Product Review (January 2005) - DTS Technology's
DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder Software

Digital Theater Systems (DTS) is more than just a household name in the multi-channel audio industry. The company was founded back in 1990 and within a few years became one of three theatrical digital audio formats. Those who heard DTS for the first time were impressed with the audio quality, which was commercially introduced in 1993 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurrasic Park. Soon after, DTS audio appeared on laserdiscs and videophiles had reference quality 5.1 sound to compliment their picture. In 1997, when DVD-Video was launched, DTS was not included as part of the mandated audio formats and Dolby Digital got a head start with what became the most successful video format in history. Regardless, DTS was determined to get their format on DVD-Video and within a relatively short time, DTS audio began appearing on many of the major hollywood releases. This would not have happened if DTS was not successful in getting their technology into consumer hardware. This included DVD players recognizing the DTS audio packets as well as home theater receivers and processors being able to decode it. Initially, most of the home theater products only carried Dolby Digital capabilities, but as the demand for DTS increased, mainstream products began including the technology. As processors became more powerful both technologies were integrated into a single chip. Since then, DTS has become a standard for virtually all home theater and multi-channel audio products. Now DTS is available in a wide variety of A/V products including 5.1 encoded CDs, DVD-Audio, DVD-Video and a select number of high definition D-VHS tapes released from Fox Home Entertainment. We've listened to a few of these new DTS encoded D-VHS tapes recorded in the full 1.5 Mb/s data rate and we can confirm that the audio quality is superb.

Encoding DTS technology onto CD or DVD media has traditionally required an expensive DTS hardware encoder or plug-ins for professional audio software packages such as Steinberg's Nuendo. DTS has recently introduced their new Pro Series Surround Encoder software for audio professionals who want to use their digital audio workstations to create multi-channel DTS recordings. In addition, this package includes the first commercially-available solution for encoding high quality DTS 96/24 and DTS-ES 6.1 discrete soundtracks. Using the new DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder, users can create their own multi-channel DTS encoded files by simply defining the input files and surround configuration. It should be noted that this software is strictly an encoder and does not do any additional audio processing. The user interface is intuitive and very simple to use. According to DTS, Peter Gabriel is the first artist to use the DTS Pro Series 6.1 Surround Encoder on an upcoming project from Warner Vision International. This software uses the same high-quality compression algorithms that has made DTS so popular among audiophiles and movie goers.

The package includes a single install disc that supports both MAC OS X and PC Windows™ platforms. The installation consists of three software components (Java virtual machine or update, Runtime for the WIBU adapter dongle, and the Pro Series Surround Encoder software). When the software is installed, three icons, which include the Pro Packer, Pro Installer, and Pro Encrypter utility are created.

DTS Packer
Creating a DTS encoded file is a simple two-step process that requires the user to first create a packed agm file. The file is created using the Packer program that selects the individual audio files corresponding to each individual channel. The DTS Packer program generates a single agm data file from the multiple audio tracks. The user defines the Front channels, Back channels and whether the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel is used. Playback formats include 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, 3.1, 4.0, 4.1, 5.0, 5,1, DTS-ES 5.1 Matrix, and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete. When encoding DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete channels the software requires 48 kHz or 44.1 kHz sample rates for the source files. Each of the active channels are displayed with the corresponding File Name, Sample Rate, Bit Depth and Track Lengh. If the Sample Rate defined by the user does not match the sample rate of the input audio file, a red outline will appear around the corresponding file Sample Rate. Also, if the file Track Lengh differs from any of the other input files, the corresponding file Track Length will also have a red outline around it as seen in our test case. The user can define the Frame Rate by selecting 24, 25, 29.97 drop, 29.97 non-drop and 30. The estimated output file size is also displayed at the bottom of the screen, which was almost 400MB in our test case with 5.1 96/24 channels. A 3dB Rear Channel Attenuation checkbox can also be selected by the user. When using an 88.2 kHz sample rate, the software only allows stereo tracks. Three bit rates that include 754 kb/s, 1.235 kb/s and 1.509 kb/s are available. Data sampled at 44.1 kHz or 88.2 kHz for multi-channel audio CDs must be encoded at 1.235 kb/s. Data sampled at 48 kHz or 96 kHz for DVD can be encoded at 754 kb/s or 1.509 Mb/s. The 1.509 Mb/s data rate fully supports 96/24 audio channels for superior fidelity. Once the files are defined, the user can select Pack or Pack and Encode to generate the agm file for the Encoder. The latter option automatically launches the Encoder once the packing is complete.

