Commentary: DTS DVD Movies are Finally Here! - January, 1999


J.E. Johnson, Jr.


After having been delayed for so much time (at least a year), DTS DVDs have been released. One of them - "Dances with Wolves" - has a video bit rate of about 7.4 megabits per second, which is well above the video bit rate (about 4.5 megabits per second) on DD DVDs. The reason for this is that DTS DVDs don't have all the foreign languages that DD DVDs have, so they can use all the bits for the video and audio of the original movie (English only for American films). In the case of the Dances DVD, they chose to put the film on two discs rather than on both sides of one disc (it's a long movie). If a photographic label is involved, they can't put data on that side of disc. This makes the movie very expensive, but I think we are all OK with that, if we really want to buy the movie. The picture and sound are truly spectacular on this disc.

If you have a DVD player with no DTS digital out, don't despair. DTS DVDs have a two channel stereo DD track that you can send to your DD receiver for Dolby Pro Logic surround sound, assuming that you have DD processing somewhere in the circuit (either in the player or in the receiver). Of course, this is not as good as having discrete 5.1 digital surround, but it's better than nothing. Lastly, you can simply use the two track stereo analog audio output jacks for Pro Logic, if you don't have DD or DTS decoding anywhere in your system.

The most interesting DVD out of the initial bunch is a release by Micky Hart, called "Indoscrub", which is a "single" music video. These singles, which look like music videos on TV, will retail for about $7.00. It has full screen video (1.33:1), 5.1 DD AND 5.1 DTS, AND two channel 24 bit-96 kHz tracks, all on the same disc. I did not know that both 5.1 formats (DD and DTS) could reside on the same disc, with all six channels being used, let alone with an additional set of stereo 24/96 tracks, and still have room for high quality video. It allowed me to compare the sound of DD, DTS, and 24/96. To be honest, I could not hear any differences between DD and DTS, but the 24/96 decoded by Pro Logic was far superior to both of them. Of course, this is to be expected since 24/96 has an enormous bit rate. There may very well be an audible difference between DD and DTS, but it is probably subtle. The best way to determine if there is a difference is to use at least a single blind A/B test, and I am sure we will see such tests with combination DVDs in the future. The outcome won't change anything though, and we can then settle down to just enjoying the movies regardless of the 5.1 format. Dolby and DTS can co-exist, and rake in the royalties for their respective licenses, which is all they have ever wanted anyway. On the horizon is 24/96 multichannel sound, which is an option in DVD audio. DTS can accommodate this (24/96) in their current spec, and although Dolby Digital cannot, I would imagine they are working on it.

Other new DTS DVDs that I had for review included "Dante's Peak", "Waterworld", and "Daylight". I did not experience any audio or video glitches with any of them, using a Yamaha DVD-S700 DVD Player and Yamaha DSP-A1 Receiver. When I played a DTS DVD, the receiver recognized the DTS signal and played the disc without a hitch. When I played the Mickey Hart DVD, which has both DD and DTS 5.1, I went back and forth from DD to DTS in the DVD menu, and the appropriate signal was sent to the receiver for decoding, again with no problems at all. I'm sure glad the wait is over. More DTS DVDs are on the schedule for release throughout 1999, and I would think the releases will pick up in number per month in the year 2000.

J.E. Johnson, Jr.

© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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