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DVD Sound Formats Explained

Last Updated on Monday, November 27th, 2006 11:30 AM

When the DVD was introduced as a home video format, one of the major advantages it had over VHS cassette tapes was superior sound capability. Discrete multi-channel sound was now possible (a feature enjoyed by the LaserDisc format, which never reached widespread mainstream acceptance), offering six individual channels of sound:

  1. Front Left
  2. Front Center
  3. Front Right
  4. Surround Left
  5. Surround Right
  6. Low Frequency Effects (LFE)
Since the sixth channel (LFE) is used low frequency effects only (explosions, thunder, etc.), it is not a full-range channel like the other five. Therefore, the above list is referred to as a 5.1 channel arrangement (five full range channels plus an additional limited range channel).

Later, an additional channel of sound was possible for a Rear Surround channel. This channel was implemented differently by the two companies that were offering sound encoding for DVD: Dolby and DTS. Both companies provide sound technology for theatrical movie releases (read more about the Digital Sound Formats).

Below is a summary of the sound formats that you will find on most DVD titles.

 Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital is the multi-channel sound technology used on most all DVDs. It is capable of delivering 5.1 channels of sound, with five full-bandwidth channels with 3 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range for Front Left and Right, Center, and Surround, plus one "Low Frequency Effects" (LFE) subwoofer channel devoted to frequencies from 3 to 120 Hz.

On DVD, Dolby Digital is limited to a bit rate of 448 kbps.

For more information, visit the Dolby web site: "Dolby Digital"

 Dolby Digital EX

Dolby Digital EX is an extension of Dolby Digital which provides for an additional rear surround channel of sound to be encoded into the Dolby Digital soundtrack.

This additional channel is matrixed into the left and right surround channels, and is therefore not a discrete channel. Not all movies are encoded with a Dolby Digital EX soundtrack.

For more information, visit the Dolby web site: "Dolby Digital EX"


DTS Digital Surround delivers 5.1 channels of sound, using a bitrate of up to 1.5 Mbps. Many reviewers hold DTS Digital Surround in higher regard than Dolby Digital, citing greater range and better transmission of nuances in the sound mix.

You can search for DVD titles that feature DTS Digital Surround by using the DVD Search tool on the DTS web site. 

For more information about creating an optimum DTS system, please visit the DTS web site: Creating a DTS Environment 


DTS Digital ES expands upon DTS Digital Surround by adding a discrete sixth channel for Rear Surround, forming a true 6.1 channel experience.

As of November 2006, just 84 DVD titles were authored with DTS Digital ES. You can search for a list of movies with their DVD Search tool and select "6.1 ES" under Technology

Most DVD titles have a Setup menu selection where you can select the sound format you would like to have played during the movie. When both Dolby Digital and DTS are available, usually Dolby Digital is selected by default to be compatible with the most home theater systems.

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