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Is PCM Better or Worse Than Dolby Digital – The Truth

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Last Updated on January 7, 2023 by Norvan Martin

People crave high-resolution audio production which is made possible by digital audio recordings and compression and transmission technologies. Over the years, many of these systems have evolved from simple stereo to surround sound systems. Two such technologies are PCM and Dolby Digital. In this article, we will discuss whether PCM is better or worse than Dolby Digital.

Dolby Digital is an audio compression technology that produces surround sound in cinemas as well as homes. PCM is the regular method for converting analog audio into digital audio. It works with two-channel digital, stereo audio tracks.

Dolby Digital is better for surround sound systems such as a 5.1 home theater because it has more channels while PCM is better for stereo because it only has left and right stereo channels e.g it may be used for playing a CD/DVD through a stereo soundbar or regular stereo speaker.

Let’s get into more details.

What Is PCM

Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) is the standard form of digital audio in digital telephony, compact discs, computers, and other digital audio applications. 

It is the primary method of digitally representing sampled analog signals. It carries stereo (left and right audio) and so has no surround sound capabilities.  For example, if you connect your Yamaha receive to say a CD or DVD player, it will say PCM. This means it is getting a stereo signal from the CD/DVD player.


In every PCM signal stream, the amplitude of the analog audio signal is regularly sampled at uniform intervals and each sample is quantized to the nearest value in a particular range of digital steps. 

Generally, PMC audio recordings are commercially available in 16-bit or 24-bit, and the sample rates range from 44.1KHz to 192kHz. 

What Is Dolby Digital

Originally referred to as Dolby Stereo Digital until 1995, Dolby Digital is a family of audio compression technologies fully developed by Dolby Laboratories.

What Is Dolby Digital

Dolby Digital contains up to six discrete channels of sound. The most commonly used mode involves five channels for standard range speakers (20 Hz – 20,000Hz) (right, center, left, right surround, left surround) and one channel (20 Hz – 120 Hz allotted audio) for the subwoofer-driven low-frequency effects.

Also, Dolby Digital supports mono and stereo modes with AC-3 supporting audio samples up to 48 kHz.    

Is PCM Better or Worse Than Dolby Digital?

As we already mentioned, Pulse-Code Modulation is typically the method used to convert analog audio into digital audio. For instance, if you have a DVD that shows PCM labels, it means that the device is a two-channel stereo digital audio track. 

On the other hand, Dolby Digital is built for multi-channel applications such as surround sound for home theaters and film audio. It uses a combination of right, left, and center channels with several formats. For instance, if you have a Dolby 5.1, it means you have five tracks and a subwoofer. 

Technically, most people consider having Dolby Digital over PCM just because PCM has fewer channels. 

However, when comparing PCM vs. Dolby Digital for sound quality, the idea is whether you prefer uncompressed or compressed audio. The question about PCM being better or worse than Dolby Digital is brought about by the modern TV settings that choose between the two. 

Which One Is Better For Your Current Setup?

Understanding which one is better begins with the understanding of how to match what the input offers to your television. For instance, if you play the video through a DVD on a standard player, PCM becomes your best choice. 

On the other hand, if you have an HD TV station, Dolby Digital is the best choice as the audio formatting of the station is always in Dolby Digital structure, which delivers up to 5.1 channels. And, if you have the right equipment at home, you will be able to reap the full benefits of Dolby Digital technology. However, if you only have television speakers to play your audio, it is better to use PCM as it lacks compression.

You’ll, therefore, more likely to hear muted tones, and the audio is less clear when you try using Dolby with your TV speakers. However, you can still maximize the audio in either PCM or Dolby Digital format using your TV’s ARC support. 

How To Change The Audio Format On Your Television

Consider the input and output types you intend to use before you can configure your TV settings to maximize your home theater settings.

The input such as a set box, satellite receiver, game console, cable box, DVD player, or Blu-ray player sends both audio and video signals to your TV. Also, a computer becomes an input device when routed to your TV. 

On the other hand, the output is what the device receives from your TV, such as audio signals playing through the speakers. You can also use the output to send sound signals to soundbars, headphones, or surround sound speakers. 

The audio setting format you choose depends on the device that receives the input signal. Depending on what your TV offers, you should be able to select either PCM or Dolby Digital. When you choose HDMI input in your TV’s set up menu, for instance, you get PCM or Bitstream as your options. 

If you only have your TV speakers and can only listen to two-channel sound output, choose the first option – PCM. However, if you plan to have the audio processed through a home theater system or soundbar after it is output by the television, you should select bitstream. Bitstream delivers a multi-channel effect similar to the Dolby Digital format. 

However, some televisions do not have the bitstream option as they cannot deliver Dolby Digital output. Please refer to your user manual to check which options are available with your TV set. 

Select The Best Digital Output Setting For Your Setup

We already mentioned that the audio format you choose for your TV to output depends on the input devices connected to your TV. Please consult the user manuals for each input device to be sure of what they deliver. If you are playing from a home theater system, you may have to create different settings as opposed to when you use high-quality headphones. 

