updated 02:34 pm EST, Wed January 9, 2013
DTS impresses with surround quality audio tech
We were drawn to DTS' CES booth by the odd visual of dancers breaking it down to Usher tunes in a miniature house somewhat reminiscent of the Hollywood Squares set, but we stayed to check out the company's Headphone:X technology. DTS promises that users will be able to experience a "home theater in your pocket" by reproducing the sound experience of an 11.1 surround sound experience using only a set of headphones. You hear a lot of big claims at CES, so initially we were skeptical. We were wrong.
Our demonstration took place in a sound-isolated listening room. We and a number of other participants were first exposed to the different sound channels of an actual 11.1 system: right rear, right rear top, front center, and so forth. Then we were instructed to don a set of sub-$100 headphones. Once the headphones were on, DTS Headphone:X technology reproduced exactly the same experience with only the headphones. Right rear, right rear top, front center, and everything else sounded as though the audio was coming from whichever direction indicated.
During the demonstration, we took the headphones off once or twice just to make sure we weren't getting punk'd and DTS wasn't just playing the same audio again. We noticed a number of our fellow participants doing the same. Everyone was well amazed by how faithfully DTS' technology reproduces the feel of an actual surround sound system.
The demonstration went on to cover an intense snippet from The Hunger Games, and a musical interlude from Usher. Both sounded terrific.
According to DTS, the Headphone:X experience requires surround content to be encoded as a DTS-HD bit-stream, with room information embedded in the stream. Then, DTS' technology -- which works on PCs, tablets, and smartphones -- calibrates to the headphones in use before decoding the reference data and applying post-processing enhancement techniques to recreate the surround sound experience as it was intended. That's a long way around saying that this tech can apparently be embedded in any number of devices, so you may begin seeing DTS technology popping up in your favorite consumer tech in the near future. We're definitely excited at the possibility of surround sound quality coming out of our $50 over-the-ear cans, so we'll be keeping an eye out for DTS tech in the near future.