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Pcm Vs Bitstream – Which One is Better?

PCM (or) Bitstream? Got stuck between these two audio transmission technologies? Well, don’t stress yourself much. Genuinely both PCM and Bitstream are popular audio transmission forms for transmitting audio from transmitters and media players to the speakers and receivers in your home theater system. Though these technologies seem to be similar, they differ in how data is compressed and encoded.

Quickly run across the article to know more about PCM and Bitstream. And importantly we have gone through many relevant articles and other sources to develop this article and we have covered everything. Yes, this article gives you a complete view of both PCM and Bitstream so, that you can make an informed decision while opting for them. This article will take you through the basics of PCM and Bitstream along with their similarities, features, differences, comparison, and use cases. 

Let’s start with the basics. Begin with understanding what PCM and Bitstream are and when they must be used.

What is PCM?

PCM widely referred to as Pulse Code Modulation is a standard method of translating audio signals into a series of digital values that correspond to the analog waveform’s amplitude. It is used in many audio applications such as Blu-ray and is also known as linear pulse code modulation or LPCM. Because the PCM stream is uncompressed, it needs greater bandwidth.

  • PCM is an algorithm used by devices to represent analog waves. 
  • It makes no difference whether you send compressed (or) uncompressed audio files in PCM. But when a device gets an input, it decodes it before sending it to your receiver.
  • Almost every device that converts digital to analog audio output, and vice-versa, use this PCM technology to deliver audio files.
  • PCM offers a high level of fidelity and accuracy when converting analog signals into digital format.

When Should You Use PCM?

Although both PCM and Bitstream help enhance audio quality, there are specific reasons why PCM should be used. 

  • PCM setup is the best option if you want a direct and fast connection that lowers output delay. 
  • It can also be used for high-quality secondary audio. 
  • You can also pick PCM if your sound system supports only the audio file from the player. 
  • You can go with this configuration if you are looking to stop the receiver from converting audio files. 

What is Bitstream?

Bitstream, also known as binary sequence, is an audio translation system that translates the analog output audio signal from the source into digital bits and sends the information to a receiver. It transfers the audio signal into the format you specify after breaking it down into little pieces. Bitstream is used by several surround sound formats, including Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, DTS X, TrueHD, and DTS Master Audio.

  • Bitstream is used to produce surround sound codecs that are sent from the player to the AVR, AV preamplifier, processor, or power amplifier combo.
  • Although bitstream provides fewer possibilities for audio transmission, the sound output is virtually identical to PCM and may even offer additional frequencies.
  • It is widely used to encode multiple audio formats, allowing them to be compatible with a wide range of audio players, home theaters, and other devices.
  • You can use both wired and wireless connections when using Bitstream for a player that supports this transmission.

When Should You Use Bitstream?

Generally, both PCM and Bitstream help enhance audio quality, but there are specific reasons why Bitstream should be used. 

  • Bitstream can be used if your receiver has more processing power. 
  • It is a good pick if your sound system relies on the receiver to handle files. 
  • You can also use Bitstream if you want to experience 5.1 surround sound. 
  • With Bitstream you have the most freedom while playing high-resolution music.

PCM Vs Bitstream – Comparison

Feature PCM Bitstream
Purpose Quantizes the signal to a sequence of binary values and samples the signal periodically at a set rate Transforms the analog output audio signal into digital bits and provides the information to a receiver
Transmission Works well with both analog and digital sound transmission players and receivers Works well with only digital sound transmission players and receivers
Compatibility Compatible with modern players including CD, DVD, and Blu-ray players  Compatible with high-end modern players that fully support most surround sound formats
Audio Output Transmission requires higher bandwidth to reduce the quality degradation with better output Transmission offers better flexibility for receivers and speakers to deliver high-quality audio output
Secondary Audio Offers better support provision for hi-resolution secondary audio channels Provides limited audio channel options, but the secondary audio quality is good
Connection Requires a physical connection from the player to the AVR and speaker for audio stream transmission Audio streams can be sent wired (or) wirelessly as long as they originate from a suitable media player
Audio File Audio files are converted from analog to digital and vice versa for transmission to the receiver Audio files are bit encoded and follow a specified surround sound standard for digital transmission
Decoding Players decode audio files and then transfer the data to the receiver for output Players transmit compressed audio files to the receiver, which is responsible for the data decoding
Optical (or) Coaxial Provides minimal support for digital optical (or) coaxial output A range of up to 5.1 digital optical (or) coaxial output is supported
Compression Uncompressed Compressed
Quality Delivers lossless audio quality  Delivers lossy audio quality 
Resolution High Varies
File Size Supports larger audio files Supports smaller audio files
Data Representation Simple-based Encoded data packets
Bit Depth Flexible Variable
Dynamic Range Offers a wide dynamic range The dynamic range may vary depending on the bitrate
Encoding Complexity Low High
Error Resilience Limited Built-in error correction
Metadata Limited Extensive
Editing Flexibility Limited More options available
System Resources Consumes higher resources Consumes lower resources
Use Cases Suitable for audiophiles Suitable for streaming

PCM Vs Bitstream – Which Is Better?

