Is PCM Better or Worse Than Dolby Digital – The Truth

Norvan Martin
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People crave high-resolution audio production, which is made possible by digital audio recordings, 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. In contrast, PCM is better for stereo because it only has left and right stereo channels. For example, it may be used for playing a CD/DVD through a stereo soundbar or regular stereo speaker.

Let’s get into more details.

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 has 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 Dolby 5.1, it means you have five tracks and a subwoofer.

Technically, most people prefer Dolby Digital over PCM simply 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 whether PCM is better or worse than Dolby Digital arises from the modern TV settings that choose between the two.

PCM vs Dolby Digital Comparison Table

CriteriaPCMDolby Digital
CompressionUncompressedLossy Compression
BitrateVariable, depends on bit depth and sampling rateFixed, typically 384 kbps for 5.1 channels
Channel ConfigurationSupports various configurationsPrimarily used for 5.1 channels
CompatibilityWidely supported in various formatsCommonly used in DVDs, Blu-rays, and streaming services
Audio QualityHigh-quality, uncompressedGood quality, some compression
Use CasesVarious applications, including music playbackSpecifically designed for home theater systems
Editing and ProcessingEasily editable with standard toolsRequires specialized tools for editing
Transmission EfficiencyMay result in larger file sizesEfficient compression for smaller file sizes
Decoding ComplexityStraightforward decoding, supported by all devicesRequires specific decoding capabilities

 

Which One Is Better For Your Current Setup?

To determine which audio format is superior, one must understand how to align the input’s offerings with their television’s capabilities.

  • Standard Player with DVD: If you play a video through a DVD on a standard player, PCM is your ideal choice.
  • HD TV Stations: For those who have an HD TV station, Dolby Digital stands out as the best choice. This is because the audio formatting of these stations is predominantly in Dolby Digital format, delivering up to 5.1 channels. With the appropriate equipment at home, you can fully experience the advantages of Dolby Digital technology.
  • Television Speakers: However, if you’re using just the television speakers for audio output, it’s preferable to opt for PCM. This is due to its lack of compression. As a result, using Dolby with only TV speakers may lead to muted tones and less clarity in the audio.

Regardless of your choice between PCM and Dolby Digital, you can enhance the audio experience using your TV’s ARC support.

How To Change The Audio Format On Your Television

Before configuring your TV settings to optimize your home theater experience, it’s crucial to understand the different input and output types involved.

Understanding Input and Output

  • The input might be devices like a set box, satellite receiver, game console, cable box, DVD player, Blu-ray player, or even a computer when connected to your TV. These devices send both audio and video signals to your TV.
  • The output is what your device receives from the TV, e.g., audio signals playing through speakers. Outputs can also send sound signals to soundbars, headphones, or surround sound speakers.

Selecting The Right Audio Format

The audio setting format largely depends on the device providing the input signal. TV settings often provide options like PCM or Dolby Digital. For example:

  • When choosing HDMI input in your TV’s setup menu, you might see PCM or Bitstream as choices.
  • For those using only TV speakers and restricted to two-channel sound output, the best option is PCM.
  • If you intend to process the audio via a home theater system or soundbar post the TV’s output, choose bitstream. Bitstream offers a multi-channel experience, akin to the Dolby Digital format.

Note: Not all TVs have the bitstream option as they might not support Dolby Digital output. Always consult your TV’s user manual for available options.

Select The Best Digital Output Setting For Your Setup

The preferred audio format for your TV’s output depends on the input devices connected. Always refer to the respective user manuals of each device to ensure optimal compatibility. Here are some insights:

  • For a home theater system, you might need distinct settings compared to when using premium headphones.
  • If you opt not to connect any external device like a soundbar, set your TV to PCM for the best results with in-built speakers.
  • To achieve the finest audio quality, adjust the TV to the highest mode your equipment can handle. If your system requires more than 5.1 channels, consider HDMI ARC over optical cables for the right output.

What If I See Unselectable Options On My TV?

Occasionally, certain menu options might appear grayed out and unselectable. This typically indicates that certain audio output formats aren’t accessible due to:

  • The current content being fed to the TV’s input
  • Specific app settings
  • Limits of your home theater apparatus

Generally, PCM is the go-to option when your devices don’t support Dolby Digital or aren’t compatible with higher Dolby settings. However, some advanced settings offer better sound quality, supporting more channels. For setups requiring Dolby Atmos, consider adjusting your TV to an automatic setting.

Is PCM Better Than Dolby Digital Plus?

This is a common question among people who desire the optimal sound system for their TV or home entertainment setup:

Pulse-code Modulation (PCM):

  • PCM converts analog signals into digital signals, allowing them to pass through the digital communication network in home entertainment systems, such as CDs and DVDs.
  • It represents the original recorded digital audio, and its output is akin to a binary sequence of 0’s and 1’s.

Dolby Digital (Dolby AC-3):

  • Developed by Dolby Laboratories, Dolby Digital is an audio compression technology aimed at minimizing the data required for high-quality sound.
  • It provides five full-bandwidth channels (left, right, center, surround left, and surround right) for authentic surround sound quality.

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. It also 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. 

FAQ

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 receiver to, say, a CD or DVD player, it will display PCM. This means it is receiving a stereo signal from the CD/DVD player.

PCM

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

Generally, PCM 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 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.

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

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 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 that 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?

First, 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.

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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