Also, you may choose not to connect anything to your TV, such as a soundbar. If this is the case, you will have to set your TV to PCM as the TV speakers work better with PCM. Although you can choose the alternative format, you will suffer volume problems, audio loss, or similar issues.

For the best audio experience, set the Tv to the highest mode your equipment can support. If your setup requires more than 5.1 channels, it is better to use HDMI ARC as you won’t get the correct output with an optical cable. 

What If I See Unselectable Options On My TV?

Sometimes you see some choices grayed on the menu, and you cannot select them. This means that the audio output formats are not available due to the current content sent to the input of your TV, app settings, or the needs of your home theater equipment. 

You will only be able to select the options that are supported by your input and output. Generally, it would be best if you only used PCM when your input or output equipment does not support Dolby Digital or is incompatible with Dolby or higher settings. 

Some of the other settings you might get over PCM and Dolby Digital include an automatic environment, DTS, or Dolby Digital Plus. They offer much better sound quality and support more channels. For instance, if your output requires Dolby Atmos, you should set up your TV to an automatic setting. 

Is PCM Better Than Dolby Digital Plus

This is a common question among people who want the best sound system for their TV or home entertainment system.

When using Pulse-code Modulation (PCM), you are converting analog signals into digital signals. This enables it to pass through the digital communication network of your home entertainment systems, such as music playback CDs and DVDs.

Therefore, PCM is the original recorded digital audio, and the output is similar to the binary sequence of 0’s and 1’s. 

On the other hand, Dolby Digital, also known as Dolby AC-3, is an audio compression technology developed by Dolby Laboratories to reduce the amount of data needed to produce high-quality sound. Dolby Digital offers five full-bandwidth channels – from left, right, center, surround left, and surround right-to deliver true surround sound quality. 

While both PCM and Dolby Digital offer high-quality sound, Dolby Digital produces compressed audio, which produces a lossy audio format. This means that some of the audio signals that are not perceived by the ear are deleted in the compression process to make the signal much easier to convert over the internet. 

Although this difference may not be evident to many, true music lovers choose PCM over Dolby because it is uncompressed and delivers a more affluent, lossless sound. However, it is easier to adjust your audio settings to PCN with the ChairSpeaker and the optical cable to connect to your TV.

Best Televisions To Use For Your PCM Or Dolby Digital Sound

1.      LG NanoCell 85 Series 75-Inch TV

With a NanoCell display and over 8.3 million active pixels, this TV gives you four times the standard HD resolution that revamps your viewing experience when combined with the audio properties of Dolby Digital. 

The TV also works best with PCM settings, and you can quickly improve your backlight balance with the local dimming feature. Also, it comes with an artificial intelligence platform, upscaling, and delivers more impressive audio with automatic settings. 

2.      TCL 75-inch 5-Series 4K UHD TV

This TV comes with QLED technology and a Roku app for instant streaming. You can also add voice controls such as Alexa to the TV. 

The TCL delivers impressive picture clarity with Dolby Vision HDR and has one eARC input and three HDMI options. 

3.      SunBrite TV 55-Inch 4K UHD

The SunBrite TV is designed to handle all weather conditions. It is built with aluminum to guard against extreme temperature changes, snow, and even insects. It comes with three HDMI and one HDMI ARC. 

4.      KUVASONG 55-Inch SunReadable Television

This waterproof KUVASONG TV delivers 1,500 nits for an authentic viewing experience. It comes with UHD HDR with 4K brilliance and has a built-in soundbar to enhance your sound experience. 

Does PCM Sound Better Than Dolby Digital?

Pulse-Code Modulation (also known as PCM) is a common method used to convert analog audio signals into digital variants. PCM audio works via a two-channel stereo to produce digital audio signals, while most Dolby digital audio is in a six-channel format.

If you asked the average audiophile to make a choice, most people would pick Dolby Digital over PCM for the best sound quality.

Is PCM The Same As Dolby Digital?

Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) and Dolby Digital are two distinct kinds of digital audio signals. PCM is the process used to convert analog audio signals into digital variants. If you are interested in linear PCM and Dolby DTS, check out our guide on linear PCM vs Dolby/DTS.

Why is Dolby louder than PCM?

Dolby Digital is known to produce audio signals which are considerably louder than their PCM counterparts. The reason for this is a unique feature built into the Dolby digital design called Dialog Normalization.

What Is The PCM Setting On TV?

PCM stands for “pulse-code modulation”, the purpose of this setting is to streamline the sound you’re listening to. It was created to be used with an external device connected to your TV via the HDMI terminal.

How Do You Change The PCM On A Dolby Digital Samsung Tv?

Firstly, scroll to your settings tab and choose Sound. Next, click on Select Expert Settings and pick Digital Output Audio Format.

Does PCM Support Dolby Digital?

All PCM audio signals are passed through two-channel stereo digital audio tracks. On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 system is channeled through five tracks, hence, PCM does not support Dolby digital.