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.

In terms of audio quality, whether the audio output is set to PCM or Bitstream via HDMI makes no difference. However, if one of these systems’ decoders is slightly more substantial than the other, there may be a difference in sound quality. However, in today’s world, the quality of audio encoding on popular consumer devices like yours is generally extremely high, so it’s probably minor and undetectable.

Still, knowing which of these two is best is critical, so getting anything from your sound system can help you obtain the optimum audio settings. When considering both PCM and Bitstream, application compatibility and supported frequencies are more important factors than sound and propagation.

Many older connections use PCM rather than Bitstream, but newer AVRs (Audio / Video Receivers) can benefit from Bitstream’s encoding phase. However, it does more than only receive and decode audio streams. Let us then go through everything in detail and finally put an end to the debate between Bitstream and PCM.

PCM vs Bitstream – Side by Side Comparison

 PCMBitstream
CompatibilityCompatible 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 FileThe 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.
DecodingPlayers process audio file encoding, then send the data for output to the receiver.Players send compressed audio files to the recipient that decodes data.
ConnectionAudio 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 OutputTo 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 AudioSupports hi-res secondary audio sources better.The audio secondary is fine, but there could be minimal possibilities.
TransmissionWorks for both analog and digital sound transfer assisting players and receivers.Works exclusively with players and receivers that enable digital audio transmission.
Optical / CoaxialThere 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) is a method that, without encoding, is used to convert analog audio signals indicated by waveforms into digital audio signals defined by ones and zeros – much like machine data. This approach allows for the digital and physical recording of an audio performance or a film soundtrack in smaller venues.

PCM is an analog wave algorithm that is utilized by gadgets. This technique has been the industry standard for processing audio streams for many years. Because PCM is an algorithm, it makes no difference whether you deliver compressed or uncompressed audio data. When a device receives an entry, it decodes the data and sends it to the receiver. This is the standard mode of digital audio for computers, compact disks, wireless telephony, and other digital audio systems.

Bitstream

Bitstream is a binary bit of information (1 and 0) that may be transferred between two computers. It is also known as Bitstream Audio, Optical Bitstream, or Audio Bitstream. Bitstream is used in PC, networking, and audio applications. A Bitstream will then convert sound into digital bits for audio, and it will then transmit noise from the source to a receiver, and eventually to your ears.

After placing a computer on Bitstream transmission, the player sends a compressed audio file to the receiver. The uncompressed data is subsequently decoded by your AVR. This is the method used to produce surround sound formats for the player’s AVR, AV, CPU, or power amplifier combo.

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

PCM vs Bitstream: Compatibility

Device availability and extra connectivity options vary across all configurations. PCM is suitable for almost any device, but Bitstream is solely suitable for sound-enhancing applications.

Almost every player we use is PCM-based. However, because the players decode the audio, you will not receive the best and smoothest transmission, especially if you have a more modern media room sound system. On the other hand, if you want to see a substantial improvement in quality, you may need to invest more on your sound system.

PCM vs Bitstream: Audio File

The most significant difference between the two is the constancy of the audio file that your player or receiver converts. PCM uses raw signals generated by your converter, and codecs have no effect on their surface.

If you set up your Blu-ray player to use PCM as the audio source, the device can internally decode Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS HD Master sound codecs, as well as any related soundtracks.

The player will then send the decoded, uncompressed audio signal to your receiver, which will subsequently send it to your output speaker. This setup enables the player to perform all of its functions, including unfettered access to secondary audio, sound definition, 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.

PCM vs Bitstream: Connectivity

HDMI is the most convenient way to comfortably output. The PCM option, on the other hand, transmits a two-channel signal for digital optical and coaxial connections. A digital optical or digital coaxial cable is incapable of relaying a full surround, full surround audio stream, such as that used in HDMI transmission.

However, whether you have wireless or optical coaxial outputs, Bitstream is the clear winner, and it can be aided up to 5.1. Because digital optical and coaxial connections have limited bandwidth, they cannot provide a fully processed and decoded signal.

Bitstream is suited for bandwidth-limited applications since it is dependent on the decoding receiver.

PCM vs Bitstream: 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.

PCM vs Bitstream: 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.

Why its the better option

  • 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.

Why it might not be enough

  • 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.

Why should you need it

  • 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.

Why you might not like it

  • 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: PCM vs Bitstream

There is no clear winner in the PCM vs Bitstream debate if we just compare the performance they can offer. As a result, there may be a number of factors to consider, such as the consistency of your Blu-ray player and the audio receiver.

If we employ traditional sound systems, both transmitting methods will give you with a high-resolution output.

The majority of the time, you’ll want Bitstream. It surpasses PCM in terms of audio efficiency and the ability to employ coaxial outputs. Furthermore, the Bitstream files are encoded to provide a surround sound experience when viewed with a compatible 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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