5.1 Channels of Sound Are Plenty

For movie buffs, 5.1-channel sound makes sense. But what about 6.1 or even 7.1 channels?

For movie buffs, 5.1-channel sound makes sense. But what about 6.1 or even 7.1 channels, which are now hitting the home theater market? We say don't bother.

These new formats have names like Dolby Digital EX, THX EX, and DTS-ES. They originated at movie houses, adding a sixth or seventh speaker behind the audience to improve coverage. But homes clearly don't have the same acoustic needs. EX is especially problematic. Like Dolby Pro Logic before it, EX uses matrixing to create additional sound channels-in this case, a "back surround" channel served by one or two speakers. But formats like Dolby Digital 5.1 are far superior and vastly favored by most, because they provide dedicated center and rear channels.

DTS-ES isn't a good idea, either. True, DTS-ES Discrete does provide 6.1 independent channels. But DTS was supposed to improve on Dolby Digital by using a faster data rate, and it doesn't. Given the limited digital real estate on a DVD-Video disc, using data to provide back-surround effects might starve the other channels, reduce picture quality, or even crowd special features off the disc. There's a second version called DTS-ES Matrix. Pick your poison.

How do these formats sound? Frankly, I can't stand sound coming from behind my head. It triggers my fight-or-flight instinct and makes me check for my wallet. We recommend you greet the 5.1-plus formats like us: with a resounding yawn.

-Mark Fleischmann

Fleischmann is author of Practical Home Theater (1stBooks Library).