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A poster to promote DTS Feature

What's DTS all about?


Cinema theatres the world over are dancing to its tunes. DTS, replacing analogue, creates sound that sweeps across six speakers to give you the movement of galloping horses, flying gunshots and marauding dinosaurs

What is DTS? It's a digital sound technology that helps filmmakers create sound that moves. Speakers positioned to the left, right and center of the theatre produce sound effects that literally sweep around the audience. What this means to music composers is that they can make tracks come in from six channels, instead of two as in the earlier stereo system.

DTS was evolved for cinema theatres by a California-based company called Digital Theater System. It can provide digital audio across 70mm, 35mm and 16mm formats. The system complements and eventually replaces the existing analogue system used in movies, where the soundtrack is printed alongside the picture on rolls of celluloid film.

In DTS, the movie's soundtrack is not contained on the film but on separate CD-ROM discs similar to the ones used in home audio systems. The six audio tracks on these CDs are read by a DTS playback unit installed in theatres. It is played in absolute synchronisation with the projected film. The DTS system and the film can be synchronised with the help of a time-code printed on the film alongside the existing analogue soundtrack.

DTS was honoured with a scientific and engineering award in 1996 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In the movie Flubber, laser-generated flubber appears to explode off the screen and then starts to dance on the wall -- the effect is brought through aurally with the creative use of sound. The softest whisper to the loudest explosion is reproduced through theatrical sound systems.

Filmmakers bowled over by the sonic realism offered by DTS are constantly exploring the possibilities for innovative use of this technology.

The DTS success story began in 1993 with the grand box-office reception accorded to Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Apart from triggering off a dino-mania among filmgoers, the movie created a revolution in the film-making community by showcasing the creative and business possibilities of digital sound technology.

Since its introduction, the DTS format has been used in more than 1,000 films over 18,400 screens worldwide. It added to the magnitude of many big-budget 70 mm movies like Armageddon, Independence Day, Star Wars, Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies.

The Tamil film 'Mudhalavan'<img src= was among the first in India to use DTS"> Film producers, distributors and exhibitors feel DTS has helped arrest the onslaught of television and innovative home theatre systems. Audiences, they say, are returning to the theatres to experience the excitement of the new digital sounds. The format reduces production and dubbing costs as language versions do not entail additional prints and can be sent in the form of CDs which can be synchronized to the existing prints. Theoretically, studios can now produce one print for use with multiple language discs.

The DTS deluge inundating theatres worldover broke over the Indian cinematic shore in 1995 with the release of the Tamil film Karuppu Roja (the first Indian film to employ digital sound ).

This new technology came to India via Real Image Pvt Ltd, earlier known for introducing Avid's nonlinear editing systems in the country. Senthil Kumar, director of Real Image, says, "The idea of using a reliable medium like the CD-ROM locked to the film by time-code seemed ideal for Indian conditions at that time".

However, the introduction of DTS in India was not without its problems. Initially, it was the classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. Theatre owners were hesitant to upgrade to a format in which no Indian film had been produced and filmmakers were reluctant to experiment in a sound format that could not be played back in any existing theatre in the country.


Real Image decided to instal ten units in Tamil Nadu, giving theatre owners the option of paying after screening their first DTS film. There was no looking back after that. The DTS experience took the Indian film public and filmmakers by storm. The company now boasts over 520 installations in the country.

'Hum Saath Saath Hai' released a colossal 190 DTS prints The first Hindi film to employ DTS technology was Judwaa, produced by Sajid Nadiadwala. Other notable DTS films are Chota Chetan ( the first 3D film with DTS sound), Koyla, Ziddi, Border and Hum Saath Saath Hain (which released a whopping 190 DTS prints!).
The first Telegu film with DTS was Master, produced by Allu Arvind. Since then Andhra Pradesh has seen 140 DTS installations. Ravichandran has been using DTS for his Kannada blockbusters.

It is anybody's guess where technology will take cinema from here. To quote Al Johson in the first talkie The Jazz Singer, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Rajat C Kumar


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