PCM vs Bitstream: Review and Comparison

Audio and video quality configurations can be adjusted for players according to how they physically interact with the AV receptor. Two industry specifications for transmitting audio from the player or transmitter to the receiver or speaker are PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) and Bitstream.

Whether the audio output is set to PCM or Bitstream via HDMI is not significant in terms of the actual audio quality. If the decoder is slightly more substantial than the other in one of these systems, though, there may be a disparity in sound quality. But in the present day, the level of audio encoding is usually very high on popular consumer devices such as yours, so it’s probably relatively minimal and unnoticeable.

Still, it is essential to know which of these two is best, so it helps to get something from your sound system to achieve the best audio settings. Application compatibility and supported frequencies are more significant considerations than sound and propagation while considering both PCM and Bitstream.

Many older connections use PCM rather than Bitstream, whereas newer AVRs (Audio / Video Receivers) can take advantage of the encoding phase of Bitstream. It does not only receive and decode audio streams, though. Let us then address all in-depth and overcome for good the argument between Bitstream and PCM.

Bitstream vs PCM – Side by Side Comparison

  PCM Bitstream
Compatibility Compatible with the majority of available players, namely CD, DVD, and Blu-ray players. Compatible with new high-end players that completely embrace most formats of surround sound.
Audio File The analog signals are translated to digital by players and vice versa for transfer to the receiver. Audio files are bit encoded and adopt a particular optical transmission surround sound format.
Decoding Players process audio file encoding, then send the data for output to the receiver. Players send compressed audio files to the recipient that decodes data.
Connection Audio streams need to be transferred physically from the player to the AVR and the speaker. Audio streams can be distributed wired or wireless, providing that they are providing by a compatible media player.
Audio Output To minimize quality degradations with better performance, the transmission needs even more bandwidth. The transmission provides greater versatility in providing high-quality audio output for receivers and speakers.
Secondary Audio Supports hi-res secondary audio sources better. The audio secondary is fine, but there could be minimal possibilities.
Transmission Works for both analog and digital sound transfer assisting players and receivers. Works exclusively with players and receivers that enable digital audio transmission.
Optical / Coaxial There is minimal support for optical or coaxial numbers. Optical or coaxial optical output can be assisted up to 5.1.

PCM

PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) represents a technique that is used without encoding to transform analog audio signals, which are expressed by waveforms, into digital audio signals that are defined by ones and zeros – just like machine data. This method makes it possible to record an audio performance or a film soundtrack digitally and physically in smaller spaces.

PCM refers to an analog wave algorithm used by devices. For many years, this technology continues to be the standard for processing audio streams. Since PCM is an algorithm, it doesn’t matter whether you send audio files that are compressed or uncompressed. If a device gets an entry, it decodes the data, and then it transfers the data to the recipient. For computers, compact disks, wireless telecommunications, and other digital audio systems, this is the standard mode of digital audio.

Bitstream

Often known as Bitstream Audio, Optical Bitstream, or Audio Bitstream, Bitstream is a binary bit of information (1 and 0), which can be transmitted between the two computers. In PC, networking, and audio applications, Bitstream is used. A Bitstream will then transform sound into digital bits for audio, and then it passes noise from the source to a receiver and finally to your ears.

The player transmits a compressed audio file to the recipient after putting a computer on Bitstream transmission. Your AVR decodes the uncompressed data then. This is the approach used to create surround sound formats for the AVR, AV, CPU, or power amplifier combination from the player.

Here are some of the best products which support both PCM and Bitstream.

Sony UBP-X700 Blu-ray player

Pros:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Affordable price
  • HDR10 and Dolby Vision
  • SACD disc playback
  • 4K video streaming services

Cons:

  • Basic design and ports

Onkyo TX-NR696 A/V Home Theater Receiver

Pros:

  • 2 or 5.2.2 AV receiver of the highest class with peak power of 165 watts per channel.
  • Suitable for home theater sets such as Ultima, Consono, Columa, LT 4, Varion, Cubycon, Machine 4
  • Supports THX, Dolby True HD, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, and more.
  • Certified by THX.
  • Audio-Streaming via Bluetooth, AirPlay, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Deezer, Spotify, Chromecast, TIDAL, DTS Play-Fi
  • Quite well fitted for all sorts of multi-room features.
  • HDMI with 4K/60 Hz support, HDCP 2.2, 3D Ready
  • HDMI inputs: 7, HDMI outputs: 2.

Cons:

  • App and streaming options are not user-friendly
  • Expensive

Sony BDP-S3700 Blu-ray player

Pros:

  • 110-240V 3D player supports Pal and NTSC
  • Full HD 1080p Blu-ray disc playback
  • Play Blu-rays from any region A, B, or C
  • Can be cast the image of smartphone or tablet to the TV via Miracast

Cons:

  • Low reliability

Compatibility

For all setups, device availability and additional connection choices vary. PCM performs well for virtually any device, while Bitstream can only function on sound-enhancing applications.

Nearly any player we use is PCM operating with. Since the players decipher the audio, however, you cannot get the finest and smoothest transmittance, especially if you have a more advanced media room sound system. On the other hand, if you wish to witness some significant change in quality, you may need to spend more in your sound system.

Audio File

The highest distinction between the two is the consistency of the audio file that your player or receiver transforms. PCM uses raw signals produced by your converter, and codecs would not influence their surface.

The player can internally decode both Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS HD Master sound codecs, and any associated soundtracks, whether you are going to set up your Blu-ray player to use PCM as the audio source.

After that, the decoded, uncompressed audio signal will be sent by the player to your receiver, then to your output speaker.

