Object-based audio represents a significant improvement in immersive surround sound quality and capability. I say improvement because let's face it, even 5.1 surround-sound is immersive when played back through a good system. Object-based formats promise increased control over the listening experience plus enhanced immersion thanks to the use of height channels. Furthermore, object-based formats promise flexibility in terms of speaker placement as well as how many speakers you can use.

Recently DTS announced its format for delivering object-based audio to the home—DTS:X—and promised to offer additional details about how it works this March. The company is not revealing any specifics beyond what it included in a recent press release . However, DTS reps at CES 2015 were willing to discuss the forthcoming format in general terms.

The question I repeatedly posed —based on comments made by members—was whether DTS:X will work with existing immersive sound speaker installations such as Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D. DTS said that was not a concern because the flexibility of DTS:X overlaps the speaker placement requirements of those other formats. In other words, if you already installed height speakers for Atmos or Auro 3D, you configuration will (likely) work with DTS:X.

The company would not discuss whether existing Atmos-capable and/or Auro-capable AVRs might offer a firmware upgrade option, or if it requires new gear to get DTS:X. The only hint DTS offered is that the decision is up to the individual manufacturers. Select Denon/Marantz products already offer a firmware upgrade path to Auro 3D, so it's clearly not out of the question for DTS:X.

On the show floor, DTS provided an interactive display that showed how users can tailor their immersive audio experience thanks to object-based audio—it even has applications for non-immersive audio. For example, with object-based audio tracks it's possible to change the volume of the dialogue relative to the rest of a soundtrack—a far better approach than raising the level of the center channel or simply turning up the volume on a TV.

With DTS:X dialog control, you can change the volume of the dialog as well as switch between different feeds such as home, away, and sideline.

The DTS:X immersive surround-sound demo on the show floor was a bit strange due to the unorthodox shape of the listening room. It took place in a cylindrical space with a wrap-around acoustically transparent projection screen . The room's diameter was about fifteen feet. The only visible speakers were on the ceiling, which was about fifteen or twenty feet high . It used 22speakers, the eight height speakers were placed in a circle of seven speakers surrounding one in the very center. The presentation had little in common with a typical home theater experience, including the fact listeners stood for its duration.

Part of the unorthodox ceiling speaker layout used for the DTS:X demo on the CES show floor.

The demo included an animated clip called Locked Up that was about a couple of frogs tracking a fly. As one frog chases the fly, it climbs inside a bottle that rolls around and lands in the water. In the meantime, the fly buzzes around your head. Ultimately, the other frog gets the fly thanks to its patience. The sequence provides plenty of sounds effects with distinct directional cues.

The demo from the show floor could've looked and sounded better; the video was noticeably low resolution, and the sound was a bit grating. However, keep in mind that the show floor at CES is never the best place to listen to audio—there's too much outside noise . Even so, what I heard demonstrated that the system has plenty of potential. During another part of the demo, voices saying "listen" emanated from every angle including overhead—there's no question DTS:X renders a proper 3D immersive soundfield.

Scott Wilkinson and I had an opportunity to hear a better demo of DTS:X in a hotel suite. The company wanted us to experience a system that was similar to what you might find in a home. DTS kept the brand of AVR used for the demo a secret. I do know that the speaker system used Focal CMS 65 studio monitors in a 7.1.4 configuration. DTS mounted the height speakers on (approximately) 8-foot poles. The height speakers were pointed at the main listening position—a sofa.

Locked Up sounded considerably better through the 7.1.4 system, although the absence of overhead speakers diminished the height effect to a certain degree. Nevertheless, the soundfield itself was seamless and fully immersive. We also watched a clip from the movie Divergent and listened to a song called "Monster's Calling Home" by Run River North— both mixed in DTS:X. The music track was especially interesting because it placed instruments in unconventional locations within the soundfield . I see a lot of creative potential for musicians who learn how to take full advantage of object-based audio formats.

DTS gave away a demo disc at the show, and it included the same DTS:X clips that I saw and heard in the two demos. I thought I'd give it a quick listen through the system that's currently in my studio—an Atmos-enabled 5.1.4 rig with in-ceiling speakers . The Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR I use does not include DTS:X decoding, only Atmos. I played the backwards-compatible DTS:X soundtracks (DTS-HD 7.1) from the the demo disc using Dolby Surround, the upmixer included with Atmos. For whatever reason—I suspect it has a lot to do with room and system optimization—it sounded better than what I heard at CES, either on the show floor or at the private demo.

The production value of the clips on the DTS:X demo disc is exemplary. It's clear to my ears that I have yet to experience the format's true potential. Now, I look forward to experiencing DTS:X in my own studio. I'm on the lookout for the first DTS:X-capable receivers or pre-pro's, how about you?