Generally, both Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) and Bitstream can deliver high-quality sound when it comes to audio transmission. However, each option has its own strengths and weaknesses. 

  • PCM is known for its accuracy and precision in reproducing audio but can require more bandwidth. 
  • Whereas, Bitstream helps to compress the audio data, allowing for more efficient transmission but potentially sacrificing some detail in the final sound. 

Anyways, the choice between PCM and Bitstream completely depends on your specific needs and priorities. Finally, we suggest you go through the features of both PCM and Bitstream to assist you to choose the perfect pick for wonderful audio transmission.

PCM Vs Bitstream – Features Comparison
  • PCM players decode audio files before sending the data to the receiver for output. Typically a PCM decoder’s clock frequency is important to the proper operation of the fundamental decoding systems.
  • And Bitstream players transmit compressed audio files to a receiver, which decodes the data. The player transfers the unaltered data to the receiver (or) processor, which then does all decoding and digital-to-analog conversion.

You can use either PCM (or) bitstream audio up to 5.2 surround sound, although bitstream is suggested beyond that. 


Both PCM and Bitstream can support high-resolution audio but with certain limitations. 

  • PCM supports up to 24-bit and 192kHz audio. 
  • Bitstream can support equivalent resolutions as long as it is not too compressed.
Audio File

Both Bitstream and PCM files generate audio signals in distinct ways, there is no audible difference between them. 

  • Using PCM, players convert analog signals to digital and vice versa for transmission to the receiver. 
  • The Bitstream audio files are bit encoded and utilize a unique surround sound optical communication mechanism.

Different configurations have different device availability and additional connectivity options. 

  • PCM is widely supported by CD, DVD, and Blu-ray players. It is a far more attractive option than Bitstream.
  • Bitstream, on the other hand, works with contemporary high-end players that fully handle the majority of surround sound formats. 

Bitstream is only suitable for sound-enhancing applications, but PCM is suitable for almost any device.

  • PCM audio streams must be physically transferred from the player to the AVR and speaker. The signal in PCM acts similarly to the DFM (Design For Manufacturing) signal.
  • While Bitstream audio streams can be transmitted through cable as well as wireless. 
Audio Output
  • Transmission of PCM audio output requires much greater bandwidth to minimize quality degradations and increase performance. 
  • When it comes to high-quality audio output, bitstream transmission provides receivers and speakers with additional alternatives. 
  • PCM facilitates players and receivers with analog and digital sound transmission.
  • Whereas bitstream transmission works solely with players and receivers that can send and receive digital audio. Bits are typically delivered at regular intervals in bitstream transmission, there are no start (or) stop signals, and bit patterns are broadcast in succession without interruption.
Secondary Audio

Secondary audio tracks refer to multi-language narration, audio descriptions of scenery, and setting for those with visual impairments which play alongside the primary audio (or) movie track. 

  • PCM performs much better as it supports high-resolution secondary audio channels. 
  • Bitstream provides adequate secondary audio capabilities but with fewer choices than PCM. 
Optical (or) Coaxial
  • The PCM format only supports a few digital coaxial output choices. 
  • Bitstream is more adaptable, as it can output digital coaxial and optical signals from up to 5.1 systems. 
Streaming Support

PCM and Bitstream are both capable of streaming audio over the internet or other data networks.

