You could be forgiven for being confused when it comes to surround sound. The market for surround sound formats and technology is littered with buzz words and proprietary terminology between brands that compete and confuse. To jump into the world of surround sound, you only need to understand a couple of basics.
Varieties Of Surround Sound
Surround sound systems can vary based on speaker quantity and audio format, and the degree of immersion provided to the listener is based on a combination of these and several other factors. Room size is an important factor to consider when deciding on the size of the system; the more space, the more warranted additional speakers are. The configurations across the formats are mostly uniform and are expressed in a number with a decimal place eg. 5.1, with the first digit referring to the number of audio channels, and the second referring to the number of subwoofers, also called an LFE (low-frequency effects) channel. Dolby, DTS and THX are three brands that produce the most common formats for surround sound reproduction, with DTS providing the highest audio quality in most of its formats (owing to lower compression applied to the audio or being altogether lossless).
5.1 Channel Surround
The most common type of surround sound system for home theaters, 5.1-channel surround is the minimum you’ll want for stepping into the world of surround sound. The configuration consists of standard stereo speakers in the front, the subwoofer, plus additional “discrete” channels, providing a clear surround sound experience: rear left, rear right, and a center channel in the front. Dolby Digital is the standard format for this configuration.
6.1 Channel Surround
With the addition of another discrete center channel at the rear 6.1, a more immersive surround sound experience is provided. The extra rear center speaker helps the audio truly “surround” the listener. Most movie theaters use 6.1 surround sound.
7.1 Channel Surround
The fullest surround effect is provided with 7.1 surround sound, the configuration comprising 2 rear speakers, 2 side speakers, 3 in the front and the subwoofer. The audio formats that are used are also considered to be highly detailed, with both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio reproducing lossless audio which is supported by Blu-ray.