Which Is Better Between Bitstream Vs PCM For Audio? (Detailed Comparison)

Which is better, Bitstream Vs PCM For Audio? PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) and bitstream are two industry standards for transmitting audio from a player or transmitter to a receiver or speaker. It's critical to understand which of these two is superior because having the proper audio configuration allows you to get the most out of your sound system.

The only difference between Bitstream and PCM in terms of audio quality is how your setup decodes the compressed file. When deciding between PCM and bitstream, compatibility with devices and supported frequencies are more important considerations than sound and transmission.

There’s more to it than just receiving and decoding audio streams, though. So let’s discuss everything in great detail and settle the bitstream vs. PCM debate for good. 

Which Is Better Between Bitstream Vs PCM For Audio? (Detailed Comparison)
Which Is Better Between Bitstream Vs PCM For Audio? (Detailed Comparison)

THE BASICS OF PCM

PCM is an algorithm used by devices to represent analog waves. This technology has been around for over a century and is still the industry standard for transmitting audio streams. Because PCM is an algorithm, it makes no difference whether you send compressed or uncompressed audio files. When a device receives an input, it decodes it before sending it to your receiver.

 

When you use PCM for audio, the device will decode the file before sending it to the receiver. This method holds true whether you're using a regular PCM with amplitude-based quantization levels or an LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) with linear quantization levels.

PCM has been the industry standard for audio streams since its inception in the early 1900s. This technology is used to deliver audio files by almost every device that converts digital to analog audio output and vice versa.

When connecting your sound system to a Blu-ray player, you'll be able to select PCM as the audio output format. That is, your player will decode all audio files, including Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS HD Master Audio. Your player will then uncompressed these decoded audio files and send them to all of the receivers in your home theater system.

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As a result, once the audio file is received, your AVR does not need to do anything with it. It will only function in delivering these to your speakers for output. Because we frequently use this type of connection for CD players, most AVRs are PCM compatible. It is the most popular option for transmitting audio signals because it works well with both analog and digital input.

THE BASICS OF BITSTREAM

A bitstream is a binary sequence, or what we commonly refer to as 1's and 0's, that is used to convert audio input into digital bits. It's the technology that PCM and other high-resolution audio transmission use as a framework, but that doesn't make it obsolete.

Although bitstream provides fewer options for audio transmission, the sound output is virtually identical to PCM and may even provide more frequencies. When a device is set to bitstream transmission, the player sends compressed audio files to the receiver.

The data will then be decoded by your AVR for uncompressed output. This method is used to generate surround sound formats from the player to the AVR, AV preamplifier, processor, or power amplifier combination.

When a receiver is set to bitstream, the AV processor is activated to detect any encoded surround sound format received from the player. The file will then be decoded by the processor based on the instructions in the signal. Higher-end receivers may include a post-processing feature that converts the signal from digital to analog, allowing the audio to be amplified for improved output.

PCM vs Bitstream: Which Is Better?
PCM vs Bitstream: Which Is Better?

BITSTREAM VS PCM – SIDE BY SIDE COMPARISON 

Both transmission methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but they don’t make one better than the other. In fact, if you’re going to use PCM and bitstream for the same audio format on the same speakers, the output you’re going to hear will most likely be the same.

FeaturePCMBitstream
CompatibilityCompatible with most players that are available, including CD, DVD, and Blu-ray players.Compatible with high-end modern players that fully supports most surround sound formats.
Audio FilePlayers convert analog signals to digital and vice-versa for transmission to the receiver.Audio files are bit encoded, and it follows a specific surround sound format for digital transmission.
DecodingPlayers handle the decoding of audio files, then transmit the data to the receiver for output.Audio files are bit encoded, and it follows a specific surround sound format for digital transmission.
ConnectionTransmission of audio streams requires a physical connection from the player to the AVR and speaker.Transmission of audio streams can be wired or wireless, as long it's from a compatible media player.
Audio OutputTransmission requires much higher bandwidth to reduce quality degradation with better output.Transmission offers better flexibility for receivers and speakers to deliver high-quality audio output.
Secondary AudioProvides better support for hi-res secondary audio channels.Secondary audio quality is good, but options may be limited.
TransmissionWorks with players and receivers that support analog and digital sound transmission.Only works with players and receivers that support digital sound transmission.
Optical/ CoaxialSupport for digital optical or coaxial output is limited.Support for digital optical or coaxial output can go up to 5.1.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CHOOSE PCM?

Because HDMI is now used by the majority of players, let's assume you'll be using it for your connection. If you set your Blu-ray player to use PCM as the audio output, it will internally decode all files from the Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS HD Master Audio codecs, including any related soundtracks.

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Following that, the player will send the decoded, uncompressed audio signal to your receiver, which will then send the signal to your speaker for output.

As a result of this configuration, the player does all of the work, giving you untethered access to secondary audio, which is in charge of descriptive audio, audio commentaries, and supplementary audio tracks. If this is an important feature for your sound system, PCM is a better choice for you.

If you plan to configure your sound system for digital optical audio or coaxial connection, your PCM options may be limited. It can only send two-channel signals, so either may not have enough bandwidth capacity to handle the transmission of uncompressed high-resolution audio output.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU CHOOSE BITSTREAM?

If you're going to use bitstream as the audio output for a Blu-ray player, the file transmission process will be different. The player will first disable all of its internal DTS and Dolby decoders. The player will simply transmit digital signals to your receiver, which will decode and convert them.

When the player is set to bitstream transmission, the receiver will process everything and output decoded, uncompressed audio files. Because transmitting compressed data requires little bandwidth, your sound system can use better audio codecs for output, such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN PCM AND BITSTREAM

Although the formats that PCM and bitstream can generate appear to be very different, both of these configurations are capable of delivering high-quality audio. In fact, if you don't require a secondary audio output or higher resolution codecs, the difference between these two is negligible.

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Your speakers will produce the same audio quality whether you are playing standard or high-resolution audio. Aside from the output, neither configuration works well with most DVD or Blu-ray players.

You can even find a lot of players today that will allow you to switch between PCM and bitstream connection seamlessly. AVRs work the same, but you have to make sure that the one you’re going to use can support both configurations to produce the output that you want for your speakers.

PCM And Bitstream Comparison
PCM And Bitstream Comparison

CONCLUSION

If we only compare the output that they can produce, there is no clear winner in the bitstream vs. PCM debate. The decision is based on how you want to configure your sound system and where you intend to use it.

If you want a setup that can handle high-resolution secondary audio, PCM is the way to go. If we use mainstream sound systems, both transmission methods can provide you with a high-resolution output.

FAQs About PCM vs Bitstream

Should TV be set to PCM or Bitstream?

If you choose Bitstream but do not have a home theater system or soundbar connected, the TV will process the audio as well as output it. This frequently results in reduced volume or other audio quality loss. When using the TV's speakers, we recommend selecting PCM.

Which is preferable, Bitstream or Dolby?

It supports your 5 uncompressed channels. Bitstream transmits the signal to your AVR or sound bar for processing. Dolby D will have your TV convert it to Dolby Digital formats before sending it to your AVR. It is usually preferable to use bitstream.

Why does PCM sound better than bitstream?

PCM uses raw signals generated by your converter, and codecs such as DTS or Dolby Digital have no effect on its quality. Bitstream, on the other hand, works with coded audio files, but it can support more frequencies, allowing you to produce high-resolution audio.

Barry Moroney

Hi, Barry here. I'm a tech writer and blogger. I write about the latest technology, gadgets, and software. I also provide the best how-to and guides on the latest sound systems. I'm always excited to share my knowledge with others!

 

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