Bitstream and Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) are two of the most important and popular audio standards for transferring audio signals.
Choosing the right configuration helps you get the maximum use of your sound system. However, there are lots of misunderstandings and confusion about these two analog signal representing methods.
That’s why we decided to put PCM vs Bitstream in comparison so that it’ll be easier for you to find out which format applies to your digital and streaming purposes.
Wait no more! Time to learn more about them.
What is Bitstream?
In the home theater, Bitstream, also called Bitstream Audiophile or Bitstream Bypass, refers to the mode that the internal sound processing of your media player is gone through, and the voice or sound signals are sent to the audio processor.
That process occurs on all devices decoding the signals, such as TV, integrated, preamplifier, soundbar, or receiver.
They transform the signals into a series of 0s and 1s digital bits utilizing digital cables, such as Coaxial, Digital optical, HDMI, and even wirelessly.
When a sound processor receives the digital bits, it goes through and bypasses the voice post-processing based on the information in those bits.
After that, the digital voice signals turn into analog signals, then transmit to the speakers and amp.
Users can store those digital bits in different formats, including Dolby Digital, DTS-X, TrueHD, DTS-ES, DTS, Plus, and more.
Note that those digital bits in media files are technically encoded in the same ways in either PCM or Bitstream.
- Not much strain on a media player.
- Able to send a large amount of surround audio channel signals of 5.1 via optical cables or coaxial.
- Allow an excellent sound decoding on the receiver.
- More strain on the receiver instead
- Limited secondary sound quality.
- Require a pro-quality pre/pro/AVR to produce the best output.
What is PCM?
Pulse Code Modulation, or PCM, is an audio standard where the transmission from analog signals to digital signals occurs without compression.
It’s an algorithm that regularly samples the analog signals’ amplitudes after fixing intervals. After that, the algorithm transforms the signals into ones and zeros using binary coding.
These days, it’s no more challenging to transmit PCM to your home theater system with:
- HDMI Connection: Pulse Code Modulation allows users to take advantage of the signals in a digital form.
It’s possible to use digital optical, digital coaxial, or HDMI connections for transferring signals. When you fit it into your home theater system, your receiver can quantize the signals into analog form.
Nevertheless, HDMI connections will convert the digital sound data before sending it to the speakers and amplifier.
- Analog Audio Connection: The blu-ray media player can quantize PCM signals into an analog form using the analog connection.
All you need is a regular analog audio cab. The receiver won’t carry out any kind of supplementing conversion for your voice. Remember that the analog connection is available for various CD players.
- Less stress on the receiver, soundbar, integrated, or TV.
- Eliminate lags or delays
- Superior quality hi-res additional audio (secondary audio)
- Support only two channels over digital optical or coaxial cables.
- More strain on your media player instead.
- The media player determines the sound quality.
PCM vs Bitstream – Side By Side Comparison Chart
|Compatibility||Compatible with the latest high-end media players that embrace almost any surround sound format.||Compatible with most available media players, including Blu-ray, DVD, and CD.|
|Decoding||Players transmit compressed audio source files to a recipient, decoding data.||Players process sound file encoding and send the information to a receiver to produce output.|
|Audio File||Bits encoded are source files. They apply a specific optical surround sound transmitting format.||PCM translates the analog signal to digital via players and vice versa to transfer it to a receiver.|
|Connection||Bitstream can distribute your audio streams wireless or wired, suppose that a compatible player is providing them.||Your audio streams need a physical transfer from the medial player to the speaker and AVR.|
|Secondary Audio||The additional audio is fine, yet there might be minor possibilities.||This one supports hi-res additional audio sources more effectively.|
|Audio Output||The transmission offers superior versatility in supplying pro-quality sound results to speakers and receivers.||The transmission requires more bandwidth to eliminate quality degradations and give better performance.|
|Optical/Coaxial||This one can assist coaxial optical or optical output up to 5.1.||There is less support for coaxial or optical numbers.|
|Transmission||It works separately with receivers and players that allow digital voice transmission.||It works for either digital or analog sound transmission, assisting receivers and players.|
When to Use PCM?
We can see that both configurations produce high-quality output, quantize the source file into analog before the speakers deliver the results, and work with most media players available on today’s market.
Thus, the inquiry is, when should I use PCM instead of the latter?
You should go for this transmission method if:
- You’re striving to unlock the excellent-quality additional audio.
- You desire a direct and faster connection that eliminates latency for producing output.
- You wish to minimize the strain and burden of transferring audio files on your receiver.
- Your sound system favors the audio files decoding from your player.
The sad news is that all these benefits are not enough to help PCM surpass Bitstream, in our opinion.
The reason is that this configuration can only transfer a two-channel signal via a digital optical or coaxial connection.
Though it’s not a big deal, it could be a problem for those seeking a better transmission option, particularly with PCM’s storage capacity requirement.
Another thing to keep in mind is compatibility. This configuration works with nearly all players we’re using today.
However, because the player will decode the audio source files, there might be a possibility that you won’t get the lossless and smoothest transmission, particularly if you own a sophisticated theater system in the media room.
What’s more, the connection could be a critical issue for those trying to create wireless connections between the player and receivers.
Because this configuration transfers large source files, you’ll have to employ physical connections to efficiently transmit data from your player to your receiver.
Thus, the argument when choosing PCM is that if you desire lower latency and more superb secondary soundtracks, you’d better steer clear from the intention of building a complex, sophisticated theater system or creating a Bluetooth connection.
When to Use Bitstream?
Bitstream is a wise option for your in-house entertainment system if encountering the following scenarios:
- You intend to get the best of 5.1-channel support that your sound system can employ with a digital optical or coaxial connection.
- You can provide more flexibility to the theater system when it produces high-resolution sound on the central channel.
- You wish to add a receiver with more powerful processing to your home theater system.
- Your sound system processes and decompresses the source files that will eventually move to the receiver’s final output.
Though you’ll get a standard sound result with Bitstream, particularly for options relying on the additional audio feed, it’s a minimal compromise that may make you think twice about going for this setup.
Since the compressed audio files don’t take up much bandwidth, you can enjoy amazing music output.
That also means more data eventually gets transferred to the output, enabling you to fit more loudspeakers into your in-house theater system.
Plus, this configuration offers a Bluetooth option that allows you to get the fullest from your high-grade receiver and its advanced processing capabilities.
However, there won’t be a considerable difference in the final output if you own a decent sound system. Thus, you’ll have to splurge on the latest or most advanced products to gain the desired difference.
It’s hard to tell who is the outperformer of the PCM vs Bitstream debate if we’re comparing only the result that these two audio standards produce.
You may already have the winner in your heart after weighing up the differences and similarities between them. The choice is up to where you will install your theater system and how you expect to configure it.
If your receivers don’t have an integrated HDMI port, selecting Bitstream is the best idea for surround sound. The reason is that coaxial and optical are not available for PCM’s 2.1 channels.
On the other hand, if you’d love a setup capable of high-resolution secondary audio, it’s a wise choice to go for PCM.
All in all, both voice transmission methods can deliver a clear, crisp, and accurate output if you use a mainstream sound system.
However, Bitstream will allow you to take advantage of higher-quality audio codecs with a more sophisticated theater setup.
We hope you can find one that gives you pleasing entertainment!