Bitstream vs PCM: Side by Side Comparison

The debate between PCM and Bitstream continues to rage for years as two industry standards for transferring audio from the transmitter to the speaker. PCM stands for Pulse Code Modulation, while Bitstream is a generic term used to refer to any digital data format and is often encoded in binary form or transmission over communication channels.

PCM is the standard used for encoding audio on most CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Bitstream systems represent an attempt to reduce bandwidth and storage requirements, while still retaining CD quality sound.

Basically, these two features aid in the transmission of audio from media players and transmitters to your home theatre system’s speakers and receivers. Despite the fact that PCM and Bitstream are two comparable technology, they differ in how data is encoded and compressed.

pcm vs bitstream

A Side by side Comparison of PCM and Bitstream Audio

PCM vs Bitstream has given you the impression that both of them offers a wide range of differences in their features.

Historically, telecommunications have relied on analog signal representation. This has led to the development of multiple types of modulation methods for transmission over various types of media.

There are those who choose to use the PCM method and those who choose to use bitstream. And there are those who have no idea what either of them means or how they work. But you will finally learn here how both methods work and which one could work best for you.

Though both choices provide a similar level of audio quality, the main distinction between the two is in how your device’s configuration decodes the compressed audio supplied to your outputs.

A. PCM vs Bitstream: Compatibility

Compatibility is an important factor to consider. PCM is compatible with a wide range of devices including CD, DVD and Blu-ray players. It is a highly appealing alternative than bitstream.

A modern CD player
A modern CD player.

Bitstream on the other hand is compatible with modern high-end players that fully support most surround sound formats.

All configurations have different device availability and extra connectivity choices. Bitstream is only appropriate for sound-enhancing applications, but PCM is acceptable for practically every device.

B. PCM vs Bitstream: Audio File

Players convert analogue signals to digital and vice versa for transmission to the receiver with the use of PCM. Audio files of bitstream on the other hand, are bit encoded and uses a specific surround sound optical transmission protocol.

Bitstream transforms audio data into digital information bits and sends it to a receiver in an audio application. This type of data transport is widely used in home theatre systems that generate surround sound codecs such as Dolby Digital, DTS:X, Atmos, TrueHD, DTS HD-Master Audio, and others.

In a Sonos soundbar, Bitstream transmission sends compressed surround sound audio from the source device (TV, XBox, etc) to the soundbar.

Sonos bluetooth speaker on a wooden table
Sonos Bluetooth speaker on a wooden table.

Set the soundbar to PCM if it doesn’t support surround sound (e.g. Dolby or DTS) To clarify, while both Bitstream and PCM files create audio signals in different ways, there is no audible difference between them.

Bitstream files, on the other hand, are encoded to provide surround sound when played on a suitable media device. Most audio players. on the other hand, only support the PCM format for sending sound. When choosing between the two, you should check the compatibility of your device.

C. PCM vs Bitstream: Decoding

PCM players decode audio files before sending the data to the receiver for output. Bitstream players send compressed audio files to a receiver who decodes the information. The clock frequency of a PCM decoder is critical to the proper operation of the basic decoding systems.

If it’s not the same as the encoder’s clock, some of the sent bits will be read twice, while others will be missed entirely. As a result, some of the sent numbers are misinterpreted, resulting in an erroneous voltage being produced by the PCM decoder. If the mistake occurs frequently enough, it becomes audible.

Blu-ray electronic component
Blu-ray electronic component.

While the term “bitstream pass-through” refers to how your Blu-ray player sends unmodified data to your receiver or surround sound processor, which subsequently does all of the decoding and digital-to-analog conversion.

This requires that both your player and receiver/processor have HDMI ports, as well as that your receiver/processor be capable of decoding.

Expert Tip: Decoding all data in the receiver is easier using bitstream. In contrast to modern audio codecs like Dolby trueHD and DTS HD, certain older (10+ year) receivers can only comprehend PCM.

PCM is the only variable choice in this situation. Bitstream is preferable, however, stereo sources sound the same regardless of whether they are encoded in PCM or not. Bitstream is usually preferable for more recent audio formats.

You may use PCM or bitstream audio up to 5.2 surround sound, although bitstream is recommended beyond that. Straight mode has no effects; you hear exactly what’s recorded in the single-whether it’s stereo, 5.1, or something else

D. PCM vs Bitstream: Connection

PCM audio streams must be physically transferred from the player to the AVR and speaker while Bitstream can be delivered through both cable and wireless. As long as a suitable media player is used.

PCM vs Bitstream Connection

In PCM, the signal functions similarly to the DFM signal, except that now the car ECU sends it to the regulator to alter the VSP (Voltage Set Point) based on the battery status (AS) and the load (LI) at the time.

The connector assembly can be utilized as a basic connector strip or as a pressure-sealed cable termination device in combination with a housing member with an enhanced number of twin conductors. The assembly is compact and provides enough electrical shielding.

