Linear PCM vs Dolby/DTS

Norvan Martin
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When comparing the sound quality of PCM and Dolby Digital, you must decide if you need uncompressed or compressed audio output. The first choice will give you straight stereo, while the second offers many formatting options and additional compression.

Because of the settings on modern TVs, it is not uncommon to see arguments about which is better between Dolby Digital and PCM audio. As a result, this article will examine where each of these two audio formats excels and where they do not.

Linear PCM (native PCM) or Linear Pulse Code Modulation is a type of pulse code modulation that samples sound waves by measuring the actual wave at each sample point.

Dolby Digital and DTS, on the other hand, are audio compression technologies that provide surround sound codecs for 5.1, 6.1 (rare), and 7.1 setups. They utilize “perceptual” data reduction techniques to remove unnecessary data in the PCM signal output and thus preserve high-fidelity sound. They save space either on the disc (Blu-Ray and DVDs) or on streaming bandwidth for services like Netflix.

Read on to learn more about Linear PCM vs. Dolby/DTS.

Linear PCM vs Dolby/DTS Comparison Table

CriteriaLinear PCMDolby/DTS
Audio QualityHighHigh (with compression)
CompressionUncompressedLossy Compression
Bitrate and Data RateVariesVaries
Surround Sound SupportBasicAdvanced (e.g., Dolby Atmos, DTS:X)
Device SupportCommonCommon
Flexibility and VersatilityGenericVarious Encoding Options
Encoding and Decoding ComplexityStraightforwardMay Involve Additional Processing
Streaming and Broadcasting SupportCommonCommon


What Is Linear PCM?

  • Linear PCM is an uncompressed digital representation of a sound that has been recorded. It contains all the information from the original audio signal, which makes it very large and not ideal for digital storage. It should be noted that Linear PCM is synonymous with LPCM and PCM.
  • PCM is one way to digitally encode sampled analog signals. It is the uncompressed version in most digital audio chains and systems that have been decoded and uncompressed before they reach the DAC.
  • Any processing that takes place results in a stream of PCM output data. A typical PCM audio stream can have as many channels as needed to make it more interesting and fuller (it can have up to 10 channels).

What Is Dolby Atmos?

  • Atmos is one of Dolby Labs’ surround sound technologies designed to enhance the audio quality of your movie or TV show. It uses a unique method to encode spatial information, making sounds more immersive than other formats.
  • The sound mixer doesn’t assign sound elements to individual channels or speakers. Instead, it positions them in 3D spaces (this is where the spatial coding process comes in).
  • Because Dolby Atmos is object-based rather than channel-based, it offers superior surround sound compared to channel-based audio. However, suitable speakers are still required to deliver these results.
  • A typical Dolby Atmos data set is stored in metadata, which is then delivered through a Blu-ray disc or a streaming device. An AV processor or receiver then distributes spatial information based on the number of channels and speakers available.

Linear PCM Vs Dolby

  • Sampled analog signals can be digitally represented using either pulse-code modulation (PCM) or the Dolby Digital codec. PCM is the standard form of digital audio in computers, CDs, digital telephony, and other digital applications.
  • Dolby is a lossless audio codec format. In Dolby Digital, the signal is decoded, processed, and uncompressed after being received from the source. The result is a PCM stream with the required number of channels, ready to be fed to the DAC.
  • To fit more data into the same bandwidth, Dolby compresses the PCM stream without compromising signal quality.
  • Dolby is a superior audio processing option because it allows you to choose how the audio is delivered. However, the best results are achieved with a surround system that delivers a full and immersive Dolby output experience.
  • If you want to hear the audio exactly as it was recorded and you don’t have a surround system, PCM is the better option. You can still achieve an immersive sound from your TV speakers in PCM mode.

“If you are interested in learning about regular PCM vs Dolby Digital, check out this guide

Linear PCM Vs Dolby Vs DTS PS4

On most game consoles, PCM is the default audio setting. This is because the audio is taken directly from the console and is not compressed. Linear PCM supports 5.1 or 7.1 signals, which most modern sound systems support.

While other audio formats (such as DTS) might be preferable for watching movies or streaming your favorite Netflix series, compressed audio formats might degrade the sound quality of a demanding game played on the PS4.

For the PlayStation 4, PCM is the best audio format to use. It doesn’t require any additional processing, and the audio isn’t compressed.

DTS and Dolby Digital are both compressed formats that necessitate additional processing. If you choose DTS as your default, you’ll need a TOSLINK adapter, while PCM will deliver sound directly from your console.

Linear PCM Vs Dolby Vs DTS Ps5

The new PS5 supports PCM, Bitstream (DTS), and Dolby Digital audio formats, giving you a plethora of options for sound quality.

Linear PCM is the default audio format for the PlayStation 5 and is the best audio format for most users, whether they have a regular or a high-end sound system or soundbar. It utilizes uncompressed audio data and has no audio delay.

Video game producers use Linear PCM audio in their games. Thus, if you wish to play games on your PS5 the way the game studio intended, use Linear PCM.

DTS uses compressed audio data, making it the second-best audio format on the PS5. However, since the PS5 compresses the audio data, there’s a slight delay in audio production.

To improve audio quality, Dolby compresses the audio data. If your audio device supports it, you can choose this option to experience Dolby surround sound. The downside is potential audio delays during gameplay. However, if you’re playing on a PS5 at 30 frames per second, it won’t make much difference.

Linear PCM Vs Dolby Vs DTS PS5 Headset

With quality headphones, the new PS5 setting offers a 3D Audio experience with Linear PCM as the default option.

According to a recent Sony blog post, you’ll need an appropriate headset to utilize these formats because built-in TV speakers don’t yet support them. This option functions similarly to other PS5 audio format options, with Linear PCM being the top choice.

Linear PCM Vs DTS

Linear PCM is uncompressed digital audio delivered over optical, coaxial, or HDMI. Through HDMI, it can be stereo or multichannel, giving it an advantage over DTS in the same scenarios since DTS uses lossy compression.

But if you lack HDMI and only have coaxial or optical and still desire multi-channel surround, DTS is the best option.


The debate over Linear PCM vs. Dolby format has validity, especially from an audiophile’s perspective. Most users simply want their system to produce the highest sound quality possible. That’s why Dolby Digital often emerges victorious in such discussions because it has more channels.

However, if you don’t have access to those channels at home, PCM is the runner-up. Most modern televisions come with an automated setting, so users don’t have to fuss about configuration.

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Norvan Martin is the founder of 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