Surround Sound Systems - Market Specifications
Surround yourself with sound
Surround sound systems are exactly what the phrase suggests: a way of surrounding yourself with sound. The audio on most regular TVs is what’s known as stereo sound, or two-channel sound. This means that there are two speakers, one on the left and one on the right. With surround sound (also known as multi-channel sound), there is a greater number of speakers, and they’re positioned for maximum effect.
Surround sound is one of the essential elements of your home theater. Without it, you don’t really have a home theater audio system; you just have a souped-up, well-connected TV. The right audio is crucial to the home theater experience.
Most DVDs are only shown to their full potential when you have surround sound capability. When a DVD is created, the sound mixers actually decide which sound should go through which channel (or speaker). All this information is put onto the DVD in a process called encoding. Your home theater system’s A/V receiver then decodes the information and tells the speakers what sounds to play and when. Of course, you can play a DVD on a regular stereo audio system, but you won’t get the same effect.
The point of designating different sounds to different speakers is to enhance the feeling that you, the viewer, are almost part of the movie world. If you’re watching The Day After Tomorrow, you should be able to hear the hurricanes and tornadoes happening around you. If you’re watching an on-screen alien invasion, you should hear the trajectory of the spaceships as well as seeing it.
Surround sound systems: number-crunching
A lot of the phrases connected with surround sound have numbers attached. (You may already have heard of Dolby 6.1 or 5.1 speaker kits.) The first number relates to the number of speakers (or channels) involved in the system. For example, 5.1, the most common format, has five main channels.
The second number relates to whether or not there is support for low frequency effects. In practice, this usually means whether or not there is a bass speaker (subwoofer). These are important for their dramatic vibrations. Even a deaf person will be able to tell you if you’ve got a good subwoofer – you should literally be able to feel the bass vibrations. If the number is 1, that means that there is support for a low frequency effects channel, whereas a 0 means that there is no such support.