Extended Surround Sound: To Boldly Go Beyond 5.1?
Extended surround sound is nothing new. The staple surround sound configuration for movie theaters and home theaters is digitally delivered, discrete 5.1-channel surround sound. But in both arenas there have also been numerous pushes to move beyond that paradigm. In the DVD era we were given a number of options for expanding our surround sound experience toward the back of the room, from the base 5.1-channel paradigm to 6.1- and 7.1-channels. Although only select DVD titles were encoded with extended surround, within a few years virtually every AV receiver and surround processor in existence offered tool sets that would decode these soundtracks- or any 5.1-channel soundtrack- to 6.1- or 7.1-channels on playback. And just about any AVR you look at today will include seven channels of amplification.
Now that we’re in the Blu-ray generation fully discrete 7.1-channel mixes are available on a number of Blu-ray titles, which just about any AVR or surround processor manufactured in the last couple of years can decode. And Dolby has a new 7.1-channel theatrical surround format with discrete back surrounds that will probably make its way into our home theaters at some point. But today’s flavors of extended surround only start in the back of the room. Audyssey’s DSX uses advanced post-processing to extend surround by adding height and/or width channels up front. Dolby also offers height-enhanced surround with Pro Logic IIz. These expanded surround features are becoming more common on higher-end AVRs, and some are even shipping with nine channels of amplification to support these extended surround options.
My question to you is whether you have already, or plan to move beyond 5.1-channel surround, either in back or in front? Do these new height and width modes look or sound intriguing to you, or are you more than happy with your current 5.1- or 7.1-channel surround? Even if you want to, is it possible for you to add more speakers and amplifiers to your room?
I’ve got my own thoughts on this that I’ll share, but I want to hear from you first and don’t want to bias anyone with my own opinion one way or the other. Yet.