PS3 firmware adds HD audio
DTS-HD Master Audio, to be specific
If you like watching Blu-ray Discs on your PlayStation 3, then things are about to get better. Sony has announced a firmware update that’ll give film fans the option to use another HD audio format.
Firmware version 2.30 will be released on 15 April and will enable the console to support DTS-HD Master Audio. This enables the HD video seen on screen to be matched with equally high quality sound.
Dolby’s TrueHD, which the PS3 already supports, is more common than DTS-HD. However, Sony’s firmware update will at least give consumers the option to choose which sound set-up they want to use.
Teen pregnancy flick Juno, which is released on Blu-ray in the US on 15 April, will support DTS-HD Master Audio with up to 5.1-channel surround sound. However, the audio format can support 7.1-channel sound.
DTS itself claims that DTS-HD Master Audio is capable of delivering audio that is "bit-for-bit identical to the studio master" at up to 24.5Mb/s on Blu-ray, with the audio encoded using 24-bit quantisation at 96kHz.
Sony already supports the audio format in several of dedicated Blu-ray players, including the BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 that it announced in February.
In which case, it's another thing to warn PS3 purchasers if they've spent a lot of money on an HDMI 1.3 amp with Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA decoding, as essentially it would be a waste of money if they go buy a PS3 because it can't bitstream these formats (and vice versa if a PS3 owner is looking at a new amp).
Sure conversion to lossless PCM is going to provide the same results, but it is still a waste of the amp's features. May as well just stick with earlier HDMI amps with multi-channel PCM support.
However I would still say it's an unnecessary overhead to convert to PCM. Understandable if it's a hardware limitation, but that processing power could be better spent elsewhere if it could actually bitstream HD formats properly rather than having to do a conversion.
Again, it's another reason why we need some proper competition out there driving full-spec and high-end AV quality rather than just rely on what most people still see (rightly or wrongly) as a games console.
Oh, and also there are environmental (and electricity bill) concerns. The PS3 is a big power horse with a lot of power being used to do most of it's Blu-Ray job in software. With more dedicated players, and especially from competitors, we would see a shift to integrated chipsets and off-the-shelf components that have much lower power requirements.
Many thanks for your input on this, Mark. I respect your expertise and as a young recording engineer (and music student) can appreciate your point about storage media. In terms of dynamics, as I see it, the outlook is bleak for the futures of audio resolution of this level in consumer-grade equipment.
Audiophile-grade equipment will always be niche. It just takes more people to realise that it is the quality of the signal chain beyond the PS3's outputs that determines whether the extra bitdepth and extended frequency response are worth it. In 95% of cases, it won't be.
Anyone who doesn't think the speakers and acoustics are the most important part of the consumer signal audio chain is deluding themselves.
Actually, the DTS-HDMA is being decoded to PCM inside the PS3, just as with Dolby TrueHD. The PS3 has an early hardware implementation of HDMI 1.3, and doesn't have the ability to pass bitstream data for the HD audio formats, so it's not an unnecessary overhead at all.
Good point all round. Pioneer and Panasonic do see to be slowly winding the BR player product range into life a bit more now the HD disc format confusion is virtually resolved. I know they don't tend to be the prettiest devices but Pioneer and Panasonic know how to spec stuff and usually raise the bar for other hardware companies. Or at least provide very good value for money spec wise in the third generations of their products. Fingers crossed.
Totally agree with you though (and that is as a PS3 owner by the way before anyone starts!)
Though bear in mind this is (I believe) pass-through to an amp that supports it, not internal decoding. Therefore you will need an HDMI 1.3 amp with DTS-HD MA decoder built in, plus of course the speakers to go with it (and probably George Lucas to pop round to personally THX approve your room's accoustics).
At least it's now fully up to spec on that part (though pass through Dolby TrueHD would be nice as I believe the PS3 converts it to lossless PCM first, an overhead that is unnecessary).
What Blu-Ray needs now however is some competition in the market with the same specification (up to profile 2.0, DTS-HD MA, etc). The problem it has is its very success, the PS3. For mass market appeal it really needs more full-spec players than the PS3 and not just by Sony, and let's be honest, no one really considers Blu-Ray to be anything other than the PS3. Talk Blu-Ray and the only advice ever is to buy a PS3.
Fine for Sony, but only decent competition will drive prices down and encourage a decent range of products from entry level through to high-end AV to satisfy everyone, and it's at the high-end where the likes of DTS-HD MA will benefit. After all, what AV enthusiast with a £50k AV system is going to want a games console powering it?! He wants a system with funky valves and retro design with lots of stainless steel, not kids bedroom plastic styling and a Sony badge ;-) (regardless of whether the PS3 actually does the job). Besides that, there will always be some people who just won't buy Sony kit and that will harm the format, no matter how much fanboys jump up and down about the PS3.