E. PCM vs Bitstream: Audio Output

The transmission of PCM audio output requires significantly more bandwidth to minimize quality degradations and improve performance. In basic terms, it transforms a continuous time and continuous value analogue signal into discrete time and then sends a digital signal with discrete value in the channel.

The process of sampling an analogue signal, quantizing the sample amplitude, and encoding is known as pulse code modulation. After the encoding is complete, the projector that supports PCM audio output is output to the next device.

A movie is playing on Netflix
A movie is playing on Netflix.

Bitstream transmission gives receivers and speakers more options when it comes to high-quality audio output. The majority of bitstream files may simply be downmixed to 2 channel audio.

One way to accomplish this is in the player, but it may also be done in a TV or other output device. Both machines extract PCM 2 channel audio and send it to the amplifier using the same method. It doesn’t matter what option you choose if your source file is just 2 channel PCM.

F. PCM vs Bitstream: Transmission

PCM assist players and receivers with both analogue and digital sound transmission while bitstream transmission only works with players and receivers that can send and receive digital audio.

The analogue signal at the source (transmitter) of a communication circuit is sampled at regular time intervals to generate a PCM signal/ The sampling rate is many times the analogue signal’s maximum frequency.

In bitstream transmission, the bits are generally transmitted at regular intervals, there is no start or stop signals, and the bit patterns are transmitted in succession without interruption.

G. PCM vs Bitstream: Connection and Supports

Coaxial connection
Coaxial connection audio wires.

Support for coaxial or digital optical output with PCM is restricted and in some cases, non-existent – for home theatre and systems. Users get complete coaxial and digital optical compatibility with Bitstream, with up to five channels.

When you compare PCM with Bitstream, you’ll probably notice that there’s not much of a difference. When there is, it is usually quite little. Bitstream, on the other hand, is superior for digital connections and transmission, with wired and wireless alternatives available.

The PCM vs Bitstream argument is still difficult to understand in a side-by-side comparison. If you use the same audio format on the same speakers, they will sound extremely similar. Some individuals can’t tell the difference between PCM and bitstream since the results of the sound just look very similar.

Expert Tip: Most of the time, you will want bitstream. It outperforms PCM in terms of audio efficiency and the ability to use coaxial outputs.

But it is still important to be aware of the several key differences between the two and be mindful to look closely at these comparisons to see which one will best work for your equipment at home.

Similarities of PCM and Bitstream

Many of the same tasks are performed by PCM and Bitstream, including audio quality and file conversion. Despite the fact that Bitstream and PCM are two separate ways to convey audio signals, they also have a lot in common.

They both produce high-resolution audio that you wouldn’t even notice the differences between the two. Understanding how Bitstream and PCM works can help you in many ways.

The reality is that whether you play Hi-Res or conventional music through your speakers, they will sound the same. Despite their differences in outputs, PCM and bitstream both function admirably with DVD and Blu-Ray players that you can’t even tell their difference.

audiovideo receiver
A closer look at the different ports on an Audio/video receiver.

Furthermore, there are several players that allow you to switch between Bitstream and PCM. AVRs function in the same way as AVRs and are compatible with both. However, they have one thing in common, they both need to convert audio files to analogue before they can be played on your speakers.

When it comes to set up and the audio system, there are a few things to consider. People frequently mistake the PCM and Bitstream as both are capable of providing consumers with the outcomes they seek.

Even yet, understanding which of these two is the best is crucial for collecting any information from your sound system to help you get the optimal audio settings. Application compatibility and supported frequencies are more significant concerns in both PCM and Bitstream than sound and propagation.

Differences of PCM and Bitstream

PCM is a compression coding detection method that unscrambles the data for your audio equipment. The auditory input is converted to digital information using a bitstream, which is a binary sequence.

So when you start to decide between PCM and Bitstream for your home theatre, keep in mind that each one has its own pros and cons to consider. Bitstream is the technology that PCM gas utilized with its framework, and it neither enhances nor degrades it.

Close up of a home sound system
Close up of a home sound system.

It’s important to figure out whether you’ll be using Bitstream for your sound system and whether alternative configurations will allow you to bypass a PCM.

When it comes to audio formats, the names PCM and Bitstreams are sometimes confused with HDMI. If your Blu-ray is connected through HDMI to a receiver or home theatre system, you have two audio options, the Bitstream and PCM. When connecting the player through HDMI, the audio quality is essentially the same, but the way audio the audio is forwarded differs.

The following are the primary features of PCM over Bitstream:

  • Has access to high-resolution secondary audio
  • Uses a direct, quicker connection with low output latency
  • Relieve your receiver of the headaches of audio conversion
  • Utilizes a sound system that can decode audio files straight from the players

The following are the primary features of bitstream over PCM:

  • Has additional versatility from your speaker system when playing Hi-res music
  • Utilizes a receiver with higher processing power for audio
  • Uses DTS technology to maximize audio settings
  • Supports major surround sounds audio format

Choosing Bitstream has an effect – but how?

When you select the Bitstream option in the TV menu, all of your device’s decoders are bypassed. Instead of decompressing the files locally, your signal sends the audio to the receiver.

