DTS-HD Master Audio Becoming the Blu-ray Standard

Posted in Commentary, Technology on January 15th, 2010 by Dave

dtshdma.jpgSomething that has fascinated me a little lately is the trend towards DTS-HD Master Audio, to the point now where it has become the de facto standard for Blu-ray Disc releases.

A couple of studios have used it from the start – Fox, who also distributes MGM, took quite a bit of flack for using DTS-HD Master Audio on their releases back when there were no players capable of decoding it or even passing it on to a receiver.

Universal Studios has also religiously used DTS-HD Master Audio on their releases, though capable players were abound well before they finally started releasing Blu-ray discs after having been exclusive to the HD DVD format.

Disney and Lionsgate moved to DTS-HD Master Audio from Linear PCM and smaller distributors like Image Entertainment, the Criterion Collection and Magnolia Home Entertainment have started using DTS-HD Master Audio as a matter of course.

district9.jpgMore interesting to me though is the defection of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio in recent times, as well as an apparent similar defection under way over at Warner Home Entertainment.

Sony has certainly already made the move and newly announced Warner titles inreasingly have DTS-HD Master Audio where in 2009 only a handful of titles used the codec.

While Paramount has also been predominantly using the Dolby TrueHD codec, there have been cases of DTS-HD Master Audio releases, especially associated with the Star Trek franchise.

I talked to both Sony and Dolby at CES this year and got differing answers regarding the SPHE move to DTS-HD Master Audio.

Dolby stated that the work flow for titles with TrueHD and seamless branching had difficulties, which pushed some studios to use DTS-HD Master Audio for certain titles at least.

watchmencover.jpgThis may be a credible reason that we see DTS-HD Master Audio on the Warner release for Watchmen, which used seamless branching for the Maximum Movie Mode on the title.

However we are seeing DTS-HD Master audio listed for upcoming Warner titles like Poseidon and The Box, which seem like fairly standard releases.

Talking to Sony I got a very different answer – they said that the move to DTS-HD Master Audio was one of consumer preference measured by an internet poll.

Regardless of the reasons behind the moves, it is interesting to see the DTS codec now dominating the Blu-ray landscape with over 45% percent of the lossless audio Blu-ray releases, when at launch it looked like it simply wasn’t ready for prime time at all.

If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to add your comments.

23 Responses to “DTS-HD Master Audio Becoming the Blu-ray Standard”

  1. Anthony S. says:

    Interesting post Dave. I’ve begun to notice this trend and was wondering why it was happening. As naive as it sounds, I had speculated that the studios simply saw a trend and didn’t want to be left out. Perhaps they see TruHD as a thing of the past and want to be seen as forward thinking? There may be some truth to the preference poll explanation from Sony even though I suspect most listeners couldn’t detect the difference between DTS-MA and TruHD in a “blind” listening test.

  2. Dave says:

    Indeed conceptually it is all the same as PCM, though I think that there are dialog normalization options that might affect the perceived audio quality.

    Though I agree that most would probably never be able to pick the difference or at least a preference reliably.

    I have always wondered why there are so few 7.1 TrueHD releases, thinking that there might be a work flow issue with that, but Dolby said that was not the case…

  3. helloworld says:

    Another distinct advantage of DTS-HD Master Audio is the incorporation of a standard DTS core to the audio stream. This provides compatibility with older receivers/players that do not support DTS-HD Master Audio. Also, this eliminates the need to also included a secondary legacy soundtrack on the disc which many Dolby TrueHD titles have. It will be become less of an advantage as support for both lossless audio formats becomes more widespread.

    Also, in my opinion having used both Dolby and DTS encoders; the DTS encoder is much friendlier to use. I kinda hate using the Dolby encoder. Just my personal preference though.

  4. Dave says:

    I believe for TrueHD (on Blu-ray at least) there is a core Dolby Digital also, so in theory you should never need to have legacy DD on the disc.