DTS Encoder
Once the packed agm file is created, the Encoder program is used to generate the DTS file. The DTS Encoder program accepts the single agm file created by the Packer program and generates an encoded DTS output file (wav, dts or cpt) defined by the user. The DTS Wave Format (wav) uses an Intel byte order and wav header. The Padded Format (dts) is a raw file with no header information and zero padding to fill frames. The Compact Format (cpt) uses a Motorola byte order with the timecode removed and a start time present. The cpt format is needed for the Apple DVD Studio Pro V3.0 software. The wav format is typically used for 5.1 or 6.1 music surround discs where no video is present. The dts and cpt formats are used for DVD authoring. DTS recommends users read the DVD Authoring for DTS document for those interested in creating DTS DVDs.
Based on the source file packing options, the sample rate, channel configuration and bit depth are displayed. The user has the option of encoding the entire source file by checking the Whole Source File checkbox or a portion of the file defined by the Source Start Time and Source End Time. The user can set the Dialog Normalization value at this point to set the metdata used to control the playback level of the decoding equipment. It has no effect on the encode or decode process.

DTS Encrypter
The DTS Pro Encrypter application is included with the DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder package and gives the user the ability to encrypt a packed DTS agm file. This allows the user to transmit the packed file over an unsecured network without worrying about it being intercepted by an unauthorized party. The software requires the user to enter a password consisting of at least eight characters. The process takes a little more than a minute to process depending on the speed of the computer being used. The same application is used to decrypt the encrypted file and is automatically recognized by the software based on the file extension.

Creating Surround Mixes
The DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder does not include any capabilities for creating surround mixes. It is strictly used to convert your final multi-channel audio files to a single DTS encoded bitstream. We created some of our own 5.1 recordings using Steinberg's Wavelab 5 and Cakewalk's SONAR 4 software. Multi-channel surround processing can be difficult and these products offer a full array of features for those who need to control their mixes. Once the source files were created, we used the Pro Series Surround Encoder software to pack and encode the files. All of our source files were 16-bit sampled at 44.1 kHz. The packing/encode process was simple and fast and created a single WAV file for the final CD burn.

Since our dated Parasound AVC-2500u preamplifier does not have the capability to decode some of the newer DTS formats, we decided to encode our sample files using the standard DTS 5.1 format for CD at 1.235 kb/s. Using our Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD player, we loaded up the newly recorded disc on our system and it worked perfectly. The fidelity was excellent with each channel matching the original source file with no noticeable degradation. Unfortunately, we didn't have the resources to create a multi-channel DTS DVD.

Conclusion
The DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder is a no-frills software package that allows users to create DTS encoded bitstreams for both CD and DVD authoring. The software includes the Pro Packer, Pro Encoder and Pro Encrypter, each of which work as advertised. We found the software easy to use and quite intuitive. Whether you need DTS Digital Surround 5.1, DTS-ES 6.1, DTS 96/24 or DTS for DVD-Video, the DTS Pro Series Surround Encoder is a simple way to get your audio mixes into the DTS format.

DTS also offers the Pro Series Network Encoder for multi-user facilities that is designed to deliver seamless integration with Xserve RAID systems with up to 99 users on either Mac or Windows workstations.

- Kevin Nakano







OneCall: Your Home Theater, Digital Camera, and HDTV Experts



Review System

Projector: Optoma H77 High-Definition HD2+ DLP™ Projector
Screen: Stewart Filmscreen 100" FireHawk Screen on a Luxus Deluxe ScreenWall
Video Processor/Scaler: Anchor Bay Technologies DVDO iScan HD A/V Processor
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer

D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables
DVI Cable: Monster Cable M Series M500DVI DVI-D Cable
Power Conditioning: Panamax MAX® 5510 ACRegenerator
Desktop PC - Sony VAIO PCV-RX550 1.5 GHz, Windows XP Home


Review - At a Glance


DTS - Pro Series Surround Encoder Software

Features

  • 44.1k for use on CDs
  • 88.2k for even higher quality on CDs
  • 48k for DVD-Video
  • 96k for the highest resolution on DVD-Video
  • 764kbps bit rate for the best balance of quality when optimizing bit budget
  • 1.5Mbps bit rate when the goal is highest quality possible
  • 1.235Mbps for multi-channel music CDs

    System Requirements

    Apple Computer

  • Power PC G4 or higher (Dual Processor G5 recommended
  • 256 MB RAM
  • One hard drive, 7200 RPM minimum
  • 100 MB free disk space
  • Greater than 20 GB recommended for audio files
  • USB port for the license adapter (dongle)
  • OS X version 10.2.8 or higher with Java Runtime Environment version 1.4.0 or higher

    PC Computer

  • Pentium 4, 1 GHz or higher (recommended)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • One hard drive, 7200 RPM minimum
  • 200 MB free disk space
  • Greater than 20 GB recommended for audio files
  • USB port for the license adapter (dongle)
  • Windows XP Home Edition or XP Professional (SP1)


    Company Information
    DTS
    5171 Clareton Drive
    Agoura Hills, CA 91301
    Ph: 818-706-3525
    Fax: 818-706-1868

    Website: http://www.dtsonline.com

    Pro Series Surround Encoder
    MSRP: $1199

    Pro Series Network Encoder
    MSRP: $8300

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