Immersive Sound Formats Explained: DTX:S, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D
The role of sound in creating believable, immersive, captivating entertainment can’t be understated. Surround sound systems have been wowing home theater enthusiasts since the 90s, and an accurate, compelling soundscape is critical to any outstanding home theater experience.
But why stop at surround sound when you can have fully immersive 3D sound? In this guide, we’ll look at some of the newest sound formats for 3D audio that you can have in your home theater.
Surround Sound vs. Immersive Sound
If you’ve been shopping for an audio system, you’ll undoubtedly have come across monikers like 5.1 surround sound and 7.1 surround sound. A 5.1 surround sound system has five speakers (four speakers placed around the room, one center speaker typically used for speech, and a subwoofer for bass). A 7.1 system is similar, but has seven speakers and one subwoofer.
These surround sound systems, while impressive, still only work on a single plane. There’s no height to the sound. This is where immersive sound comes in. By adding ceiling speakers, sound can have a truly 3D quality to it.
An immersive sound system might have a setup like 7.1.4. This is identical to a 7.1 system outlined above, but now there are an additional four speakers in the ceiling.
Immersive 3D sound is now being used in movies, games, and even music (in 2017, R.E.M’s Automatic For The People was re-released in 3D sound).
Immersive Sound Formats
Simply plugging in more speakers isn’t enough for sound to magically become 3D. There needs to be a format that specifies where each sound should be placed in the room for maximum effect.
Immersive sound is made with the concept of Audio Objects. Audio in media is created as an object that can be moved around in a 3D space. This is recorded in an audio format that your AV receiver must be able to decode for immersive sound to work.
Three competing immersive sound formats have appeared over the past 10 years—DTX:S, Dolby Atmos, and Auro-3D. It’s yet undecided which will become the dominant force in immersive sound.
Auro-3D was the first immersive sound system to hit theaters back in 2011. George Lucas’s Red Tails was the first movie to use the format, and over 550 commercial theaters worldwide now use the format.
Auro-3D remains popular in commercial theaters, particularly in Asia, but it hasn’t broken much into the western home theater market because of its high cost and the relatively limited number of Blu-ray discs supporting the format.
We hope to see more from Auro-3D in the US as the quality of the audio is outstanding. Recently, Auro-3D support has been included in YAMAHA AVENTAGE AV receivers.
DTS:X is the competing product from DTS, first introduced in 2015. It has more widespread support from manufacturers than Auro-3D. AV receivers from Sony, Denon, Pioneer, Denon, Arcam, Onkyo, and Marantz are all available, and many manufacturers have released firmware updates for their current models to support DTS:X.
An advanced version of DTS:X, titled DTS:X Pro was announced in 2020. This includes support for up to 32 speakers if you have them.
Hundreds of Blu-rays now support DTS:X. Where DTS:X currently falls behind is in streaming service support, as popular services like Amazon Prime and Netflix don’t use DTS:X.
Dolby Atmos is the current leader in 3D surround sound. Atmos first appeared on home AV receivers in 2015 and saw significant growth immediately. It’s now rare to find a new AV receiver that doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, and Atmos is used in over 1,000 commercial cinemas.
Dolby Atmos is available in soundbars and even some LG TVs support it through their built-in speakers. However, you’ll need a better set of speakers than that to truly take advantage of Dolby Atmos 3D sound.
Blu-rays with Dolby Atmos soundtracks are now commonplace. Importantly, Dolby Atmos has been embraced by streaming services, including Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Netflix. There’s also a burgeoning scene of Dolby Atmos music releases.
Building Your Immersive Home Theater System
So, what does this mean for those building a home theater system? Choosing an AV receiver that supports more than one of these immersive sound formats is the most versatile choice. If you already have a surround sound system, you can often piggyback off it to create an immersive setup by adding a few ceiling speakers.
However you choose to set up your new sound system, you’ll undoubtedly be amazed at the revolutionary difference immersive sound makes to your entertainment experience.