Bitstream vs PCM: Which Is Better? Full Comparison

For years, the two industry standards for transmitting audio from the transmitter to the speaker, PCM, and Bitstream, have been the subject of heated controversy. Pulse code modulation is PCM, and Bitstream is a general word for any digital data format frequently encoded in binary or sent across communication channels. 

Bitstream vs PCM: Which Is Better? Full Comparison

Most CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs employ the PCM standard for audio encoding. The goal of Bitstream systems is to decrease bandwidth and storage needs while maintaining CD-quality audio. To decipher which one’s better suited to your needs, we’ll conduct a thorough analysis in our article on Bitstream vs. PCM. Keep reading to learn all about audio transmitters!

 

What Is PCM?

A method used by devices to represent analog waves is PCM. The standard for sending audio streams has been established for over a century and is still used today. Therefore, whether you provide compressed or uncompressed audio files won’t matter because PCM is an algorithm which means a gadget decodes the data after receiving input and sends it to your receiver.

The device you use will decode the file before transmitting it to the recipient if you use PCM for audio. This approach holds whether you’re using LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation), in which the quantization levels are linear, or conventional PCM, where the quantization levels are determined by amplitude.

The industry standard for audio streams is PCM, which has been used since the turn of the 20th century. This method transmits audio data to nearly all devices that convert digital to analog audio outputs and vice versa. 

 

How To Configure PCM?

You can change your sound system’s audio output to PCM when connecting it to a Blu-ray player. This implies that your player will decode all audio files, including DTS, HD Master Audio, Dolby, and Dolby TrueHD. These decoded audio files will then be sent, uncompressed, to every receiver attached to your home theatre system by your player. 

Consequently, after receiving the audio file as input, your AVR is free to do nothing with it. Only these will be delivered to your speakers for output. The majority of AVRs are PCM compatible since this sort of connection is frequently used for CD players.

Its compatibility with analog and digital input makes it the most widely used method for sending audio signals.

 

What Is Bitstream?

To better understand Bitstream vs. PCM, let’s understand how Bitstream works first. When turning auditory input into digital bits, we employ Bitstream, a binary sequence, or what we often hear as 1s and 0s. Although PCM and other high-resolution audio transmissions used this technique as a foundation, it still needs to be made available. 

Furthermore, the sound output rarely changes from PCM when utilizing Bitstream for audio transmission and may even provide you access to higher frequencies. 

 

How To Configure Bitstream?

The player will send compressed audio files to the receiver when Bitstream transmission is enabled on a device. Any encoded surround sound format received from the player will cause a receiver with the Bitstream setting to turn on the AV processor and recognize it. 

The CPU will then decode the file using the signal’s instructions. Higher-end receivers could have a post-processing function that changes the signal from digital to analog so that you can amplify the audio for better output. 

 

Pros And Cons of PCM

The following list of pros and cons provides a comprehensive overview of what to expect from employing PCM for your audio system. 

 

Pros 

  1. Improved accessibility to more audio tracks
  2. Faster, more direct, and without latency
  3. A reduction in receiver workload
  4. The player (Blu-ray player or another player device) does the decoding
  5. The trade-off between bandwidth and effective SCR 
  6. Consistent transmission quality 
  7. Low production costs 
  8. Digital integrated circuit 
  9. Facilitates the add-drop  

 

Cons

  1. PCM uses digital optical or coaxial to provide a two-channel signal
  2. Part of the audio quality is determined by the player (Blu-ray player or any player)
  3. The player puts in more effort to make the audio sound palatable.
  4. Overload occurs when the quantity of the modulation signal change between samples is larger than the step size. Quantization error is the variance between the analog signal’s original and translated digital versions. 
  5. PCM’s encoding, decoding, and quantizing circuits are pretty complicated
  6. Crosstalk and noise decrease but attenuation increases 
  7. You can only produce an integrated digital network with this modulation by gradually increasing noise. 

 

Pros And Cons of Bitstream

The benefits and drawbacks listed below give a thorough picture of what to expect when using Bitstream for your audio system. When choosing between Bitstream vs. PCM and its features, you may make a better choice if you know the possible tradeoffs.

 

Pros 

  1. Stream uses digital optical or coaxial to transmit a 5.1 encoded signal. 
  2. Significant improvement in sound quality.
  3. It can be employed if the receiver has better audio processing capabilities.
  4. The receiver at home decodes sounds.
  5. Bitstream is a format that works well with surround sound and is supported by most high-end devices and modern media players. 
  6. The related audio files are first encoded by the bitstream technology, guaranteeing that surround sound only sends encoded audio. 
  7. Since Bitstream uses compressed sound, sound transmission is quicker. Transmission of decompressed sound takes longer. 
  8. One of its many noteworthy advantages is the ability to employ Bitstream transmission mode through wired or wireless. However, the transmission must function in completely compatible devices.

 

Cons

  1. The quality of the supplemental audio is reduced via scaling. 
  2. To get better results, you need a high-quality receiver. 
  3. The high-quality receiver in the audio system is under more stress, which increases the likelihood that it may malfunction earlier than anticipated. 
  4. The secondary audio broadcast could be better.

 

PCM vs Bitstream Breakdown

 

Bitstream vs. PCM: Similarities

The two transmission modes can provide high-quality audio as long as there is no secondary sound and no high-resolution codecs, which tend to lower sound output quality. Furthermore, there is the option to generate analog output in both, regardless of the audio configurations employed. This is due to the audio file being played or received using a particular audio format. 

Other multimedia files supporting the specific audio file being utilized are supported by PCM and Bitstream settings. An identical audio format will be produced as a consequence.

 

Bitstream vs. PCM: Differences

When it comes to the best and purest audio quality, PCM dominates Bitstream. Unlike Bitstream, which has compressed the audio signals for quick transmission, PCM sends uncompressed signals. 

Bitstream occasionally employs audio codes with lossless capabilities when compressing and decompressing audio files. One such codec is Dolby Digital, sometimes referred to as DTS-HD Master Audio. In data processing of audio files that need to be compressed while keeping the audio quality to conserve audio space, Bitstream is more dependable. 

Since there are no audio decoding files, PCM outputs audio in its unprocessed form. Therefore, PCM audio signals are raw since they have not been transformed or encoded.

 

Final Thoughts

If we compare the output that each can create, there is no prominent champion in the Bitstream vs. PCM dispute. The option you choose will depend on the configuration of your sound system. 

PCM is preferable if you want a configuration that can support high-resolution secondary audio. Both transmission techniques can give you a high-resolution output using standard sound systems. However, if you’ve spent a lot of money building a complex sound system, Bitstream will enable you to use superior audio codecs.