PCM vs. Bitstream

By Glen / October 7, 2019

Last Updated on

With so many leaps in video technology in the past few decades, it can be hard to keep up with all of your options when it comes to settings, types of setups and overall video and audio quality.

However, it’s really not as difficult as it may sound, though we all know technology can certainly get complicated.

When it comes to audio for your home theater setup, there are really two main options that most people aim for. These include Bitstream and PCM.

You may be wondering what exactly these options entail and how they can improve your experience. Let’s take a look so that you can be well informed on what these settings can do for you!


What is Bitstream?

Bitstream is the audio settings option that can get a little more complicated. You need a more modern, capable receiver and video player in order to do it, but some can find that it’s helpful for their setup.

Overall, it’s a method that relies heavily on the receiver rather than the video player.

Details

When you opt for the Bitstream setting, you’re essentially telling your Blu-Ray player to ignore any of the decoding tasks it might otherwise perform.

Instead, what happens is the player takes that signal and sends it without any decoding to your theater setup.

Then, that receiver will have to put in the work instead. Keep in mind that not all older models may be able to do that translating efficiently, so it may depend on your setup.

However, many find that if you have a newer receiver, this can be the ideal option but don’t forget that it can also be more complicated. It’s known to only be able to function with transmissions using digital sound, and receivers that are able to handle surround sound.

Pros

  • Good sound quality
  • Ideal for surround sound
  • Works well for PC

Cons

  • Not as easy to set up
  • Not all receivers can use this setting
  • Only works with certain kinds of video players

What Is PCM?

In short, PCM is the most common method used for ensuring that we can hear the audio on any Blu-Ray disc. It’s basically the standard option that comes with most Blu-Ray players, and it handles incoming signals before they reach the receiver, so the receiver has less work to do.

Details

Unlike Bitstream, PCM is the setup that allows the player to handle the translating of audio signals rather than the receiver.

As a result, it keeps the receiver from having to do that work itself because it has already been taken care of by the Blu-Ray players beforehand.

This tends to be the most common choice and is often used by those who are just watching movies at home using their personal Blu-Ray player.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that unlike Bitstream, this option has to use a wired connection, as it cannot work wirelessly.

Typically speaking, these settings aren’t something that most people concern themselves with. Between the two options, the sound quality is essentially the same.

However, those who are more interested in technology and want to seek out more efficient methods of connecting may want to determine that for themselves.

Pros

  • Decent sound quality
  • Easy to use
  • Widely available

Cons

  • Requires wired connection
  • Less ideal for surround sound

What Are PCM And Bitstream Used For?

Both PCM and Bitstream are used in combination with a Blu-Ray player. As many of us are aware, home video has really jumped forward when it comes to technological advancements.

Largely, this is done to create a better viewing experience, and more enjoyable sound to go along with it.

Blu-Ray players seek to provide a better overall sound quality than DVD or VHS players of the past, especially when it comes to special features like surround sound.

In addition to that, they offer multiple connection methods and settings so that you can get the ideal audio and visual experience no matter what setup you have.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the sound quality available for both Bitstream and PCM are the same. However, depending on what kind of home theater situation you have in your home, one may suit your needs more than the other.

Because of that, it’s going to be worthwhile to think about how your system is already set up, and work from there to determine which option will work best for you.

Take your time and you’ll surely end up with the ideal sound setup to match just about any movie experience.


Comparing PCM and Bitstream

Ultimately, the only differences between these two settings are in relation to how they function for your setup. Neither is necessarily going to provide higher quality sound.

However, keep in mind that not all setups are going to be able to handle Bitstream while many are designed for PCM.

Because of this, it’s going to be important to have an understanding about what your setup needs and what it can handle.

That way, you won’t end up trying to use an audio setting that simply won’t work for you. Once you find the right setting for your needs, you won’t have to worry about changing it again.


Conclusion

Try not to stress too much when it comes to choosing the correct audio settings for your PC or home theater system. In most cases, even if you can’t use Bitstream, PCM is still available for you to get the audio you need.

Many video players also offer some secondary options aside from these two most popular choices.

If you aren’t terribly concerned about getting the sound in a more technologically advanced way, you can still use PCM for your video needs.

It may not always be the perfect choice for surround sound, but it’s known to be a great option aside from that factor.

In any case, it’s a good idea to try both options out if you can and see for yourself which you prefer.

About the author

Glen

My name is Glen Parry. I've been in the audio world for over 15 years. This includes guitar, keyboard, ukulele, speakers, headphones and everything else that comes with it. I spend all my free time on music production and jamming with friends. I hope to use this site to share my experience and help anyone looking for solutions to audio related problems.