  • PCM files demand more bandwidth and storage space than Bitstream files since they are bigger. 
  • Bitstream files may be compressed to a lower size, making them more suited for streaming applications with limited bandwidth and storage. 
Editing Flexibility
  • Since PCM files are uncompressed and ‘lossless,’ they are more versatile and easier to edit and modify than Bitstream files. They can be edited at any point in the audio stream by cutting, copying, and pasting.
  • Bitstream files require more complicated algorithms and decoders to modify. Plus modifying Bitstream files might result in significant quality loss, whereas PCM files retain the original quality.
System Resources
  • PCM files take up more storage space and bandwidth than Bitstream files but need less computer power to decode and play. 
  • Bitstream files use less storage and bandwidth than PCM files but demand more computer power to decode and play.
Error Resilience
  • PCM is capable of detecting and correcting faults in the audio data stream. This is especially crucial in high-stakes applications like broadcasting and professional audio recording, where precision and quality are critical.
  • Bitstream is less error-tolerant than PCM since it does not fix faults in the audio stream. While certain Bitstream codecs, such as Dolby Digital Plus, may still provide high-quality audio, they are not as durable as PCM.
Use Cases
  • PCM is widely utilized in digital audio applications requiring great precision and accuracy, such as recording studios and mastering suites. 
  • Bitstream is better suited for data transfer applications where bandwidth and file size are critical, such as streaming.

PCM Vs Bitstream – Key Differences

Both configurations are excellent for generating excellent sound quality. Unfortunately, setting up them will never be that straightforward. There are thousands of different aspects to consider, and you may have to sacrifice one feature for another at times.

Here are some of the major differences you should be aware of before making a decision between PCM and Bitstream.

  • The key difference between the PCM and Bitstream is the quality of the audio file that your player (or) receiver converts, don’t mix output quality with file quality.
  • PCM uses raw signals generated by your converter, and codecs like DTS (or) Dolby Digital have no effect on its quality whereas Bitstream works with coded audio files, but it can handle more frequencies, allowing you to make high-resolution music.
  • With the availability of lossless compression technologies like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio, Bitstream may give the same quality without requiring extra data transmission space.
  • Device compatibility and other connectivity options differ between the two setups. PCM is compatible with practically every device, whilst Bitstream may only operate with devices that enable high-resolution surround sound.
  • You will need a physical connection for PCM since the files that your player transmits are frequently large and cannot be sent over the air.

PCM Vs Bitstream – FAQs

1. What are the similarities between PCM and Bitstream?

Ans: Look at the similarities between PCM and Bitstream which are listed below.
*Besides the output, both setups work very well with most DVD and Blu-ray players.
*Both PCM and bitstream need to convert audio files to analog before your speakers can produce the output that you need.
*Both of these two configurations are capable of delivering high-quality audio. 

2. What is LPCM?

Ans: Linear pulse code modulation, or LPCM, is a type of audio transmission that uses uncompressed audio files. It features linearly uniform quantization levels and is also known as PCM Plus. LPCM employs raw audio, AU Audio, AC3, WAV, AIFF, RF64, and MPEG audio and is only compatible with HDMI connections that are coaxial (or) optical.

3. What is the best format for PCM?

Ans: The most popular uncompressed audio file formats for PCM are probably AIFF, WAV, and AIFF. They utilize comparable data but store it in somewhat different ways.

4. Can PCM (or) Bitstream formats be converted from one to another?

Ans: In general, PCM can be converted to Bitstream and vice versa. However, switching from a lossy Bitstream codec to PCM will not recover the original audio quality lost during compression. Furthermore, the availability and simplicity of conversion may vary based on the exact audio formats and software utilized.

5. Is PCM audio high quality?

Ans: As PCM audio is lossless and uncompressed, no audio data is lost, resulting in a higher-quality audio file. It is also interoperable with the majority of devices, making it an excellent solution for applications requiring interoperability.

6. Can the Bitstream audio format achieve the same audio quality as PCM?

Ans: Compression in the Bitstream audio format results in some loss of audio quality. While modern compression algorithms strive for acceptable audio fidelity, they may fall short of the pure sound of PCM uncompressed audio.

7. Does choosing PCM (or) Bitstream audio format affect the ability to edit (or) process the audio?

Ans: PCM audio format offers more flexibility for editing and processing since it retains the original audio data without compression. 
As the audio data is already encoded and may require decoding before alteration, the Bitstream may have limits in terms of editing choices owing to its compressed form.


Finally, if we merely compare the output that each can create, there is no obvious winner in the bitstream vs PCM. The decision is based on how you want to arrange your sound system and where you intend to utilize it. If you want a configuration that can handle high-resolution secondary audio, PCM is the way to go. If we employ popular sound systems, both transmission techniques can supply you with a high-resolution output.

However, if you’ve spent a lot of money building a complex sound system, bitstream will allow you to use superior audio codecs. Moreover, Bitstream will be the best option most of the time. It beats PCM in terms of audio efficiency and, among other things, the ability to employ coaxial outputs. 

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