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Is PCM 5.1 Surround Sound? (Let’s Find Out)

If you’re a buyer looking for an upgrade to your audio system, you’ve probably come across a lot of figures, words, and dots in your search. It can be a tad bit hard to understand what you’re looking at when there’s little to no explanation. So here’s what you need to answer the question: is PCM 5.1 surround sound?

PCM 5.1 is a layout for surround sound. PCM is a digital audio recording technology that converts analog sound to digital sound. When you use PCM with surround sound applications, it turns to LPCM.

is pcm surround sound

PCM is the basis of all digital audio. You can find it on Blu-Ray, CDs, DVDs, home theatres, etc. With PCM 5.1, you get both the conversion and the surround sound layout. If you’re interested in these facts and more, be sure to keep reading. 

Also read: Bitstream vs. PCM for Audio – Which Is Better?

Here’s PCM 5.1 Explained

PCM is the standard for digital audio on your devices such as your computer, TV, etc. If you check your TV audio settings, you tend to have two options:

  • Default
  • PCM

Nonetheless, PCM is just a conversion technology. Why is converting analog to digital sounds necessary? Digital sounds are easier to work with and manipulate. Hence why users prefer digital sounds over analog sounds. 

When it comes to PCM 5.1, users open their eyes to the world of 5.1 surround sound. But what is surround sound?

What Is Surround Sound?

Surround sound is a system that involves recording and the use of playback. This system creates an almost realistic experience or environment for both home and movie theatres. 

There are three main types of surround sound:

  • 5.1 channel surround
  • 6.1 channel surround
  • 7.1 channel surround

5.1 channel surround is one of the most common surround sounds. You can find it on TVs, home theatres, etc. The most popular 5.1 surround sound systems are Dolby Digital and DTS.

Furthermore, experts refer to 5.1 surround sound as authentic surround sound; from 6.1, experts refer to those systems as multi-speaker systems. 

 It sets the standard for the other types to follow. It is also the most budget-friendly option when you’re in the market for one. 

7.1 channel surround is one of the best surround sound experiences you can get in the market. On the flip side, it costs a lot more than many people are willing to pay for when upgrading their audio system. 

What Are The Characteristics Of Surround Sound?

Experts mainly characterize surround sound by the high number of speakers and subwoofers involved in the layout. For example, a 5.1 surround sound layout consists of five speakers and one subwoofer.

Here are the detailed speakers and subwoofer found in a surround sound system:

  • Center speaker
  • Satellite speaker
  • An equalizer or a mixer
  • Subwoofer

Please note that experts do not particularly consider 2.1 as surround sound. However, there is the issue of a soundbar that tries to cross that line and achieve something more significant than an audio system with a convenient size option. 

Is PCM 5.1 Surround Sound?

Yes, it is correct to say that PCM 5.1 is surround sound. However, it does have its shortcomings. This article will highlight those shortcomings below, so be sure to keep reading. 

PCM 5.1 is similar to Dolby 5.1; the difference (which is down below) is small but essentially crucial to the longevity of your audio system.

Nonetheless, both of these digital audio recording technologies can produce a similar output; it’s just that one is slightly better than the other one. 

If you notice PCM 5.1 on your TV audio settings, don’t panic, it’s okay. It’s perfectly normal, and it should work out for whatever reason you choose to enable it.

If you don’t like the effect, it’s giving, and you can also disable it and move on to get a more preferred surround sound system. 

PCM 5.1 vs. Dolby Digital

With that out of the way, it’s time to look at what makes PCM 5.1 fall short compared to Dolby Digital.

At this point, Dolby has become a household name when it comes to getting the ultimate audio system. Dolby Atmos shook the foundations of surround sound. 

Nonetheless, PCM 5.1 and Dolby Digital are similar technologies. The only difference lies in space. Remember that PCM transforms analog sound into digital sound. The catch is that the digital sound is in an uncompressed format.

On the other hand, Dolby Digital provides a compressed digital sound capable of fitting all surround sound audio information into your preferred choice. It could be a DVD or Blu-Ray. 

Because of the uncompressed nature of PCM, it tends to take up more bandwidth space during transmission. In contrast, Dolby Digital offers less bandwidth space during transmission.

The lack of compression-only allows for two channels that aren’t authentic surround sound. 

Luckily, thanks to PCM 5.1, you have the additional option of having surround sound imbued into the original PCM.

Regardless, if you compared PCM and Dolby Digital, Dolby would win because it’s an advanced technology. 

What’s The Learning Curve In All Of This?

PCM 5.1 is surround sound, and you can enable it on your audio devices. Why is it surround sound? You consider it surround sound because of the five speakers and one subwoofer system that allows users to have in their audio system layout. 

Regardless, Dolby Digital is superior to PCM 5.1 because of its compressed state. 

PCM FAQs 

Is PCM Better Than Dolby Digital?

Unfortunately no, PCM falls short when compared to Dolby Digital because of its lack of compression. 

Is PCM Dolby Digital?

PCM is a separate technology from Dolby Digital. PCM is an industry-standard and conventional digital audio recording method. 

What Is The PCM Audio Setting On Yout TV?

Check the HDMI Audio Input setting. You should be able to come across the option to choose between the default and PCM 5.1. 

Sources

  1. Sony, What is the difference between Pulse-Code Modulation (PCM) and Dolby Digital® technology? Sony, https://www.sony.com/electronics/support/articles/00025143 Accessed October 23rd, 2021.
  2. Robert Silva, PCM Audio in Stereo and Home Theater, Life Wire, https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-pcm-1846928 Accessed October 23rd, 2021.
  3. Jonah Matthes, Surround Sound Channels Explained: 2.1, 5.1, 7.1, 9.1, and More! The Home Theatre DIY, https://thehometheaterdiy.com/surround-sound-channels-explained/ Accessed October 23rd, 2021. 
  4. PC Mag, Surround Sound, PC Mag, https://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/surround-sound Accessed October 23d, 2021.
  5. Erin Lawrence, Basic Types of Surround Sound Systems – 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 & Dolby Atmos, Best Buy, https://blog.bestbuy.ca/tv-audio/tv-home-theatre-tv-audio/basic-types-of-surround-sound-systems-5-1-6-1-and-7-1 Accessed October 23rd, 2021.
  6. Mark Casey, What Is Surround Sound Audio? Life Wire, https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-surround-sound-audio-2640440 Accessed October 23rd, 2021.