There are so many specs to consider when shopping for home cinema speakers: the price tag, the various features, the design, the power. But one of the most crucial aspects is the audio format the set uses. Here's a guide to the various speaker setups and the most common formats they each use. 5.1 Channel Surround Sound This is the most common surround sound format found in home cinema speakers. 5.1 means that there are five speakers accompanying the bass subwoofer. The position of the speakers is usually: front left and right, center and left and right, though you can also get 6.1 and 7.1 to add in extra channels. 5.1 surround sound is available in two different formats, both of which are featured on most audio/video receivers: * Dolby Digital is the most common sound format used in standard DVDs, HDTV shows and games. In its 5.1 channel format, this is a discrete surround sound format which can produce excellent results. * DTS is the second format commonly using a 5.1 configuration. Because it uses less compression than Dolby Digital, it's considered to be slightly more accurate to the way the video was recorded. 6.1 Channel Surround Sound There are a couple of surround sound formats that add an extra channel to the mix, helping to make the sound even more realistic and making the listener feel even more as though they're in the middle of the action. DTS-ES is less common than Dolby Digital EX. 7.1 Channel Surround Sound For an even more authentic 360 degree sound option, there are 7.1 surround sound systems. Many of the newer Blu-Ray disc players can take advantage of this high quality audio, but not all discs will be able to make use of the function. Two of the 7.1 channel surround sound formats - Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD - are known as "lossless" surround sound. On standard DVDs, sound formats had to be compressed to fit onto the space of a standard disc. Because HD Blu-Ray discs offer more space, the audio formats have gotten bigger too. Lossless surround sound is true to the original sound recording. Other 7.1 formats, such as Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD, are very high quality but don't match the level of lossless surround sound. What Does All This Mean To You? If you're not going to play Blu-Ray discs then the more detailed surround sound options won't matter to you at all. If, however, you opt for a Blu-Ray disc player that supports lossless audio - and you want to be able to hear it in all its glory - you'll need to purchase a surround sound system to match. Most home cinema speakers today make use of 5.1 channels, which is perfectly adequate to bring you into the center of the action, especially in a standard home living room. For those with more cash, however, and who want to experience the recording as the movie-makers intended, HD audio is the way to go.
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