Big Picture Big Sound

DTS Goes to 11(.1)... Again, with Neo:X

By Chris Chiarella

DTS Digital Entertainment continues to push the frontiers of high-quality audio in multiple directions, be it the increased resolution of 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundtracks on Blu-ray, the clarity of compressed and streamed music and video, and yes, increasing the number of channels to create an even more immersive soundfield. DTS Neo:X 11.1 was their big story at CES, and a working demo confirmed what all the fuss is about.

(Editor's Note: We first reported on Neo:X way back at CES 2009.)

Following a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 presentation of Fox's Ice Age 3D to warm us up (so to speak), the mistress of ceremonies played a pair of 11.1 clips behind closed, soundproofed doors on the show floor in South Hall. The first was a live-action segment of avant-garde musicians Patrick Leonard and Diego Stocco at work in the studio, creating some pretty wild tunes. Up next was a high-concept animated trailer with some very bold effects. Both were in 3D, and Neo:X is being touted as a perfect complement to three-dimensional video, as it too provides a major stride forward in home theater realism.

Neo:X builds upon the common 5.1 model by adding side, front-height and wide channels. Although the demos were specially recorded and mixed for 11.1, the DTS Neo:X technology is designed to convert everything from 2.0 thru 9.1 up to 11.1-channel goodness. This means a clear center channel for dialogue amid a stronger front soundstage for movies, a more transportative (not a word) musical experience, and enhanced directionality in interactive games. The DTS representatives were a little vague about exactly how discrete 11.1 could be delivered on formats such as Blu-ray, which is spec'd for up to 7.1, so we're not entirely sure if it can be piggybacked onto a more traditional DTS-HD Master Audio track, for example.

Lots to see (and hear) at the DTS booth.

This new technology is also an invitation to musicians and sound designers to flex their creativity as never before possible, crafting soundscapes that simply weren't possible with traditional 5.1. There's not only a clearer sense of "above" and "below" sound now, but even the subtle resonances such as reflections off of the ceiling that we take for granted with live audio can now be reproduced in 11.1.

DTS Neo:X has been developed for consumer use, not for theatrical exhibition, and final products featuring the technology are expected to begin shipping in the second quarter of this year. Lots of speakers (more than ten total, if I counted correctly) are required, so some consumer resistance is expected. But we are talking about the high end here.

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Chiarella
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