Delving into Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, HDR10 and Dolby Vision

Apart from being a keen gamer and writer I also love my movies. This means I spend an inordinate amount of time tweaking my TV and home theatre setup to get the most out of my games and movies.

A lot of audio and video standards have come out in the last decade. It wasn’t that long ago when DVD came along and made the classic VHS tape extinct. Way back then DVD meant that Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS became the standard, and the movie buffs finally had discrete 5.1 sound (not the Dolby Pro Logic which was 2 channels split into 5.1 by amplifier trickery).

With the recent release of Ultra HD Bluray (see some amazing information on this format here) we now have some amazing new movie and gaming standards to muck around with – Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, HDR10 and Dolby Vision. That isn’t to say you can’t find the two newer audio formats (Dolby Vision and DTS:X) on standard Bluray as some movies definitely have these enhanced audio tracks. With Ultra HD movies you are more likely to have these enhanced audio tracks.

Audio Standards:

Dolby Atmos – This exciting new format adds a meta data layer of object-based sound on top of two different types of existing audio formats:

  • Dolby Digital Plus (compressed audio format found via streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney+)
  • Dolby True HD (uncompressed audio format only found on Ultra HD Blurays)

Note – If you have a good amplifier with some decent speakers that supports these newer formats you should play the movies on an Ultra HD Bluray player via the discs, rather than stream the movie. The uncompressed sound track on the Blurays / Ultra HD Blurays will always be better than the streaming counter parts.

DTS:X – The other object based audio standard; this soundtrack will often be used by movie studios as an alternative to Dolby Atmos. This format is only available via Ultra HD Blurays. It can be argued that with a decent DTS:X soundtrack you can get better results as there is no limit on the amount of 3D audio objects that can be placed with DTS:X. Dolby Atmos by comparison has up to 128 3D audio objects available via the metadata.

Horizon Zero Dawn HDR vs SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) lighting.

Picture Standards:

HDR – Also known as HDR10 this is the open source standard for High Dynamic Range lighting. Done properly this will provide sharper contrast and better grades of colour in the lighter and darker areas of the screen. Early iterations of HDR for games weren’t that impressive because there was no option to adjust the brightness. A lot of new games support it better and therefore it can produce some good results.

HDR is available on the Xbox One S and X, plus the PS4 and Pro. It is also available on fairly modern video cards on PC, but in my opinion it seems to be more flaky due to inconsistent driver support than the console counter parts.

Dolby Vision – Dolby Vision is available via a licence (manufacturers generally have to pay to have Dolby Vision implemented in their devices) and it is generally considering superior in visual quality to standard HDR. The reason behind this is because it supports 12-bit color depth (68.7 billion colours) vs 10-bit (1.07 billion colours) for HDR. To keep things in context not all TVs support 12-bit colour anyway.

More importantly the metadata used in Dolby Vision done on a frame by frame basis (known as ‘dynamic HDR’) compared to the static metadata used in HDR10. This means that Dolby Vision allows the brightness and colour to change dynamically during a game or movie, whilst the values remain the same for HDR10.

Dolby Vision is available via some TV manufacturers (LG being one of the main ones). If you have a TV that supports Dolby Vision and is generally 2017 or newer the Xbox One S and X will also allow you to pass through the Dolby Vision from your TV so you can take advantage of this HDR standard via Netflix and other streaming services that support it. This is a pretty big deal and unfortunately for me I have a 2016 LG TV. This means I can’t use my Xbox to watch Dolby Vision content, which is a shame. Apparently the standard improved with the 2017 or later model TVs and the early hardware can’t cope with the processing demands.

Keep in mind that on console, HDR10 is the standard for games. There have been some reported successes with a couple of EA games using the Frostbite engine on PC that provide Dolby Vision clarity but this has never worked for me (probably due to the earlier TV model issue again). In fact I’ve had nothing but trouble trying to play NFS Heat as it keeps attempting to activate Dolby Vision, which in turn just produces a black screen. There are workarounds to this but it means playing the game without any form of HDR.

There are some other picture standards that are also available via different model TVs. These are HDR10+ and HLG. HDR10+ is an newer open source standard that actually provides dynamic metadata updates. HLG is a HDR standard for broadcasts via TV. I haven’t had the opportunity to play around with these two standards via my equipment.

I hope this little blog post provides a bit of clarity around the different standards available. If you have any questions please feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Categories: Technology

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