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Surround Sound: A Look Back

DTS:X and Dolby Atmos are bringing excitement back to the component-audio business.

We felt similar excitement 20 years ago when surround sound made its first big leap, moving beyond matrixed Dolby Surround on VHS Hi-Fi tapes and laserdiscs to 5.1 discrete channels on laserdiscs and then, in 1997, on the new DVD format.

Remember those thrilling days of yesteryear when Dolby Surround delivered four matrixed channels (left, center, right, and a limited-bandwidth mono surround channel, which played through two surround speakers)? Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround, in contrast, came on the scene to deliver five discrete channels of full-range audio and a dedicated 0.1 low-frequency effects channel.

You might remember that one of the key advantages to Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 was their ability to deliver full-frequency (20Hz to 20kHz) stereo information to two surround speakers. With Dolby Pro Logic, in contrast, both surround speakers shared the same mono bandwidth-limited (100Hz-7kHz) signal.

A 5.1-channel system, therefore, delivered surround effects with greater depth, localization, and realism than its four-channel predecessor. Other 5.1-channel benefits included greater channel separation to improve spatial imaging, improved dialog intelligibility, enhanced resolution, and greater dynamic range.

And now?

And now we’re talking about delivering individual sounds anywhere within a dome of sound above and around you, even if you’re wearing headphones.

What’s next? I’d like to hear your thoughts.