This configuration allows the player to do everything in its capacity, offering untethered access to secondary audio, the sound definition, audio commentary, and additional audio track. PCM’s a better choice if this is a significant feature you like for your sound system.

Bitstream, on the other hand, deals with coded audio files, but more frequencies can be enabled, allowing you to generate high-resolution audio. The receiver processes everything when you set the player for Bitstream transmission, then produces decoded, uncompressed audio files.

Your sound system can take advantage of better audio codecs for performance, including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master Audio, and DTS:X because transmitting compressed data doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth.

Before your speakers will deliver the output that you need, however, both PCM and Bitstream need to transform audio files to analog. The audio file converting method can vary, but it will still end up in an analog format until it can be read by your speakers.

Connectivity

HDMI is the easiest way to output comfortably. However, the PCM alternative sends a two-channel signal for digital optical and coaxial connections. A digital optical or digital coaxial cable lacks the ability to relay a full surround, full surround audio signal such as HDMI communication.

Yet Bitstream is the easily noticeable champion whether you have wireless or optical coaxial outputs, and it can be assisted up to 5.1. Digital optical and coaxial interfaces are bandwidth-limited and cannot produce a fully processed and decoded signal.

Because Bitstream depends on the decoding receiver, it is suitable for bandwidth-limited scenarios.

Secondary Audio

Using PCM to use the secondary audio function that gives access to audio feedback, informative audio, and alternate audio tracks. Set the Blu-ray player for PCM to offer the perfect sound outcome when accessing these audio programs is critical for you.

Without bandwidth, the player decodes the audio, which is a challenge for Bitstream.

When you mix Bitstream and secondary audio settings, surround formats such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD are down-reset to standard Dolby Digital or DTS by the Blu-ray Disc player to cram all forms of audio signals into the same Bitstream bandwidth.

The receiver identifies and decodes the signal correctly as regular Dolby Digital.

Audio Output

In terms of the formats that they can generate, PCM and Bitstream can sound somewhat different, but each of these configurations is capable of producing high-quality audio. In reality, there’s hardly any visible difference between these two if you don’t need a secondary audio output or higher quality codecs.

Your speakers can deliver the same audio level, whether you are playing standard or high-res audio. And apart from the output, like most DVD and Blu-ray players with no visible difference, both setups perform well.

Presently, you also can discover a multitude of players who will allow you to effortlessly switch between PCM and Bitstream connections. AVRs work the same, but you have to make sure both configurations can be supported by the one you’re going to use to produce the output you want for your speakers.

The process may vary, but the outcome will still be the same. With lossless compression techniques such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio available, Bitstream can provide the same quality without any need for more data transmission space.

When you should use PCM

Both configurations can provide the same audio quality, transform the audio file into analog so that the speaker generates the sound, and are compatible with the majority of the players used today. Thus, the question is: when will you use PCM over Bitstream better?

The PCM configuration can be used:

  • If you want your receiver to be free of the responsibility of converting audio files.
  • When you’re using a sound system that favors the player’s encoding of audio data.
  • When you are searching for a way for high-quality secondary audio to be unlocked.
  • If you want a smoother and more straightforward communication that minimizes performance latency.

All of these benefits, however, do not render PCM settings better than Bitstream. If you wish to take advantage of improved secondary audio tracks and lower latency of PCM, you will have to stay away from the concept of providing a wireless connection or making a more advanced sound setup.

Pros:

  • Easy access to external audio tracks in terms of consistency.
  • Faster, straighter, and reduces latency.
  • For the receiver, less effort.
  • In a player, decoding is completed.

Cons:

  • The PCM transmits a two-channel signal through optical or coaxial digital signals.
  • The audio level is determined partly by the player.
  • The player has more job done.

When you should use Bitstream

Bitstream is the technology PCM has used with its framework but does not boost or render it worse. It is necessary to determine whether to use Bitstream for your sound system and whether different configurations will help you override a PCM.

It is easier to use Bitstream for your audio:

  • When using digital optical or coaxial, you want to use 5.1 surround sound.
  • If you have a sound machine, you can decode and process files with the receiver.
  • If you use a recipient that has improved audio processing power.
  • To improve the versatility of playing hi-res audio in your sound system.

Bitstream also has some limitations, and PCM should never be out of consideration. If you’d like to reap the benefits of the capacity of Bitstream to deliver high-quality audio output and wireless connectivity, you can need to settle for secondary audio with regular resolution.

Pros:

  • The audio is decoded by the home receiver.
  • It can be used if the receiver provides better quality audio processing.
  • The probability of better sound quality.
  • Bitstream transmits an encoded 5.1 signal through optical or coaxial digital signals.

Cons:

  • On the receiver, more effort is put on.
  • A high-quality receiver is needed to produce better performance.
  • Additional audio is scaled down, which improves the quality of the audio.

Verdict

There’s no definite winner of the Bitstream vs PCM dispute if we’re only trying to compare the performance they can produce. There can therefore be a range of considerations to pick from, including the consistency of your Blu-ray player and the audio receiver.

Both transmitting technologies will provide you with a high-resolution output if we use conventional sound systems.

More often than not, you’re going to want Bitstream. The ability for better audio efficiency and the versatility to use coaxial outputs puts it ahead of PCM. Besides, the Bitstream files are encoded to give you a surround sound experience by using a compliant media player.

The only case when PCM comes to the fore is by using secondary audio sources. In comparison, most audio players only accept a PCM format when transferring sound. This means that when deciding between the two, you can check the compatibility of your unit. Now the choice is yours.

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