Surround Sound

Written by Charles Peacock
Bookmark and Share

Surround sound has become a real buzzword with the rising popularity of home theater systems in the last decade. But what is surround sound? What kind of equipment do you need to achieve it? And how many speakers do you have to buy? Let's take a look at the answers to those questions.

Creating Surround Sound in Your Home

While surround sound was attempted as early as the 1960s, it wasn't until the '90s that it became feasible for home entertainment purposes. It was during this time that Dolby labs developed a system that they called Dolby Surround. Dolby Surround encoded four tracks of audio into the two audio tracks available in VHS tapes and television broadcasts. With a Dolby Surround decoder, you could extract these four tracks and pump them into four speakers (left, right, center, and rear), creating the first home surround sound.

The only problem with this type of surround is that the rear channel doesn't have directionality--meaning that you're hearing the same signal in your rear right and left. Dolby Digital (also known as Dolby 5.1 or 6.1) solved this problem, utilizing five or six separate tracks to create a true surround sound experience. For example, with a Dolby 5.1 or 6.1 equipped stereo (and 5 or 6 properly placed speakers), you can now hear a car racing behind you from left to right.

To achieve surround in your home theater, you need a receiver (also known as an amplifier) that is Dolby 5.1 or 6.1 capable. Dolby 5.1 refers to five channel surround, while 6.1 is six channel surround, and to properly channel these you need five or six speakers (respectively). Most DVDs, Laserdiscs, and satellite television broadcasters allow you to utilize true Dolby surround.

Bookmark and Share