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Shopping For and Setting up a Surround Sound System - Part 1

Some hints and tips for setting up a surround sound system for the best listening experience By Guy Wright

So youve been hearing a lot about surround sound systems for home theaters and youre just about ready to make the commitment. But whats all this about 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, LFE, satellites, and subs? Just exactly what kinds of speakers will you need? How many? And where will you put them all? Well, well try to give you a few helpful hints on shopping for and setting up a surround sound system in your own home.

In part one of this two-part series well cover the basics of surround sound and talk about the components youll need. In part two well give you some hints about shopping for a system, how to set it up once you get it home, and offer some tips on fine tuning your system for optimal listening.


The Basics of Surround Sound
Surround sound has gone through a number of changes since it first migrated from the theaters into the home (see Decoding Surround Sound for a more in-depth history of surround sound). From three, to four, to six, seven, and even eight speaker setups, from analog to digital, and even getting into things like headphones, PCs, and games. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of companies manufacturing surround sound equipment and prices range from a few hundred dollars up into the many tens of thousands of dollars. There are also a variety of formats out there. But there are only three basic components in a surround sound system - a source, a surround receiver, and speakers. Lets take a look at each of them in turn.




surround sound companiesSource there are two primary sources of surround sound material DVDs and television broadcasts. You will also find surround sound on SVCD and DVD Audio discs and there are the occasional VHS tapes, laser discs, video games, and radio transmissions that sometimes have surround sound. When a movie, TV program, or audio disc is created with surround sound in mind multiple tracks are created with different material on each. Those separate tracks are then encoded into a special surround signal. Today there are two companies that dominate the surround encoding world Dolby and DTS. 90% of all surround sound material is encoded using Dolby Pro Logic (analog) or Dolby Digital (digital) but there are a growing number of DTS (digital) encoded movies available. There are also a few other surround sound formats out there such as SRS Circle Surround that is beginning to pick up momentum. Most television broadcasts contain Dolby surround sound encoded signals (as well as traditional stereo signals). While there are some high-end DVD players on the market that can actually decode the surround signals most of them simply pass the encoded surround sound signals through to a separate receiver either using analog, coaxial, or optical connections (be sure your receiver has the type of inputs that match your DVD player outputs or youll need a new DVD player).

Another term youre likely to hear associated with surround sound is THX. THX, developed by Lucas (of Star Wars fame), isnt a surround sound encoding format like Dolby or DTS rather it is a certification process designed to insure accurate reproduction of a movie experience from creation to theater playback to home theater systems. It includes specifications for all aspects of the movie experience including sound, picture quality, equipment, wiring, and even things like viewing angles and room insulation. When you see the THX logo on a receiver it means that it has passed the tests for decoding Dolby or DTS according to THX specifications for receivers but that doesnt guarantee youll be getting the true THX experience since youll also need THX-certified speakers, wires, display, room configuration, etc. Trying to recreate a true THX home theater setup is probably best left to a THX Certified Home Theater Engineer (but there's no law that says you can't try to do it yourself).

 

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Related Keywords:Surround Sound, SVCD, DVD Audio, Dolby, DTS, SRS Circle Surround, Receiver, THX, speakers,

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