7.1 vs. 5.1, HTIBs, Dolby Headphone

More Channels
With Blu-ray's storage capacity, lossless codecs, and 7.1 receivers, why aren't the vast majority of Blu-ray movies released with 7.1 audio? Are movie distributors/production companies just cheap or lazy? Did I just waste my money installing a 7.1 setup?

Robert Taylor

All modern movie soundtracks are mixed in 5.1, so that's why most Blu-rays are 5.1. I don't know why movies are not mixed in 7.1 discrete, except perhaps that it wouldn't sound complete on a 5.1 system, which many people still have. There are a few 7.1 Blu-rays, but the back-surround channels are artificially derived from the side-surround channels. This is also how a 7.1 receiver generates the extra two channels from a 5.1 source.

I don't think the companies involved are cheap or lazy; they are conforming to the marketplace as well as an existing standard for commercial cinema. As for wasting money on a 7.1 system, I wouldn't spend the extra dough on 7.1, not only because there's no content with true 7.1 channels, but also because the sense of envelopment is not that much greater with 7.1 compared with 5.1.

Tight Budget
I just love what you do and how you help people out, and I have a few questions of my own. I have a 42-inch Samsung LCD TV that accepts 720p or 1080i and a PlayStation 3 connected to the TV with a 6-foot Monoprice HDMI cable. I would like to get a 5.1 surround-sound system. My budget is $500 or a bit more if necessary. What should I get? I need help with everything, like where to put the speakers, etc. I will be primarily using this room for gaming and watching Blu-ray movies. I know my budget is tight, but I want the best bang for my buck!

Dakota O'Neill

Thanks for the kind words! I think the best solution for you is a home theater in a box, or HTIB. Since you already have a PS3, you don't need an HTIB with a disc player. I recommend the Onkyo HT-S5100. It lists for $600, but I've seen it online for much less. It's the successor to the HT-SR800, which got a very good review on Home Theater.

As for where to put the speakers, front left and right at ±30 degrees from the centerline directly in front of you, center speaker directly under or above the TV screen, side surrounds at ±110 degrees, back surrounds behind you (there's no standard placement for these speakers). In a rectangular room, the main left/right speakers should be located at even fractions—say, a sixth or eighth—of the room's length and width (and height, but this is more difficult to manage). The surrounds can be mounted on the walls. The subwoofer is generally best at the half or quarter point along one wall.

No Speakers
Because of other family members and the proximity of my neighbors, I can't use speakers at all. So the AVR I get must have Dolby Headphone or it does me no good. But the AVRs with Dolby headphone that I have found are way out of my budget ($600 or less). Is my budget too low? Why do I have to pay big bucks for an AVR with Dolby headphone that never will have speakers connected? Why hasn't this technology become available as a small add on? Why does this technology only show up in the high-end units? Does Dolby have a list of systems with it's technology in it? Is the Dolby technology sold as hardware (chips) or software for use in proprietary chips?

David E. Scott

Here are some AVRs with Dolby Headphone that are more or less within your budget, at least at discount:

Harman AVR 354
Harman AVR 3550HD
Sherwood R872
Marantz SR6003
Marantz SR5003

Dolby licenses this and its other technologies to manufacturers, who determine what products actually appear in the marketplace, not Dolby. I don't know why a small add-on box hasn't been developed—it's a good idea.

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

Kanwar's picture

For the last question, here are a couple of notes:JVC has a Dolby Headphone processor which can be plugged into an existing audio system:http://www.audiocubes.com/product/JVC_SU-DH1_Surround_Headphone_Adapter.... video isn't critical, I the HK 3490 also has Dolby Headphone as well and is a stereo amp, so you won't be paying for a bunch of unused channels if all you need is the headphone output. It does, however, have less digital inputs than a typical AVR, but, hey, it has digital inputs!

zenen's picture

i think the whole 7.1 surround sound, is a marketing ploy to get the consumer to pay top dollar for a 7.1 receiver. I mean if the studio mix is only in 5.1 its irrelevant to have such a system. im looking for discrete channels not some neo mock-up!

