PCM vs Bitstream – Which Is Better? (The Truth)

Norvan Martin
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PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) and bitstream are two popular and important audio standards for transmitting audio signals.

There is a lot of confusion about which to choose depending on your audio setup because choosing the correct configuration will help in getting maximum benefits from your audio system. In this article, we will be comparing PCM vs bitstream. 

Firstly, the fact is either PCM or bitstream is capable of producing the same audio quality. The difference between the two is how your audio system will decode the compressed file which determined device compatibility and supported frequencies and frequency ranges. PCM vs Bitstream - Blu-ray Disc Player Audio Settings

For a detailed understanding of PCM vs Bitstresasm, read on. This article serves as a guide to help you understand the difference between bitstream and PCM.

It will also give you helpful insight to allow you to know which format is better for your streaming or digital purposes.

PCM vs Bitstream ComaprisonTable

Audio QualityHigh quality, represents original audio signalQuality may depend on decoding capabilities
CompressionTypically uncompressed or minimal compressionCan use various compression algorithms
CompatibilityWidely supported by various devices and platformsCompatibility may vary, decoding support required
Surround Sound SupportSupports multi-channel audio, including surround soundUsed for transmitting encoded surround sound formats
FlexibilityDirect representation of the audio waveformRequires decoding for direct manipulation
Data TransmissionTransmits audio as a continuous stream of numerical valuesTransmits encoded data, requires decoding on the receiving end
Storage SpaceResults in larger file sizes due to minimal compressionCan offer more efficient storage with compressed formats

What is PCM?

PCM is an acronym for Pulse Code Modulation, a method of converting analog signals into digital form with no compression.

A PCM stream regularly samples the amplitude of an analog signal at uniform intervals. It then uses numeric (binary) coding to quantize the signal.

That means that a PCM file is basically a series of zeros and ones interpreted from analog sound waves.

pcm pulse code modulation

PCM is common in telephone systems, CD formats, Keyboard pianos, computer audio, digital videos, and CD formats. It is a two-channel format and so if you see your receiver display PCM, that means it’s getting 2 channel PCM audio from the source. For example, Yamaha receivers are known for displaying PCM when Dolby Digital or DTS is not available.

It helps to record a movie soundtrack or musical data without occupying much space. To help you understand this, compare the size of a vinyl record to a CD.

PCM Audio in Home Theater

DVDs, CDs, and Blu-ray disc players use linear plus code modulation (LPCM). This type of PCM file has a variety of digital audio applications. Some may also use a special CD format called SACD stored as DSD. To learn more, check out our article on PCM vs DSD.

More importantly, you can transfer it from the disc to your home theater system in two ways:

  • Through HDMI connection

While PCM is a digital interpretation of analog signals, you can listen to the audio data by using the signal in its digital form. To do that, you will need to send the signal to your home theater through a digital coaxial, digital optical or HDMI connection.

For the home theater system to allow you to enjoy the audio, the receiver converts the signal back in analog form.  That’s because the human ear can only interpret analog audio signals. For this reason, the digital audio data has to be converted before sending it to the speakers and amplifier.

  • Through analog audio connections

For an analog connection, the Blu-ray Disc, DVD, or CD player can internally convert the PCM signal into analog form. That will allow you to transfer the re-created analog signal to a stereo receiver or a home theater system through a standard analog audio cable.

In this scenario, the stereo receiver doesn’t perform an additional conversion for you to hear the audio. This type of connection is available in most CD players, though some of them can also transfer digital signals through an HDMI connection.

What is Bitstream?

Bitstream (also known as Binary sequence) is a sequence of information bits represented by 0’s and 1’s. This digital information series is suitable for networking, PC, and audio applications.

In audio applications, bitstream converts audio data into digital information bits and transfers it to a receiver.

This method of transferring data is common in home theater systems that create specific surround sound formats like Dolby Digital, DTS:X, Atmos, TrueHD, DTS HD-Master Audio, and others.

Bitstream Use In Home Theaters

In home theater systems, bitstream basically involves transferring encoded sound signals from a source device to a compatible receiver or AV processor/ power amplifier.

These audio signals are usually available in various surround sound formats.

The receiver detects the encoded surround sound formats and proceeds to decode the information according to the instructions embedded in the bitstream signal.  It further adds additional post-processing and converts the signal into analog form. That allows the system to amplify the sound and send it to the speakers for you to hear it.

A bitstream process starts with the sound mixer and content creator. The content creator must decide the surround sound format to use for recording a live transmission. The sound mixer/ engineer then proceeds to encode the audio in bits corresponding to the chosen format.

After the process is complete, the digital bits are placed on a satellite or cable service, embedded in a live transmission, or saved on a disc (Blu-ray, UHD Blu-ray, and DVD). When it comes to playing the audio, the required bitstream is sent from the source device to the home theater receiver using a physical connection.

That includes HDMI, digital coaxial and digital optical cable. It can also be sent wirelessly to your home network through an antenna.

The receiver then decodes the digital bits according to the assigned channels and sends the signal to the amplifiers. That allows the listener to hear the audio from the loudspeakers.

