The most important part of a home theater system is arguably the television, with the second most important part being the speaker system. But having a great set of speakers is only the first step; the setup of your speakers can make or break your home theater system.

We’re going to break down the three most common speaker setups for a home theater system and how you can use these setups in your home.

5.1 Surround Sound Speaker Setup


The most common surround sound setup in commercial cinemas and home theaters is the 5.1, the name for the six-channel surround sound audio system. The system is comprised of a front left and right speaker, a center channel, two surround sound channels, and a subwoofer. The 5.1 system uses five full bandwidth channels and one low-frequency channel (otherwise known as the “point one” of the configuration). The goal of a 5.1 surround sound is to have full sound from a center position – typically a seating arrangement in the center of the room. The speakers, which should all be the same size, less the subwoofer, are placed at an identical distance from the listener on all sides, with the two back speakers only slightly behind the listener.  The angles of the speakers depend on the configuration of the room, but are various degrees from 0 in a circular arrangement. Dolby Digital 5.1 is considered the surround sound standard for home entertainment, including most BluRay discs.

6.1 Surround Sound Speaker Setup

Adding another speaker is what experts refer to as 6.1 – similar configuration, but with an additional speaker placed behind the seating area. This speaker placement can add a new dimension to your movie watching specifically, as the back speaker gives the illusion of sounds approaching or retreating behind the listener, leaving him or her more fully immersed in the sound. Consumers can find 6.1 surround sound on a few DVDs, especially those with Dolby Digital Surround or a similar encoding, and most BluRay discs.

7.1 Surround Sound Speaker Setup

The release of HD-DVD and BluRay brought about a powerful new kind of surround sound – 7.1. There are a few different versions, but all of them add one more speaker behind the listener, and those speakers are in stereo. Because BluRay discs have gigantic storage potential, more sound information can be stored, which means every speaker in the 7.1 setup has its own specific information. Dolby offers two different versions of 7.1 surround sound: Dolby Digital Plus, the “lossy” version with compressed sound data, and Dolby TrueHD, which is intended to be as close to the studio master as you can get in your home. Consumers can find 7.1 sound on some BluRay discs at this time, but with many more coming in the coming months.

How do you decide what type of surround setup is best for you? It all depends on your budget, how you’ll be using it and the size of your room. Remember, bigger isn’t always better in terms of speakers. Small speakers in a larger room won’t project enough sound, while large, expensive speakers will be a waste in a smaller space. Read reviews and speak to home theater installation experts like us who can help assess your specific setup situation. Finally, decide how you’re going to use your speakers. If your budget and space allow, opt for the 7.1 speakers. Although the entertainment hasn’t quite caught up to the technology, within a couple of years, it will be essentially mainstream.

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