(finally) made it to the DTS sound room where it was demonstrating the latest in their audio lineup: Master HD. In contrast to Dolby True HD which is also a lossless codec used on HDDVD and Blu-Ray media, DTS is keen to retain the foothold it has as the preferential product of the high end enthusiast.
It also wants to continue the move into new markets with the migration of High-Definition media into peoples homes, making the true home cinema experience a real alternative to leaving the house or even downloading that compressed movie with mp3 soundtrack from Bit Torrent.
HDMI 1.3 or Analogue?
The DTS Master HD sound stream requires HDMI 1.3 for the bandwidth, although you can run it over analogue as was the case in this test setup. This is a good thing, because HDMI 1.3 with a compatible decoder isn't really available yet - v1.2 is still the standard of many products released. This is not to say that DTS-HD disks aren't compatible with current DTS products; they are, you will just get a sampled down alternative that your decoder is capable of using.
Normally PCs and analogue connections aren't the ideal way to do things, because you have to convert from digital to analogue before the discrete decoder and PCs suffer from a far greater EMI than any stand-alone product. This is not something DTS can control, however, because as a technology company they only license and screen products for DTS certification; they don't make end-user hardware.
Even if you do find something with HDMI 1.3, the compatible decoder products have only just last month started to hit the shelves. DTS had a compatible decoder present at the show, the Marantz 2600, however the link was over an analogue connection from an Acer Blu-Ray Media Centre PC. The DTS:Connect package is a specific technology set that is tailored for PCs, including DTS:Neo PC
for upscaling 2.0 stereo into 7.1 multichannel PCM and DTS Interactive
for converting a linear multichannel source into a DTS bitstream.
We've not previously had much luck getting either to work to a level of satisfaction with the Sondigo Inferno
and HT Omega Claro
, which was of great surprise to the folks at DTS. After some discussion on the subject it seems our decoder, despite being DTS certified, may not be working as we expect since a quick DTS:Neo PC
demonstration upscaling a simple Mp3 into 7.1 multichannel audio provided enough evidence that it indeed does work well.
Playing the disks using some customised Cyberlink software, I sat through some full lossless HD audio goodness that I have to admit left me wanting a little more. Don't get me wrong, it was certainly exceptional quality, but I had expected something almost overwhelming from "lossless DTS Master HD", supposedly the pinnacle of consumer audio fidelity.
It appeared that they were restricted by the size of speakers, bass and subsequent loudness they could assert, and considering they were just renting a room in the Taipei Hyatt
, some neighbouring companies might have been annoyed. It just reiterated the point that sufficient time and research should go into making the correct audio hardware setup, rather than just taking a compromise. How many people buy a new £1000+ HDTV and not fork out a penny on the audio?
5.1 versus 7.1?
Even though most people don't have the space for 7.1 in their living rooms, and as previously skeptical as I was, we were assured with a technical demonstration that it's certainly worth investing in. This is because you have a better balance in the surround experience, without having to sit in the exact centre of your speakers focus.
For computers, things are a little different: you aren't sitting 2-4 metres from a TV screen, you're usually less than 1 metre from your monitor which makes surround sound impractical or in most cases, improperly aligned. It was hard to convince the demonstrators at DTS, who's bread and butter is surround sound, that many people just prefer a 2.0/2.1 setup or use headphones.
Currently DTS has nothing to match the superb Dolby Headphones on the PC, although by the end of the year this is set to change with a new headphone technology arriving.
Another thing DTS can't control is the crap quality some PC audio is encoded in. They were keen to stress that making a high quality (preferably lossless) source better will always provide a far greater user experience than trying to make something
out of very little. Ultimately, it takes some investment for a decent start-to-finish setup and although we're not suggesting extreme audiophile territory here, it's about time people took PC audio as seriously as they take their graphics output or PC throughput.
In hindsight though, having imprecise PC users throwing all kinds of crap together and claiming a true "HD experience" will either be thoroughly entertaining for the elite of the audio community or extremely frustrating, being subjected to endless questions about some sound card or PC problem. It's inevitable that one day the lines between high end audio and PC enthusiast will undoubtedly blur, but that may not be today.