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Whether your system is small or state-of-the-art, proper speaker placement is the key to the best home theater sound. 5.1 Setup This system has six channels: five full-range channels, and a low-frequency effects channel (the .1 of 5.1) usually expressed through a subwoofer. Many DVDs and digital broadcasts feature a Dolby Digital (5.1) soundtrack, so this will give you optimum sound for most programming. It also most closely approximates the sound in most cinemas. 6.1 or 7.1 Setup The most advanced home theater systems feature six (with Center Back) or seven (with Left Back/Right Back) full-range channels that allow viewers to take full advantage of Dolby Digital EX soundtracks and Dolby Pro Logic IIx matrix-surround decoding technology. Both of these processes add surround information for greater realism and more dramatic effects. Placement Tips Of course, it's not always possible to place your speakers exactly as shown. The diagrams give a range of placement angles, so you have some flexibility. Sometimes you'll have no choice but to mount the surrounds behind you, but if you follow the guidelines as closely as you can, you'll have good sound. Ideally, your front speakers, high-frequency drivers, or tweeters should be positioned at ear level (when you're seated). Our recommended height for the surrounds is above ear level, as soundtracks are likely to be optimized for that location. Beyond keeping it on the floor, there's no specific rule for placing the subwoofer, as bass sound is nondirectional. However, the amount of bass may vary depending on room location. You might want to try a few different places to determine what's best for you (sometimes moving the speaker even a few inches can change the sound). Speaker Shopping Tips Most speaker manufacturers offer complete home theater systems, usually based on a satellite/subwoofer configuration. You're assured of speakers that match sonically (and cosmetically). Generally, the satellite speakers in these systems are shielded, so they can be placed close to your TV set. If your stereo speakers are not shielded, don't place them too close to the TV. (They're too close if the picture starts to distort.) If you're expanding a stereo system and want to keep the speakers you have, try to stick with the manufacturer of your current speakers when you choose your center channel, surrounds and subwoofer. Most speaker manufacturers can offer advice on complementary models. Room Acoustics The shape of your room and how it's furnished will affect the sound you hear. For instance, too many bare surfaces can cause reflections that may add harshness to the sound. Adding carpeting and drapes can help. If you have a choice of rooms, avoid ones that are perfectly square or have one dimension exactly twice another. These rooms can aggravate resonances that color the sound. If possible, center your seating area between the surround speakers. The closer you place a speaker to intersecting room surfaces (corners, wall and ceiling, wall and floor), the stronger the bass output. This can help bass-shy speakers, but it can also add too much bass. Again, just moving a speaker a few inches can often make a big difference in sound.

Dolby Digital
In thousands of cinemas and millions of homes worldwide, Dolby Digital is the reigning standard for surround sound technology in general and 5.1-channel surround sound in particular. Dolby Digital is a highly sophisticated and versatile audio encoding/decoding technology. Dolby Digital technology can transmit mono, stereo (two-channel), or up to 5.1-channel surround sound (discrete* multichannel audio).

Figure 1 How Dolby Digital Works The superior coding efficiency of Dolby Digital-and its ability to deliver high-quality discrete multichannel audio without compromising video quality-has made it the designated audio standard for DVD worldwide Dolby Digital is also the preferred multichannel audio standard for direct broadcast direct to home satellite and digital cable systems. Nearly 60 million digital cable and satellite set-top boxes are currently in use worldwide supported by over 30 million audio/video receivers equipped with 5.1-channel Dolby Digital decoding. Virtually every DVD-Video player sold today offers a two-channel mixdown of the Dolby Digital 5.1 movie soundtrack as well as a digital output for connection to a 5.1-channel audio/video receiver. In the film industry, the Dolby Digital soundtrack is optically encoded right on the filmstrip, in the space between the sprocket holes. Placing the soundtrack directly on the film allows it to coexist with the analog track, a cost-effective and simple solution for film distributors and theatre owners. The sprocket hole area has also proven highly resistant to wear and tear, so that a soundtrack encoded in Dolby Digital will remain free of pops and hiss for the useful life of the print. The sound information contained in each of the six available channels is distinct and independent. These six channels are described as a "5.1-channel" system, because there are five full-bandwidth channels with 3 Hz to 20 kHz frequency range for Front Left and Right, Center, and Surround, plus one "Low Frequency Effects" (LFE) subwoofer channel devoted to frequencies from 3 to 120 Hz.

Figure 2 Dolby Stereo

Figure 3 Dolby Digital 5.1

Dolby Digital EX
Dolby Digital EX takes the Dolby Digital 5.1-channel setup one step further with an additional center surround channel (reproduced through one or two speakers) for extra dimensional detail and an enveloping surround sound effect. Feature films originally released in Dolby Digital Surround EX (the cinema version) carry the encoded extra surround channel in their subsequent DVD releases, as well as onto 5.1-channel digital satellite and TV broadcasts. If your home theater system has a receiver or preamp/processor with Dolby Digital EX decoding and speakers to support 6.1 or 7.1 playback, you can hear Surround EX soundtracks as they were meant to be heard, with the increased realism created by the extra surround channel. As in the cinema, with regular 5.1-channel Dolby Digital playback no sonic information is lost (although you'll miss out on the heightened realism). Current Dolby Digital Surround EX soundtracks contain a digital flag that can automatically activate the EX decoding in a receiver or preamp/processor. For titles released prior to late 2001, however, you need to turn on the EX decoding manually.

Figure 1 Dolby Digital EX 6.1 Speaker Configuration

Figure 2 Dolby Digital EX 7.1 Speaker Configuration