There is a quiet audio war that you probably haven’t heard of. That noise you don’t hear is Dolby clashing with DTS.
The article at the bottom of this post has a lot of detailed information about the differences between these two audio formats. So you don’t lose sight of the truth here the variation between these two formats is quite small but technology is always vying for first place, even if it’s by just a half step.
In short, DTS audio uses less compression. Compression is a tool used to make audio easier to send. It essentially makes the audio file smaller with less data needing to be transferred to each speaker. The drawback with compression is that you are literally chopping off pieces of the original audio mix for the sake of convenience. Uncompressed audio is superior in its quality but it requires a much beefier “medium” to transmit the audio. This is why many speaker companies are moving to wifi because it supports high fidelity, uncompressed audio unlike bluetooth or radio frequency. Before we go any further, my comments about compressed vs uncompressed and Dolby vs DTS only apply to 5.1 surround sound formats. There are newer. 6.1, 7.1, 7.2 and even 7.1.2 configurations that have totally different rules that apply to them. I am speaking specifically to 5.1 systems because those are the most common and are a great jumping board if you want to go up to a larger configuration later.
For those that are familiar with .mp3, a highly compressed music format, and .m4a, a lossless or high fidelity format, your ears can probably pick out which is which. MP3’s are used because of how convenient it is to make an audio file 25% of its original size but you’re cutting out important pieces of the music. Lossless audio retains the original resolution and is usually 4 times larger than highly compressed format. However, the variances between compressed but well thought out audio (Dolby) and less compressed audio (DTS), is minimal because of the quality of the compression. Unlike the vast difference between .mp3 and .m4a. While there is a substantial difference on paper, the variance between quality compressed and uncompressed audio is harder to pick out in person. It’s similar to how 4K has 4 times the resolution of 1080p but unless you are quite close to the screen, you probably can’t tell the difference. If you have been practicing mentally picking out which piece of sound fits where (fourth paragraph in Sonic Immersion), you have a better chance of hearing the little nuances in compressed audio vs uncompressed audio.
This war gets more confusing because the two formats are constantly changing. Dolby has recently released its new standard for both audio and video. Dolby Vision is the standard for visual quality and Dolby Atmos for audio. Essentially Dolby Atmos adds not only surround field effects tailored for specific scenes/speaker placements in a movie but it adds sound “height” to the mix. Check the dolby link at the bottom for more info on Dolby Atmos.
In conclusion there are differences between Dolby and DTS audio but it depends on how keen your ear is on picking up changes and also the quality of the speakers you own. Your ability to sense change will be limited by the weakest link in your setup. If you own a 100 dollar sound bar and sub, you will not be able to even remotely sense the changes between compressed and uncompressed audio. No way. You need a high fidelity speaker system that will allow you to feel the difference.
Updated 1/4/2017: Edited content.