Ryan's picture

I have a JVC SU-DH1, which has proved convenient in times such as David mentions. I'm told that they are still made, but most are available from Japan. You can read a little more at http://pureaudio.blogspot.com/2008/11/jvc-su-dh1-portable-surround-decod.... Some PCs and laptops also have Dolby Headphone built into their DVD playback software products. Computers with Dolby PC Entertainment Experience also include Dolby Headphone.

Brad's picture

Even though not all movie soundtracks are 7.1 having a the 2 extra speakers comes in nicely when listening to music or any other 2 channel material. The easiest way to upgrade to 7.1 is to upgrade your front right and left speakers then migrate your original speakers further back. Not only will you enjoy new speakers, you will also make use of the ones you already own.

the truth's picture

7.1 is not a total gimmick. 1. It's nice in larger spaces where you tend to lose the "enveloping" sound of 5.1...even if it's (7.1) matrixed.2. Some 5.1 soundtracks matrixed to 7.1 actually sound pretty fair...cheack out X-Men United for a solid example.3. There ARE some 7.1 studio mixes out there and there'll certainly be more.In the end, I'll take that extra 2 channels, thanks. In a modern receiver, it can be seen as only a bonus, IMO, as fidelity really isn't being terribly hindered in a $500 unit. Sounds like a lot of sour grapes from those without it, or unwilling to upgrade.NO harm, no foul.

Enthusiast's picture

Forget measly 7.1, I'm waiting on 11.2! I wonder how my wife will like 13 speakers spread across our entire living room, though?

val sammut's picture

Hi, I just purchased a samsung plasma,model PN58B550, IN THE SPECS IT DOES NOT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THE 3:2 PULLDOWN, DOES THAT MEAN THIS SET WONT DEINTERLACE PROPERLY, DONT ALL SETS NOW HAVE THIS FEATURE,or is it listed as something else, I have a samsung blu-ray PD-3600 does the player do all this before it is sent to the tv. I am stumped.can you help me please.thanksval

Scott Wilkinson's picture

All TVs have video processors that ostensibly include 3:2 pulldown compensation, but some work better than others. I haven't seen the B850 plasma, but Tom Norton is reviewing the very similar B860, and he says it passed the 1080i 3:2 test but failed the 480i test. The BD-P3600 player passed the 1080i 3:2 pulldown test in HT's review, so either way should work just fine as long as you don't send 480i to the TV.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Regarding the JVC SU-DH1, I just verified that is no longer available.

Jo Clyde's picture

Thank you for helping us all out in picking what we need and not going with the hype. I have a 55-inch Samsung LED TV (120 Mhz), which is connected (HDMI) to a Samsung BluRay player and my satelite (HDMI) HD DVR. I would like to get a 5.1 surround-sound system. My budget is $1000 or a bit more if necessary. Here are my questions: (i) What receiver should I get? What features to look for? Could you suggest some specific models? (ii) What type of speakers? How may watts? Neighbors are not a concern and room is 10 x 12. Any suggestions as to manufacturer/models, etc? I will be primarily using this room for watching TV, movies (BluRay), but no gaming. What selection/combination would give the best bang for my buck?Jo Clyde

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jo, $1000 for an AVR and speakers isn't much. I suggest looking at the Onkyo TX-SR607 AVR ($600; review at hometheatermag.com/receivers/onkyo_tx-sr607_av_receiver/) and DCM Cinema2 speaker system ($400; review at www.hometheatermag.com/compactspeakers/1107dcm/). If you can spend a bit more, take a look at the Klipsch HD Theater 500 speaker system ($600; review at hometheatermag.com/compactspeakers/klipsch_hd_theater_500_speaker_system/) or Energy RC-Micro system ($1000; review at hometheatermag.com/compactspeakers/energy_rc-micro_speaker_system/).Alterntiavely, you could look at a home theater in a box that includes AVR and speakers but no disc player, since you already have one. Home Theater rated the Onkyo HT-SR800 ($600) very highly, but it has since been replaced by the HT-S5100 ($600). And just today, I got a press release for two new Onkyo HTIBs (no disc player), the HT-S7200 ($900) and HT-S6200 ($700).

