When it comes to high-end audio codecs that utilize surround-sound, "Three-dimensional" channels, there are two different big names and formats: DTS-X and Dolby Atmos.
What's the difference?
Both come from companies of those names. DTS-X is from Digital Theater Systems, Inc., while Dolby Atmos is from Dolby Systems. Both technologies are used in both home theater technology and in movie theaters. Some receivers even offer access to both. Meanwhile, both technologies have found their way into smartphones, headphones, and other non-home theater-specific technologies.
Dolby Atmos made its debut in movie theaters in 2012 - with the premiere of Pixar's Brave the first movie to feature it- and reached home theaters in 2014. Dolby describes Atmos as featuring "breathtaking sound quality," as well as an "overhead dimension," which creates the sensation of height.
According to B&H Photo and Video, 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."
Dolby Atmos, when applies to home theaters, is meant to involve the use of in-ceiling speakers, although there are some alternatives available.
The first-ever TV series to be mixed in Dolby Atmos was “Game of Thrones,” with the technology available in the collectors' Blu-ray sets for the first and second seasons that arrived in 2016. Content from Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes can be streamed in Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, provided the user's system is equipped with the technology.
DTS has been around since the early 1990s as a competitor to Dolby. The specific DTS:X brand launched in 2015. As described by B&H Photo and Video, DTS:X "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."
One big difference between Dolby Atmos and DTS:X is that the latter is more agnostic when it comes to the actual placement of the speakers in the user's living room or home theater, while Atmos specifies where they should go.
Which is better? That's something of a complicated question. Crutchfield recommends that its customers purchase receivers that offer capabilities for both technologies. Such brands as Anthem, AudioControl, Denon, Integra, Marantz and Onkyo offer receivers that work with both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons.