based on audio objects versus channels, people with DTS:X-equipped home theaters will be able to personalize their audio experience to deliver the best sound experience possible. This includes the freedom to place speakers in the locations that best fit the room and the ability to control dialogue levels and dynamic range in content that has been authored to support these functions. With spatial remapping with dialogue control, for example, if you are watching a sporting event and want to hear the announcers better, you will be able to adjust the volume of the announcers, as they will be rendered as objects. Or, if you are watching an action movie with a lot of explosions or cars racing through the streets and want to hear the actors' dialogue more clearly, you will be able to adjust the dialogue.

S&V: So there are no prescribed speaker configurations or number of audio channels.
DC: While DTS:X doesn’t dictate any specific speaker layout, inclusion of height speakers will best replicate the immersive experience. The beauty of DTS:X is that it is fully capable of rendering to any and all speaker layouts, including up-firing speakers, but these by no means are required. Each manufacturer’s implementation will ultimately determine how much flexibility is available in the system.

S&V: So DTS has no recommended speaker configurations or guidelines for where to place speakers for an optimum “immersive experience”?
DC: The ideal surround or immersive speaker layout has been traditionally hard to implement. DTS:X doesn’t dictate a specific speaker layout because every room is different, from its shape to its furniture set up, etc. One of the principal benefits of DTS:X is the ability to render audio perfectly across any type of speaker layout and to any number of speakers.

So, if your left rear speaker is at a slightly different angle from the sweet spot than the right rear speaker due to the actual room design, seamless panning between speakers will allow accurate placement of sounds in the listening environment. By having isolated objects with 3D metadata, DTS:X provides 3D rendering capabilities in the decoder, which accurately places objects into the speaker layout that is optimized for your home set-up. The inclusion of height speakers will best replicate the full immersive experience. We recognize that for most people, adding more speakers is impractical, and future DTS technologies will address this.

S&V: The DTS:X announcement referred to “numerous customization options” for home theater owners. What sort of options?
DC: The range of customization options from DTS:X include flexibility of speaker layout, dialogue control and dynamic range control. Additional features will be rolled out in the future.

S&V: How has Hollywood responded to DTS:X? Have any films been announced? How many do you expect to be released in 2015?
DC: The DTS MDA Creator Tool is currently being evaluated at several major studios and mixing stages in LA, Northern California, and Canada. We're excited to be able to provide content creators this license fee-free software to enable them to do the sound mix just once, yet the content will play back and sound great on a 5.1 system all the way up to an immersive system. When the studios are ready to announce content, we will be there to support them.

S&V: The original press release said firmware updates would be available to theater owners starting in May 2015. How many DTS:X theaters do you expect to be up and running in the U.S. in 2015?
DC: In the U.S., Carmike Cinemas are initially upgrading seven theaters across the country to support DTS:X and we expect more to be announced throughout the year. We’re also excited that DTS:X has a global reach, with GDC Technology upgrading more than 350 screens throughout Asia beginning this year.

S&V: What will be the primary source(s) of DTS:X-enabled content for the home and when will it be available?
DC: DTS:X content for the home can originate from any immersive mix on a variety of delivery systems, from Blu-ray Disc to streaming. According to Nielsen, DTS had a 93 percent market share of the top 100 Blu-ray titles in 2014, and we expect this trend to continue into the next generation of Blu-ray with DTS:X content. DTS:X is backward compatible. It builds upon the existing DTS-HD Master Audio decoder to provide backward compatibility with existing DTS bitstreams and speaker layouts. So in short, all features of DTS-HD Master Audio are supported and the sound will be terrific.

S&V: How many AV brands have committed to DTS:X and when will the first consumer products hit the market?
DC: AVR manufacturers representing almost 90 percent of the market will be launching DTS:X-enabled products beginning this summer. The exact release dates will be determined by each manufacturer. [Editor’s Note: See this news report for specifics from several “confirmed AVR partners.”]

S&V: The announcement listed only AV receivers. Will there be DTS:X-enabled speakers as well? Also, we assume Atmos-enabled models now on the market will work in rooms where in-ceiling speakers are not wanted?
DC: The first consumer products to feature DTS:X will be AVR’s. DTS:X content will work with any speaker brand, which gives the choice to consumers to select the hardware that they want, including up-firing speakers.

S&V: How many DTS:X-enabled consumer products do you expect to see in the market by the end of 2015?
DC: The number of DTS:X-enabled consumer products available this year will be determined by the individual manufacturers. We have the commitment from the vast majority of manufacturers to implement DTS:X in their products, and are excited for people to experience it for themselves!