Tech Tuesday – HD Surround Sound Formats, Explained!
Welcome to Tech Tuesday, this week Ted S. explains the difference to all those sound formats listed on your blu-ray disks…
What are the HD surround sounds?
So you’ve just bought a Blu-ray player and home theater surround sound system. But you’re wondering what does Dolby Digital-Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Hi-Res, DTS-HD Master and Uncompressed PCM labels on the discs and player mean? Well in this article, I’ll try to explain them as best I could. Now I’m by no means an audio expert, I’m just a person whose experience listening to all of these sound formats and can give you some pointers if you’re new to Blu-ray or that you’ve never upgraded to HD surround sound even though you’ve had a BD player for a while. I won’t go into the tech jargon so hopefully this will make sense to everyone.
Basically Dolby Digital-Plus and DTS-HD Hi-Res found on Blu-ray and HD-DVD is a step up over the regular Dolby Digital and DTS found on DVDs. To be honest with you, if you have a very nice home theater set up, you might not hear any differences between these sound formats. Another sound formats included on Blu-ray is Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master and Uncompressed PCM; these are the sounds that were taken directly from the studio master. What that means in simple term is the sound is identical to films that were being recorded by the filmmakers during post production and they mostly referred to as lossless sound. These lossless sound formats are way above regular Dolby Digital and DTS found on DVDs and if you have a very nice home theater setup, you can experience the sound as close to the actual movie theater in your own home.
During the “HD war” between 2006 & 2007, HD-DVD included DD-Plus on all of their discs, while some discs has Dolby TrueHD. Blu-ray on the other hand, included DTS-HD Master and Uncompressed PCM on most of their discs (only Warner Bros. and Paramount released their films with regular Dolby Digital on BD) but back in those days, most receivers can’t decode these newer sound formats just yet. So when the “HD war” was over in 2008, more receivers were coming out that can decode all of these newer HD sounds and all of the movie studios decided to release their films with lossless sound. Since late 2009, DTS-HD Master is the preferred sound format use by all of the movie studios. The reason is because if someone who doesn’t have a receiver that can decode the DTS-HD sound, it will automatically switch to regular DTS when he/she is watching a Blu-ray disc. Dolby TrueHD on the other hand, the movie studio has to include both regular DD and TrueHD track on the disc. So what happens is if you have a receiver that can decode the HD sound, when you play a disc that has TrueHD you have to manually choose the HD sound from the disc menu, if not you’re only getting the regular Dolby Digital sound. This is kind of pain if you have the right system but for users who doesn’t have a receiver that can decode the HD sound, it’s perfect for them because they still could hear the regular DD. The studios decided to use DTS-HD because it’s cheaper and faster to produce the discs with a sound format that can automatically switch back and forth between HD and regular surround sound. Another sound format that was widely used by Blu-ray in the early days of “HD war” was Uncompressed PCM; this is exactly the same format as DD TrueHD and DTS-HD Master. The only difference is that PCM uses a lot of space on the disc so studios can’t include a lot of their special features on one disc, that’s why they stopped using this sound format on Blu-ray.
So now that you know about these HD surround sounds, you’re going to need equipment to hear them. First, you need a receiver that can decode or receives the sounds. Any receivers that were produced from 2007 until today will work fine; some older receivers can actually receive these HD sounds and sends them to your speakers but you have to use analog cables instead of HDMI cable. I would suggest you do some research if you have an older receiver and want to experience these newer HD surround sounds. Second, you’ll need a Blu-ray player and lastly you need some nice speakers to take advantage of these sounds. If you bought a home theater in a box for say $100 or cheaper than I don’t think you would be able to hear the differences between these sounds at all. In fact, I don’t think those cheap theater in a box speakers can even handle the HD sounds. One thing to keep in mind when you listen to these newer HD sounds is that they’re quite LOUD, so make sure you calibrate your speakers correctly, if not you might blow them out.
Well that’s HD surround sounds in the nutshell, I hope I didn’t confuse you even more if you’re new to this technology. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them as best I could. Just keep in mind; if you have all the right equipment and calibrated your speakers correctly, then you won’t want to leave your room because when you watch films on BD, they come alive with these HD sounds.
Some BDs to demo when you have all of your system installed: The Dark Knight, Tron: Legacy, Blade Runner, The Bourne Trilogy, Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale, I, Robot, Spiderman 2 & 3, Harry Potter 5 & 7, The X-Men films (although the Wolverine film was quite a disappointment for HD sound considering it was a newer film), I Am Legend, Minority Report and much more.
Do you have any favourite showcase disks? Any Questions for Ted. S? Comment Below…