5.1 Mystery

I can’t seem to find anything on this, and I’m curious if anyone here might have insight into this.

Why is it that no streaming TV services (with the exception of *some* channels on DirecTV Now) offer 5.1 audio?? I don’t have rear surround speakers, but I can notice the difference between the streaming TV services and my cable package just with the 3.1 setup I’ve got currently. I mean:

* Obviously, the source material has 5.1 audio, as cable and satellite have no problem offering it.
* I wouldn’t expect it to be a bitrate issue. When I rip movies with Handbrake, they recommend ~190Kbps for stereo vs ~360Kbps for surround (I forget exact numbers). The video bitrate has got to be in the Mbps range, so surely having the option of surround wouldn’t break the bank on bandwidth. Amazon/Netflix have no problems offering 5.1. And many of the streaming services *do* offer 5.1 for some VOD content.
* I wouldn’t expect it’s a CPU issue. I had Plex running on a raspberry pi 3, and it had no problems simultaneously transcoding multiple 5.1 AAC tracks to 5.1 AC3 or 2.0 AAC depending on the client doing the streaming. Most of these services are offering in the realm of 20-70 channels… surely throwing an extra computer or two in the mix to handle the added burden of encoding 5.1 in realtime would be worth the cost.
* I wouldn’t expect it to be a licensing issue since 1) again, they often offer it for VOD content, 2) OTA streams in 5.1 (not sure of the codec there).

Then again, the fact that DirecTV is starting to offer it on some channels but not all makes me think maybe it is a resource issue (CPU, bitrate, memory, etc). Do the big streaming services run that close to their resource limits? (I certainly wouldn’t expect that out of, say, Google with Youtube TV).

And perhaps, then, there hasn’t been enough interest to justify the resource overhead? In which case, could they, perhaps, make it a paid add-on for those of us who really want it?

It just boggles my mind that not a single service has done this yet. This seems like one of those things that would be fairly low-hanging fruit to implement, and would garner subscriptions from at least a decent-sized niche of those who care about it.

2 Replies to “5.1 Mystery”

  1. Not many people have 5.1 systems. Not many content providers have a clue about 5.1 sound.

    Some streaming services DO have 5.1 sound. Prime Video comes to mind.

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