What Is Cinema DSP and How Do You Use It?

Norvan Martin
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Choosing the right receiver is important, but choosing the right surround sound mode is equally important. The fact is, too many of us focus on the equipment but neglect the settings. Surround sound modes such as Cinema DSP are very important to consider when setting up receivers. However, most people leave their receiver set to whatever surround sound mode it was shipped with. In this article, we will explain what is Cinema DSP and how and when to use it.

Cinema DSP is a surround sound mode found in some receivers (especially Yamaha) that tries to recreate a cinematic audio experience in your home theater. It tries to recreate a similar surround sound audio performance and effects of a typical cinema.

Why Do We Need Cinema DSP?

When movies are produced, they are designed for big screens and large, complex surround sound systems found in cinemas and the large auditoriums of massive cinema multiplexes.

However, when you playback these same movies in your small home theater at home, the perceived tonal balance of the soundtrack changes. By tonal balance, we mean the perceived bass, mids, and highs in the soundtrack of the movie. 

Equalization and Perceived Tonal Balance

Because of this difference in perceived tonal balance at home vs in a cinema, most modern receivers combat this difference by way of equalization of the speakers in the room and filtering of the high frequencies.

Doing this removes the perceived treble push of a smaller and often undampened space like your living room or even your home theater for example. Of course, many people soundproof their home theater room, but not everyone does that. 

However, equalization is not enough to recreate that cinematic audio experience. This is because large cinema auditoriums have different ways to manage the reflection and reverberation of the sound. Of source, the sound will bounce around a smaller room to a smaller degree. 

For this reason, Yamaha developed Cinema Digital Soundfield Processing (DSP).

Yamaha Cinema DSP

Yamaha realized this issue early on and decided to fix it. They collected massive amounts of data from recording the real-world behavior of sound in cinemas. They then used this data to digitally recreate cinematic audio in smaller spaces using digital signal processing.

In 1985, they released the Yamaha DSP-1. Yamaha DSP-1 was a standalone processor. This processor was able to re-create cinema soundtracks as if they were being played back in a cinema.

Over 3 decades later, Yamaha introduced their Cinema DSP for all Yamaha Home Cinema Receivers. Digital signal processing technology has of course far advanced since the one from the 80’s and today can recreate a cinematic experience in a truly significant way.

How Does Yamaha Cinema DSP Work

As we have explained, Yamaha’s Cinema DSP is a feature of your Yamaha receiver that tries to reproduce the reflections and reverberations of the cinema spaces.

It does this by using 2 height speakers at the front called Front Presence Speakers. We explain further below.

How To Setup Yamaha Cinema DSP

To get the Yamaha Cinema DSP effect, you will need a Yamaha Surround Receiver with at least 7.1 channel capability.

yamaha cinema dsp 5.1 or 7.1 setup
Yamaha Cinema DSP 5.1 or 7.1 setup

However, if you have a lower-end unit, such as a 5.1 receiver, it may be able to do virtual Cinema DSP, but it’s not as effective as the full 7.1 channel system.

In the case of the 5.1 setup, the front left and right speakers will function as presence speakers. Learn more in the speaker configuration section below.

Set up all the speakers, including the additional two front speakers in the 7.1 system. These speakers will be used for the Front Presence speakers. Generally, these speakers will have lower power handling and efficiency than your main speakers. 

Yamaha Cinema DSP Speaker Configurations

As we have mentioned, Yamaha’s Cinema DSP reproduces the reflections and reverberations of a cinema by using the 2 height speakers of a 7.1 home theater system as Front Presence Speakers.

Virtual Cinema DSP

If you want to, you could also use the front left and right speakers to reproduce the sound field.

This is if you have a 5.1 surround setup. In this case, the setup would be called Virtual Cinema DSP as it is done digitally. Of course, this setup will not be as clean as a 7.1 setup. It may produce a muddy and indistinct sound, unlike the much cleaner 7.1 setup.

Cinema DSP 3D and Cinema DSP HD3

The Yamaha Cinema DSP 3D and HD3 represent the most advanced forms of Cinema DSP with the widest range of modern feature sets. 

These setups use an additional set of speakers for the back sound field called Rear Presence Speakers.

Please however note that when using these setups, the front presence speakers always take precedence. Cinema DSP 3D only can use Front Presence Speakers.

You can find the DSP 3D setup in Yamaha’s lower and mid-range receivers. How does this work? Well, in essence, the rear sound field audio data is mixed into the surround speakers.

Cinema DSP 3D only can use Front Presence Speakers. Yamaha’s lower and mid-range receivers have this version. The rear sound-field data is mixed into the surround speakers. For this reason, it works better if the surround speakers are not at ear height but at least half a meter or more above the listening plane.

Cinema DSP 3D and Cinema DSP HD3 11.1 or 11.2 Setup

Receivers of this class are capable of 7.1 or 9.1 surround channel output. For 7.1 channel receivers, the back surrounds will not output sound when the Front Presence Speakers are being used by Cinema DSP. The 9.1 channel receivers can power all 9.1 speakers at the same time.

Cinema DSP HD3 improves on 3D with two things:

  1. An additional two channels at the back (Rear Presence Speakers) only reproduce the CinemaDSP effects for additional clarity. This expands the speaker configuration to 11.1.
  2. Double the processing power to calculate more precise sound field data both in the frequency and the time domain. For example, this means that sound reflections are tracked in space for double the time than with DSP 3D providing even more clarity.

Speaker Height In Cinema DSP

Please note that because in some cases, the rear sound field audio may be mixed into the surround speakers, please ensure the surround speakers are not at ear height but at least half a meter or more above the listening plane.

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Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics. My email: [email protected]  Connect on Pinterest and Linkedin