Jeff Colen (President, A Sharper Home, Inc.) gives expert video advice on: How do I choose the best sound option for my home theater? and more...
What is "surround sound"?
Surround sound is a special way of presenting audio from a movie or TV that allows you to feel like you're in the middle of the action. For example, if you were watching a war movie, you could hear tanks on the left roll by you from the front to the back and then hear the jeeps roar by from the back to the front on the right side. In order to hear it, it needs to be recorded in a special way and you hear about these special ways; Dolby Digital., THX - George Lucas, and you'll hear Neo 6, which is another type of surround sound technology. Those different types of processing allow you to hear the sounds the way that the filmmaker intended you to experience them. In order to hear surround sound, you really need three things: You need to have speakers -- and there are different configurations of that; you need to have a receiver that handles surround sound processing; and you need source material that was recorded in surround sound. Without those three you won't get surround sound.
What do 2.1, 5.1 and 7.2 refer to in sound systems?
5.1 stands for five speakers with one subwoofer. It's used to designate surround sound systems. So you'll see 5.1, 7.1, 7.2 -- which means seven speakers with two subwoofers -- and the list goes on. The difference is, on a standard stereo system, you'll just see 2.1 or 2.0 designation, and that is just regular audio from the front of the room. The 5.1 gives you surround sound, so you'll hear the five speakers firing with the one subwoofer.