    In theory… 🙂

  5. helloworld says:

    Dolby TrueHD doesn’t offer a legacy Dolby Digital Core in the way DTS-HD MA does. On Blu-ray a separate legacy Dolby Digital stream that can be interleaved with the TrueHD stream so that it will appear as a single stream to the user. They are two independent streams. In contrast DTS-HD MA encodes a DTS core and then creates a Master Audio extension that contains the lost audio information removed from the lossy encoding of the DTS core. This has the potential to offer more efficient use of space compared to TrueHD at the cost of being more processor intensive to decode (and encode).

  6. ROB says:

    I have listen and watch the growth of this fine company
    ever since their first theatrical release of Jurassic Park.
    the DTS audio soundtrack was amazing.Dolby Digital to me never
    sounded right i had a chance to do a blind sound test when i worked for a high end audio video store again DTS sounded better.So I am very happy that DTS is the audio standard
    for Blu-Ray Disc.So now everyone is able to enjoy a great audio format.Keep up the great work DTS.

    RIP Dolby Digital. You had a great run but now…….
    The fans the people have spoken DTS RULES

  7. Scott Johnson says:

    ROB, the difference between lossy DTS and lossy Dolby Digital is irrelevant. DTS-HDMA and Dolby TrueHD are each completely different than their respective companies’ older codecs.

    For the modern HD lossless codes, a proper implementation will result in the exact same PCM soundtrack out of both codecs.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Oh really? Dolby TrueHD will STILL LIVE!

  9. John says:

    DTS-HD doesn’t compress as well as True HD so True HD would be better concerning space on disc if there were only lossless Decoders available. The same is true for the core lossy tracks but most people can still only decode the core lossy track. DTS has an advantage of having more than double the bitrate (1536kbps)as ac3 (640kbps) & even though ac3 compresses better it doesn’t compress more than twice as well as DTS. So DTS is much better for people with standard lossy decoders and is only a bit worse, size wise as in taking space away from video but not the sound for lossless decoders.

  10. Dave says:

    Blu-ray effectively has 8 Mbps dedicated to audio and other non-video data, so the extra space needed for DTS Master over TrueHD is seldom an issue unless the movie is really long.

    I am a little surprised and some of the Sony titles that have as many as three Master Audio tracks on them.

  11. Cary says:

    Thank you Rebecca. I believe that Dolby TrueHD will win in the end as well. For me it is a case of preference of what I hear. That is the problem though – some hear one thing and others another. Or they hit the Electronics/Home Theatre forms and someone else tells them what to hear.

    My Living Room HT is fully Pioneer. Interestingly they led with Dolby TrueHD processing before getting firmware upgrades for their Flagship BDP-09 Blu-ray which I use with Dolby TrueHD titles in the Analog 5.1/7.1 fashion.

    I have a modest speaker system but with a good receiver and this BD player I can tell you voices which LOSSLESS audio has really improved our experience at home, sound so much clearer using this codec – that is in a RCA Analog Out fashion. I have very good processing on my Receiver but it does not make the DTS Master HD sound better in that regard.

    I remember, ten years ago the big problem then with DTS vs Dolby Digital was the price of the DTS titles (at least here in Canada) where 20% more. I paid that difference then. I had found that the Dynamics of scenes with natural sounds were that much better using DTS encoding.

    Perhaps I wont know the answer until I upgrade my speaker system to match the caliber of Pioneer Elite Monitor and BD Player but I and others I have ask to audition this have tended to agree.

    Join me and Rebecca and keep the Dolby TrueHD camp fire burning!


  12. DennisC says:

    The Dolby vs DTS fight has always been a bit silly. Some seem to prefer DTS only because it isn’t Dolby, others prefer Dolby because of brand loyalty. Still, despite arguments to the contrary, most would be hard pressed to distinguish the difference between the two. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, just different.

    In the end which lossless codec ultimately wins may be a moot point since high def content has consumers lost in a fog and the Blu-ray will never penetrate as many U.S households as the DVD format did. Just over half of households own a high def set now but, according to NPD, just under half actually have any high def content playing on them. Then factor in those who actually own a Blu-ray player but lack the hardware to decode either lossless format. So guess what they’re listening to? The lossy Dolby Digital track (and most consumers would be unable to distinguish the difference between a lossy vs. lossless track).