To put it in another way, your new PS5 will decode the audio files before sending them to your TV if you have it set to PCM on your TV. If you have it set to Bitstream, the decoding is done at the TV rather than the computer.

PlayStation 5 and game controller
PlayStation 5 and game controller.

If you have a Bitstream-capable or satellite box, it may decode the data before delivering it to your television. That’s because the compressed file uses less bandwidth during the first transmission, this format is beneficial for home theatre systems that utilize Dolby Atmos or earlier versions. Rather of uploading 2,000 files one at a time, send on folder of compressed files to your entertainment center instead.

Expert Tip: As long as your setup doesn’t rely on a secondary audio option, this structure should function well. The audio quality you hear will be degraded since your receiver will always utilize the least expensive distribution method.

You’ll get Dolby Digital or DTS instead if you have DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD at home. This is because programs that depend on secondary audio have to utilize both the file formats in the bandwidth to work.

To put it another way, anybody working with Bitstream should be wary of anything involving secondary audio recorded at a high quality. As soon as it’s sent to your chosen output, the sound quality is always reduced to the level of standard definition audio.

How does PCM works?

In a PCM vs. Bitstream situation, PCM also works wonders. An HDMI connection is the most used in contemporary surround sound home theatres. Because this is most likely the connection you’re utilizing, let us presume you’re using HDMI.

HDMI port on the sony portable player
HDMI port on the Sony portable player.

You must properly configure your Blu-ray player in order to utilize PCM. All the soundtracks and codecs from Dolby, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, and DTS Master Audio will need to be decoded by your media player.

Once you’ve completed this setup, the media player will do all of the heavy liftings and provide you with access to more materials. Secondary audio includes things like narrations, comments, and so forth. PCM is a good option if you require access to your surround sound’s PCM data.

When you should use PCM?

In a PCM vs. Bitstreams – in both cases, the audio quality may be achieved by converting the digital audio file to analogue, which is then played back via a speaker. This is also compatible with the vast majority of players on the market. When will you choose PCM over Bitstream in the future?

If you don’t want your receiver to have to deal with transcoding audio files, PCM is the setting for you. The sound system you’re using has encoding preferences for the player’s audio data. When you’re trying to find a method to access-high quality extra audio. If you’re looking for a commination’s that’s easier to understand and has less latency.

Advantages

  • External audio tracks are easily accessible and consistent.
  • Straight, faster, and with less delay.
  • Less work on the part of the receipt men.
  • The decoding process is finished in a player.

Disadvantages

  • The player has a hand in determining the volume of the audio.
  • The PCM sends a two-channel transmission using optical and coaxial digital signals to communicate with the other channel.
  • The player has completed a greater amount of work.

When should you use Bitstream?

Bitstream is the technology that PCM has integrated into its framework, but it does not enhance or degrade it in any way. It is essential to decide whether or not to utilize Bitstream for your sound system, as well as whether or not various configurations will assist you in overriding a PCM audio signal.

Bitstream has its own set of restrictions, and PCM should never be ruled out as a viable option. To make use of Bitstream’s capability to provide high-quality audio output and wireless connection, you may have to compromise with secondary audio at a normal resolution if you want to enjoy the advantages of the latter.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of Bitstream in a PCM vs. Bitstream comparison.

Advantages

  • The home receiver is in charge of decoding the audio.
  • It may be utilized if the receiver has higher-quality audio processing than the transmitter.
  • Increasing the likelihood of improved sound quality.
  • Bitstream is a digital transmission that delivers an encoded 5.1 signal through optical or coaxial digital communications.

Disadvantages

  • More effort is expended on the part of the receiver.
  • A high-quality receiver is required in order to achieve improved performance.
  • Additional audio is scaled down, which improves the quality of the audio.
Brian Slack explains the difference between PCM and Bitstream, as well as which one you should use and why.

PCM vs. Bitstream: Final Decision

If we just look closely at the performance that PCM and Bitstream can provide, there is no obvious victor in the argument between the two. As a consequence, there may be a lot of variables to take into consideration, such as the consistency of your Blu-ray player and the consistency of your audio receiver.

With conventional sound systems, both transmitting techniques will provide you with a high-resolution output if you use them properly.

Most of the time, Bitstream will be your best option. It outperforms PCM in terms of audio efficiency as well as the ability to use coaxial outputs, among other things. Furthermore, when watched with a suitable media player, the Bitstream files are encoded to offer a surround sound experience.

The only instance in which PCM is brought to the forefront is when supplementary audio sources are used. When it comes to sound transfer, most audio players only support the PCM format, which is in contrast to most video players. This implies that while choosing between the two, you may check to see whether your unit is compatible with the other. Now it’s up to you to decide.

About Jayden Buckley

Hi, my name is Jayden and I am author/editor for PlayTheTunes. I remember the first time I hopped on the drums, I was hooked. Music has played an enormous part of my life, and I'm honored I get to share my experiences with you!