Dolby Atmos and DTS:X: What Are They, and How Do I Get Them?


If you’re looking to maximize the sound of your home theater surround sound system, you’ve most likely heard of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Understandably, while many may want to get the best sound possible out of their surround sound system, not everyone is plugged in to the latest developments and trends of the consumer electronics industry. For the layperson who isn’t up to speed, and for whom Dolby Digital, DTS, or Dolby Pro Logic were the latest audio codecs when last you bought a receiver, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X might leave you bewildered. Rest easy—we’re here to sort this all out for you.

Yamaha RX-V483 5.1-Channel Network A/V Receiver

What is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is an object-based surround sound technology that expands on conventional surround sound systems with the inclusion of “height” channels. Object-based means that individual sound can be placed anywhere, creating an all-around, encompassing, multi-dimensional sound experience. The inclusion of height channels enhances this immersive audio experience by providing audio overhead, so if, for instance, you’re watching a movie with a scene where an aircraft is taking off or flying, and the filmmaker wants the viewer to experience overhead sound, you’ll get to hear the full breadth of the fidelity of the aircraft taking off or flying above you. Instead of just hearing the limited, directional sound from front to rear, left to right, and vice versa from a conventional surround sound system, object-based surround sound delivers sound from every direction, including up and down.

Definitive Technology A90 Dolby Atmos Add-On Speaker Modules

Essentially, Dolby Atmos provides you with a more realistic, engaging, and immersive experience that envelops your listening space with sound. If you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system, Dolby Atmos will require at least two additional speakers, and accept up to four speakers for height channels. A 5.1 system with two or four height-channel speakers will become 5.1.2 or 5.1.4 system, and likewise with a 7.1 system.

What is DTS:X?

Like Dolby Atmos, an object-based surround sound technology that expands on conventional surround sound systems. Unlike Dolby Atmos, DTS:X has no requirements for additional height channels, or requirements for a specific number of speakers in any configuration. Instead, your DTS:X-enabled receiver does all the heavy lifting via its auto-calibration and object-based processor to deliver multi-dimensional sound to the output channel it decides is best. DTS:X also allows users to adjust the volume of voices. This is a handy feature for dialogue-heavy scenes, since they tend to be difficult to hear clearly in many movies.

Pioneer Elite VSX-LX102 7.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver

How Do You Get Them?

Getting Dolby Atmos and DTS:X is simple. First, you will need a receiver or processor capable of decoding these audio codecs. The Yamaha RX-V583 or the Pioneer Elite VSX-LX302 are two receivers that will decode and process the codecs. DTS:X doesn’t require upward-firing or ceiling speakers, so you won’t need anything else to enjoy it. Dolby Atmos, however, does require either upward-firing or in-ceiling speakers for height channels. The height channels can be added to your system with upward-firing speakers like the Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-140SA, or the ELAC Debut A4. These speakers can be placed directly atop your front or rear speakers. They work by bouncing sound off the ceiling in your listening space to make it seem like sound is coming from above you. Additionally, speakers with a built-in upward-firing Dolby Atmos channel like the floor-standing Klipsch Reference R-26FA, or Pioneer Elite SP-EBS73-LR bookshelves offer the same height-channel technology in the same speaker cabinet. For those with drop ceilings, new construction, or the know-how, in-ceiling speakers like the Yamaha NS-IC600 are an option. Unlike upward firing speakers, in-ceiling speakers offer height channels without the need to bounce sound off your ceilings.

Klipsch Reference R-26FA Dolby Atmos Floorstanding Speaker

If you prefer soundbars for their sleek, space-saving designs and clean installations, Dolby Atmos technology is available in soundbar systems like the Sony HT-ST5000 800W and LG SJ9 500W. Both these soundbar systems feature two built-in upward-firing speakers for object-based audio, an external wireless subwoofer, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Additionally, some 4K OLED displays like the LG EZP-Series and the LG W7 Series also have built-in Dolby Atmos tech. The upcoming B8, C8, and W8 OLED displays, all from LG, will feature Dolby Atmos decoding, so keep your eyes peeled for more details from us. In the meantime, check out our CES 2018 report on these displays here.

LG SJ9 500W 5.1.2-Channel Dolby Atmos Soundbar System

Backward Compatibility with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio

Both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are backward compatible with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so soundtracks encoded in these older audio codecs will be playable on Dolby Atmos and DTS:X compatible devices.

Enjoy Multi-Dimensional Audio!

We hope this article makes understanding Dolby Atmos and DTS:X a bit easier, and that you’re ready to enjoy awesome multi-dimensional, object-based surround sound in all its glory! If you have any questions or need advice, B&H sales staff are always ready to answer any questions you have. You can reach them via live chat, email, or by phone at 1 800-606-6969. If you’re in New York, feel free to stop by the B&H SuperStore to check out the latest receivers, speakers, and displays.

Are you going to implement Dolby Atmos and DTS:X into you surround sound system? Join the conversation in the Comments section, below!