BitstreaPCM or Bitstream for Dolby Atmos? The industry standards for sending audio from the player or transmitter to the receiver or speaker are PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) and bitstream. 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.
PCM or Bitstream for Dolby Atmos: Which is better?
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.
Some connections benefit more from PCM than bitstream, while newer AVRs (Audio/Video Receivers) can benefit from bitstream decoding.
However, it is more than just receiving and decoding audio streams. So let’s go over everything in depth and finally put an end to the bitstream vs. PCM debate.
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. This means that all audio files, including Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS HD Master Audio, will be decoded by your player.
Your player will then send these uncompressed audio files to all of the receivers in your home theater system.
As a result, once the audio file is received, your AVR does not need to do anything with it. It will only deliver 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 Fundamentals of Bitstream
A bitstream is a binary sequence (also known 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. Based on the instructions in the signal, the processor will decode the file.
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.
Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS 96/24, DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X are some of the most common surround sound codecs that use bitstream.
Because the files transmitted by your player are compressed, bandwidth will not be an issue. As a result, if you use bitstream for a player that supports this transmission, you can use both wired and wireless connections.
It gives you more options when setting up your home theater system, but it does not work with most CD players. To take advantage of this transmission, you must always consider the device’s compatibility.
Side by Side Comparison of Bitstream and PCM
Both methods of transmission have advantages and disadvantages, but neither is superior to the other. In fact, if you use PCM and bitstream for the same audio format on the same speakers, the output will almost certainly be the same.
|Compatibility||Compatible 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 File||Players 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.|
|Decoding||Players handle the decoding of audio files, then transmit the data to the receiver for output.||Players transmit compressed audio files to the receiver, which is responsible for decoding data.|
|Connection||Transmission 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 Output||Transmission 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 Audio||Provides better support for hi-res secondary audio channels.||Secondary audio quality is good, but options may be limited.|
|Transmission||Works with players and receivers that support analog and digital sound transmission.||Only works with players and receivers that support digital sound transmission.|
|Optical / Coaxial||Support for digital optical or coaxial output is limited.||Support for digital optical or coaxial output can go up to 5.1.|
What Happens If You Select 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, as well as any related soundtracks.
Following that, the player will send the decoded, uncompressed audio signal to your receiver, which will then output to your speaker.
As a result of this configuration, the player does all of the work, giving you unrestricted 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.
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What Happens When You Select 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 bypass all of its internal DTS and Dolby decoders. The player will simply send digital signals to your receiver, which will decode and convert them.
When you set the player to bitstream transmission, the receiver will process everything and produce decoded, uncompressed audio files.
Because transmitting compressed data doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth, your sound system can use better audio codecs for output, such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X.
There is no need for you to be concerned about the connection between your player and receiver. Wired or wireless bitstream transmission allows you to use higher frequencies, giving your sound system more potential to produce the best output.
The issue with bitstream arises when the program makes use of secondary audio settings. If the file contains high-resolution secondary audio formats like Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, or higher, the receiver will downgrade it to Dolby Digital or DTS in order to fit both types of formats into the same bandwidth.
So, if you use bitstream for programs that use high-resolution secondary audio, the output will be standard definition.
Parallels between PCM and Bitstream
PCM and bitstream may appear to produce very different formats, but both of these configurations are capable of producing 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.
Your speakers will produce the same audio quality whether you are playing standard or high-resolution audio.
Aside from the output, neither configuration works particularly well with most DVD and Blu-ray players.
There are even many players available today that allow you to seamlessly switch between PCM and bitstream connections. AVRs operate in the same way, but you must ensure that the one you choose can support both configurations in order to produce the output that you require for your speakers.
Finally, both PCM and bitstream require audio files to be converted to analog before your speakers can produce the necessary output. The process of converting audio files may vary, but it will always end up in an analog format before it can be read by your speakers.
PCM and Bitstream Distinctions
If all you care about is the audio quality your speakers can produce, both configurations are excellent. Unfortunately, setting up your sound system will never be that simple. There are dozens of different factors to consider, and you may have to sacrifice one feature over another at times.
The most significant difference between the two is the quality of the audio file that your player or receiver converts—don’t confuse output quality with file quality.
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.
The procedure may differ, but the end result will be the same. With the availability of lossless compression methods like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio, bitstream can provide the same quality without requiring more data transmission space.
Device compatibility and other connection options differ between the two configurations. PCM is compatible with almost every device, whereas bitstream may only work with devices that support high-resolution surround sound.
When Should PCM Be Used?
Both configurations produce the same audio quality, convert the audio file to analog before the output is produced by the speakers, and are compatible with the majority of today’s players. So, when will it be better for you to use PCM configuration over bitstream?
PCM configuration is recommended if:
- You’re looking for a method to gain access to high-quality secondary audio.
- You want a faster and more direct connection with low output latency.
- You want to alleviate the burden of converting audio files on your receiver.
- You have a sound system that prefers decoding audio files from the player.
However, none of these advantages make PCM configuration superior to bitstream. One reason for this is that PCM can only send a two-channel signal over a coaxial or digital optical connection.
Although not a deal breaker, it may be an issue for those looking for better transmission options, particularly given the space capacity required by this configuration.
Compatibility is another important factor to consider. PCM works with almost every player we have. However, because the player decodes the audio files, you may not get the smoothest and most lossless transmission, especially if you have a more sophisticated sound system in your media room.
Finally, those attempting to set up wireless connections between the player and the receivers may encounter difficulties. Because PCM transmits large audio files, you’ll need to use a physical connection to efficiently transfer data from the player to the receiver.
So, if you want to take advantage of better secondary audio tracks and lower latency when using PCM, you may have to forego having a wireless connection or building a more sophisticated sound system.
When Should Bitstream Be Used?
PCM used Bitstream as its framework technology, but it doesn’t make it any better or worse. The decision to use bitstream for your sound system would be based on how you want it to work and whether different configurations can give you a competitive advantage over PCM.
It is preferable to use bitstream for audio if:
When using digital optical or coaxial, you want to take advantage of 5.1 surround sound.
- You want to improve your sound system’s ability to play high-resolution audio.
- You’re using a receiver with more audio processing power.
- You have a sound system that is decoded and processed by the receiver.
If you intend to use bitstream for programs that rely on secondary audio, you will be limited in your output. It will still work, but only in standard definition, which may not work well with a setup that uses more frequencies.
Better audio output is possible when bitstream is used, but it is not always the case. Many people will hear the same sound quality from PCM and bitstream if they do not use high-end receivers with superior processing capabilities.
As a result, when using bitstream, you may have to settle for standard resolution secondary audio if you want to take advantage of bitstream’s ability to produce high-quality audio output and wireless connection.
Also, if you want to notice a difference in the output, you may need to invest more in your sound system.
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. However, if you’ve spent a lot of money building a sophisticated sound system, bitstream will allow you to use better audio codecs.
FAQs About Bitstream vs. PCM for Audio
Should I use PCM or Bitstream on my TV?
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.
Dolby Digital or Bitstream: which is superior?
Set your AVR, preamplifier, processor, TV, soundbar, or Blu-ray player to Bitstream if you have a high-quality processor. The overall audio experience will be significantly improved. To reduce the amount of data required to produce high-quality sound, you can use the Dolby Digital codec for audio coding.
Is PCM suitable for surround sound?
PCM is a digital audio format that is used in CD, DVD, Blu-ray, and other digital audio applications. It is also known as linear pulse code modulation when used in surround-sound applications (LPCM).
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