DTS is a company that we are almost all subconsciously aware of, look at the backs of your DVD cases if you own any anymore (thanks, Netflix) or look here, although it doesn’t often make the same amount of noise (literally) as its main rival Dolby in the cinema and home theater sectors. DTS: X was the company’s primary effort to defeat the omnipresent Dolby Atmos, but they have since placed efforts into a new way of experiencing immersive audio. One that doesn’t require the space, speaker array and complicated setup of Atmos and surround sound (although DTS Virtual: X does still support up to 7.1.4 surround sound). DTS Virtual: X is currently compatible with any system that is already using DTS: X hardware (most Blu-Ray players use DTS: X), and its main hook is the claim that this is not a new setup but a painless upgrade to your current system that takes your home viewing experiences to a new immersive level…with virtual height!
“DTS Virtual:X uses proprietary audio processing techniques inside the sound bar to create spacious 3D sound – including the sensation of height – from any content, and without the need for in‑ceiling or upward-firing speakers. Unbelievable [how could you tell..] ? Well, you better believe it, because your mind does. DTS Virtual:X uses intricate audio cues to tell your brain where sounds are coming from, even when they’re not. The result is ambient sound that seems to surround you while dialogue stays centered. And because these results are achieved digitally – and not from wall or ceiling reflections – it doesn’t matter what the size or shape of your room is.” – Yamaha, the Milhouse to DTS’s Bart.
But, all completely vague descriptions that are void of any useful information aside, does this thing sound like it works? DTS can throw incricate psychoacoustics at us all day long, but that doesn’t help one jot in proving to us they’re walking the walk.
Jeff Miller of Crutchfield, a less Milhouse-esque character and more a Moe Syzslak pessimist, gave his two-cents after having demoed the DTS Virtual: X system with DTS rep Todd Baker.
“During the demo, I would occasionally hear some effects off to one side or over my head, but what struck me most was the level of detail. Todd played a clip from the movie The Big Short and toggled Virtual:X on and off so we could hear the difference. The processing made the dialogue sound more clear and natural, like it was coming from the screen, rather than the bar below. When Todd first played [a simple office scene] with the processing turned off, I frankly thought it was a strange choice for showing off surround sound. I didn’t even notice that it was storming outside their office. Then he turned Virtual:X on, and the whole on-screen world opened up. I could better feel the faint rumbles of thunder and soft patter of rain hitting the windows. “You go from watching two characters talk in an office,” Todd said, “to two characters talking in an office…in the middle of a rainstorm.” – Jeff Miller
So what does this mean? Does it work? It sounds to me like in DTS’s attempt to create a more spatial representation of audio scenes in home systems has only sort of worked. But! This has uncovered a happy accident, and a gripe of so many television viewers around the world. By attempting to move ambiences and background sounds away from the centre of the scene, successful or not, DTS have given space for the dialogue (almost always placed dead-centre in a mix) to be completely intelligible. This in itself increases immersion funnily enough, as one of the standout deal-breakers of new series are an audiences ability to follow the characters’ speech. What with most sound being mixed in 5.1 and folded down to stereo when played out of a TV, engineers seem to miss the little detail that they are often the only person with a centre-speaker. So now we as a home-viewing have a choice, either get some DTS Virtual: X spice in our lives, or travel to LA to tell-off some mixing engineers. See you at the airport!