    DTS-HD Master Audio, however, will need to evolve beyond the Blu-ray format. Blu-ray’s future is limited at best as high def content is delivered to homes in formats unburdened by physical media. Also of note is that Dolby Digital dominates the television landscape and is the defacto standard in broadcast and cable audio mastering. If broadcast and cable are able to deliver lossless audio over the next several years, True HD will likely be the next logical step and the new standard.

  13. Neil says:

    I have listened to both DTS Mster Audio and Dolby Digital True HD and I am hard pressed to tell the difference between they tow.
    The problem is that it is all but impossible for the average listener to make a fair compariison between the two formats for a number of reason; first being that in order to make a fair comparison you would need to have the same program recorded in both formats ans at least so far i have not seen a blu-ray disc with both sound options on it.
    Secondly; you need to use doulbe blind testing and for that you need special equipment that matches sound levels and allows fast or fetter yet seemless swithching getween two sources.
    I would almost bet the farm that if the average listener participated in a double blind study to determine which sound format delivered the best quality; they coundn’t do so.
    In fact I would almost bet few people could reliably pick a loosless codec over a lossy one in double blind testing.
    I have a pretty good HT system and enjoy blu-ray discs for their obviously superior picture but I just rewatched the Lord of the Ring Trilogy on DVD and the sound was fantastic and I have to wonder how much of an improvementI will hear when I fork out a hundred bucks for the blu-rays.

  14. Dave says:

    I think that people who care enough to put together a strong audio system in their home theater will probably have little problem discerning a typical DVD 448 kbps AC3 soundtrack from lossless.

    Of course not everyone is going to invest in this – I doubt that my personal audio set up would reveal much difference.

    In any case, whether the difference is perceived or not, the trend towards DTS has pretty much been followed by all the major studios now.

    If Warner would finally give up on VC-1, we would have pretty much AVC/MPEG4 and DTS Master Audio across the board.

  15. Robert says:

    Is it possible to downmix DTS HD or Dolby TrueHD from Blu-Ray into two-channel? Say you have a very nice two channel system and want to take advantage of the higher resolution audio from Blu-Ray. I believe Meridian makes an HD621 that seperates HDMI video and audio – which is an advantage for Meridian owners but does that mean DTS HD’s resolution would be available if only running a two channel system?

  16. Kenny Kraly Jr. says:

    I think the move to DTS-HD Master Audio BY Most studios is a good one but also I belive most consumers think that DTS-HD Master Audio is a lot better than Dolby True HD. It will be intrusting to see for the blu-ray release of the star wars saga in fall of next year 2011 if George Lucas goes with DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby True HD.

  17. Dave says:

    @Robert – I am sure that some processors could downmix the lossless audio. That said it is possibly considered something that is a little out dated since 5.1 has been around so long. In any case, there are certainly techniques to do this that are independent of the original codec used.

    @Kenny – Star Wars will almost certainly be DTS HD Master Audio as Fox has used this codec from the beginning of Blu-ray. The only question is if it is 7.1, 6.1 or 5.1 – Fox has not done much if any releases with more than 5 main channels, though there is a small trend towards 7.1 mixes from some major studios now.

  18. Kenny Kraly Jr. says:

    @Dave are you sure the star wars films on blu-ray in fall of 2011 will have DTS HD Master Audio because when warner bros. released star wars the clone wars film that had a dolby true hd soundtrack. But that was a different studio.

  19. Dave says:

    While Warner owns the rights to the animated movies and TV shows, Fox owns the rights to the 6 original Star Wars movies.

  20. Eddie says:

    where on the blu ray packaging does it say whether or not it has dts master hd

  21. Dave says:

    It is usually noted on the back of the box. Easiest to look for the DTS logo and it will usually say ‘Master Audio’ next to the logo if they use that, or ‘High Resolution’ or nothing for the lossy versions…

  22. Auditionhts says:

    DTS HD master audio should be the defacto standard. Plays on any device that supports any kind of DTS decoding.

  23. Auditionhts says:

    I should say.. DTS HD master audio should be the defacto standard. Plays on any device that supports any kind of DTS decoding. You will get the best DTS audio format your device supports.

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