Blake's picture

Don't mean to hijack the thread, but it seems related enough. I'm trying to find some good 5.1 headphones with an optical in. Are there any for under $200?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

I don't know of any 5.1 headphones with optical in. And I'm not sure what you mean by "5.1 headphones." Do you mean headphones with separate drivers for each channel or simulated 5.1? If the latter, that function is not generally in the headphones, but in the AVR or pre/pro audio processing...something like Dolby Headphone. Maybe there's a set of 'phones with Dolby Headphone or something similar built in, but I don't know of any. I'll see what I can find, or maybe our readers know of somthing along these lines...

Brian's picture

My question regards having two(2) Center Channel Speakers (C.C.S.). I have a Pioneer Elite, #SC-09TX (10.2 Channel AVR) which has "Bi-Amp/By-Wire" (4-wire) speaker outputs for one(1) C.C.S. (using the 9th & 10th channel) Can the SC-09TX effectively use two(2) C.C.S. (1 on top of TV + 1 on bottom of TV) connected via normal 2-wire full-range C.C.S.??? If so, would there be cross-talk or imaging problems when calibrating the sound with the SC-09TX Microphone/Pink Noise set-up procedure???

blake's picture

I'm skeptical of simulated 5.1, so I would prefer separate drivers for each channel. I see plenty of them for PCs, but as you know, the processing is done by the PC in those cases. Has anyone played with simulated 5.1 headphones, Dolby or otherwise?

Andrew's picture

I work at a retail store, not saying where but 7.1 is not a necessary way to go that is for sure. However, that's not the main reason why I am blogging. I'm curious as to what everyone thinks and feels are the best songs that should be played on speakers when your listening to them. I do have a small variety, but I do know that it is the customers that know what the best songs to hear are. If you don't mind helping out, that'd be great. Thank-you!

Chris Wall's picture

I have a large room, and the physical construction of the room just doesn't allow for a 7.1 set-up unless, for the speakers that go on either side of the seating area, I either use in-ceiling speakers or have the speakers mounted on stands immediately next to the sofa.Not really practical.So I use the two extra channels of audio on my AVR to bi-amp (and bi-wire) my left and right main speakers (B&W DM603 s3s).I know, I know, technically, it's not really bi-amping them since the AVR is powering all channels of amplification....I could put some speakers in another room and run it as a second zone. Maybe outdoor speakers.But for now, I'll pretend I am bi-amping my front speakers and will enjoy the wonderful placebo effect I'm experiencing.

guy in Saskatoon's picture

Andrew, If you mean the best songs to show-off speakers to customers then it is important to know the strengths of the speakers that you're showing. And you're also right that it should be the music that the customer knows inimately. That withstanding some of my suggestions would be Keb Mo "Just Like You Are" tr#11 (guitar), Mark Knopfler "All the Roadrunning" tr#6 (male & female voices), Billy Joel "Hits 3" tr#4 (piano), Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" tr#6. Some of the music is familiar enough that the customer will likely have heard it before or at least have an idea of what a live guitar, piano, singing voice should sound like. If the customer insists on Thump-Thump style use Manu Chao's "Clandestino" and maybe you can also broaden their narrow musical prospective. :)Personally I have ten songs from different artists/recordings that I use but hopefully this helps some. If your store has an SACD player that changes things too.

james's picture

I auditioned the Marantz SR4003 AVR..and bought it...just for Dolby Headphone! I thought it was really, really impressive. However I just couldn't justify the price tag (even with the healthy discount I got)for this one feature alone, and I returned the AVR for a refund.I can't comprehend why this knockout feature didn't make it's way into every AVR from every manufacturer. It turns out I may have to buy the same receiver again while there are still a few available (looks like it's been discontinued).Regards, jameswww.furisdead.com

JET's picture

I have just recently purchased a 7.1ch Panasonic Sc-BT300 Home theater for a cheap price, and was just wondering if I could just use 6 speakers and not 8, since I got only a small room... Will there be a difference in the sound produced if i use this set up? Tnx