The Difference Between PCM and Bitstream

pcm vs bitstream

Similarities Between PCM and Bitstream

While PCM and bitstream are very different, these two settings are very similar when applied in audio production.

pcm bitstream and dolby digital

Here are several similarities that are worth noting before you can decide which option is best for you:

  • They both have a great sound quality
  • You can play both PCM and bitstream files in most DVDs and Blu-ray disc players
  • Both signals need to be converted into analog form to be heard through the speakers.

Bitstream Or PCM For Soundbars

Bitstream Or Pcm For Vizio Soundbar

Firstly, you shouldn’t hear a difference between PCM and bitstream from your Vizio soundbar. With PCM your TV (or PS5, XBox, etc) would decode the signal and send the raw data to your soundbar and it would play it.

On the other hand, with Bitstream, the TV will split out the encoded signal and the soundbar will do the decoding. If your Vizio soundbar supports Dolby Digital or DTS or some form of surround sound, set it to Bitstream, otherwise, set it to PCM.

Bitstream Or PCM For Sonos Soundbar

If your Sonos soundbar supports surround sound, set it to Bitstream. ith Bitstream transmission, the source device (TV, XBox, etc) will transmit compressed surround sound audio to the soundbar. If the soundbar does not support surround sound (e.g Dolby or DTS), then set it to PCM.

PCM Or Bitstream For Bose Soundbar

Most Bose soundbars support surround sound and so it is generally OK to set them to Bitstream. With Bitstream transmission, the source device (TV, XBox, etc) will transmit compressed surround sound audio to the soundbar.

For example, for the Bose Soundbar 700, bitstream gives you the best sound, but many people also like to use DTS or Dolby. In any case, Arc One Optical supports a higher bandwidth than optical and so that is a good choice too.

If the soundbar does not support surround sound (e.g Dolby or DTS), then set it to PCM.

Bitstream Or PCM For LG Soundbar

Many LG soundbars support surround sound and so it is generally OK to set them to Bitstream. With Bitstream transmission, the source device (TV, XBox, etc) will transmit compressed surround sound audio to the soundbar.

If the soundbar does not support surround sound (e.g Dolby or DTS), then set it to PCM.

Bitstream Or PCM For Samsung Soundbar

Most Samsung soundbars support surround sound and so it is generally OK to set them to Bitstream. With Bitstream transmission, the source device (TV, XBox, etc) will transmit compressed surround sound audio to the soundbar.

If the soundbar does not support surround sound (e.g Dolby or DTS), then set it to PCM.

Pcm Or Bitstream For 2.1 Soundbar

If you have a 2.1 soundbar, you should set it to PCM and not Bitstream. With Bitstream transmission, the source device (TV, XBox, etc) will transmit compressed audio to the 2.1 soundbar.

However, this is surround sound audio which a 2.1 soundbar cannot play properly. 2.1 soundbars cannot encode surround sound formats.

PCM vs Bitstream Samsung TV

The audio output on your Samsung can be set to either PCM or Bitstream. If you have output devices such as a soundbar, home theatre system, or headphones, then you should choose Bitstream. 

If Bitstream is selected but no home theatre system or soundbar is attached, the TV will process the audio as well as output it. This can lead to a loss in audio quality or a reduction in volume. When using the TV speakers, it is recommended that you use PCM audio format.

PCM or Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital® is a multi-channel audio format used for home theatres, film audio, and other comparable applications. Because Dolby Digital has various formats, it employs left, right, and center channels

PCM or Dolby Digital

Most people consider PCM to be inferior to Dolby Digital in terms of technical specifications because it has fewer channels. However, this is not necessarily true. 

When comparing the sound quality of PCM vs Dolby Digital, you must consider if you want uncompressed or compressed audio. The first choice is direct stereo, while the second gives many formatting options as well as additional compression. (Note that PCM is uncompressed Audio while Dolby is compressed Audio)

The objective should be to match the input to your television. If you’re watching a DVD on a regular player, the PCM setting may be the best option.

The audio format used by HD television stations is frequently Dolby Digital. This option provides up to 5.1 channels of audio for your listening pleasure. If you have such equipment, you’ll be able to take full advantage of this audio format. 

However, If your only source of entertainment is the television speakers, the PCM setting is the best choice because it does not compress the sound.

PCM vs Bitstream PS4

There are two possible audio formats to select from for your Ps4, PCM and Bitstream (DTS). Bitstream (DTS) is ideal for watching movies or listening to music, whereas PCM is ideal for games.

Thus, the best audio format for your Ps4 is PCM. However, some gamers tend to switch between the two formats when playing games. 

What is PCM Audio on a TV?

A television’s PCM audio feature allows it to convert an analog signal into a digital signal. This is a standard function on most televisions and other electronic gadgets with audio functionality. 

The PCM process includes sampling the signal at regular intervals in order to determine its bit depth before encoding it as a binary code.

The Bottom Line

So that’s it, the difference between bitstream and PCM. To reiterate, while audio signals are produced in different ways in both cases, there is no audible difference between Bitstream and PCM files.

However, bitstream files are encoded to give you a surround sound experience when using a compatible media player. On the other hand, most audio players only support the PCM format while transmitting sound. That means you should check your device’s compatibility when choosing between the two. We hope we sufficiently answered your question what is the difference between PCM and Bitstream. If you are more interested in Linear PCM or LPCM, check out our article on LPCM vs Bitstream.

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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