DTS Theater Packs an 11.1-Channel Surround Sound
New system blows the standard 5.1 channel setup out of the dust.
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March 08, 2011 by Arlen Schweiger

It’s fitting that DTS authored the high-res lossless soundtrack for This Is Spinal Tap when the cult classic arrived on Blu-ray, because the audio company has cranked its latest format up to 11.

There were plenty of rockin’ home theater demos at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but none quite as unique as the one in DTS’ booth.

Forget 7.1- or even 9.1-channel surround sound - the DTS theater packed an 11.1-channel punch. Following in the footsteps of rival Dolby Laboratories’ ProLogic IIz technology that debuted in 2009, which adds “height” speakers above the front channels, DTS unveiled its “Neo:X” format in Las Vegas.

Really, More Speakers?
Surround sound in the standard 5.1-channel setup - front left, right and center channels, two side or rear channels, plus a subwoofer - really took off with the advent of DVD and later with receiver/speaker “home theater in a box” packages. As CE pros who have installed thousands of such systems over the years, home theater goers find traditional surround sound mighty enveloping - after all, some say audio is half of the home theater experience.

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So why add more speakers, and therefore a more complicated installation, especially for homeowners who want to wire their own systems?

Part of it stems from the fact that thanks to Blu-ray, people have already started adding speakers to create 7.1-channel surround systems that take advantage of DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD lossless formats that have been mixed with additional audio information. And part of it is the emergence of 3D technology into home theaters and the desire to produce even more immersion.

“We see it as a complement to 3D technology, and people can configure it in a couple of different ways to really have an engaging experience,” says Geir Skaaden, VP, North American licensing operations for DTS. “Neo:X was designed with the goal of generating an additional dimension ‘height’ to traditional 7.1 surround sound playback, while maintaining a natural three-dimensional sound field consistent with the artist intent of the original mix.”

Of course, it’s difficult enough finding Blu-ray discs that include native 7.1-channel soundtracks, so don’t expect 9.1- or 11.1-channel audio tracks on those high-def discs anytime soon. That’s where the processing comes in, as Neo:X takes 2.0/5.1/6.1/7.1 formats and converts them within a single algorithm to 9.1/11.1 to deliver discrete effects to those additional channels.

For an 11.1 configuration, height speakers would help convey effects of planes, thunder, rain, background music, etc., while width speakers would expand the front sound stage and enhance front-to-side actions, like cars moving across the screen or bullets zinging by, says DTS.

“Neo:X has been designed with great flexibility so people that have an existing 7.1 system can either add four new speakers or reconfigure their existing speakers to generate height playback,” says Skaaden. “For those planning their home theater, this is another option if they’re looking for the ultimate home audio experience.”

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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