It doesnâ€™t seem all that long ago that the best sound available from a PC emanated from a little 2â€ speaker. We progressed quickly to simple stereo speakers that offered little in the way of performance or basic fidelity. That situation changed a few years ago when speaker systems were introduced with small satellites and small sub-woofers. Now that multi-channel sound is all the rage in home cinema set-ups and PC sound, it seemed inevitable that we would have 5.1, 6.1 and now 7.1 systems.
The development of 7.1-channel sound was engineered in conjunction with Star Wars Episode I which was the first film to use the Dolby Digital EX standard. The reason for this was that in large cinemas there could sometimes be a hole in the sound stage at the rear which EX filled in with centre rear channels. But in a home environment youâ€™re unlikely to encounter this problem. Also itâ€™s worth remembering that the centre rear channels are a matrix of the standard rear channels (or the side channels as theyâ€™re described in a 7.1 system) from a 5.1 channel system. Only if youâ€™re listening to something mixed in DTS ES Discrete will you have 6.1 discrete channels of sound. This can be bumped up to 7.1 channels by pumping the same signal through two rear centre channels instead of one. However, sources using the DTS ES Discrete format are pretty thin on the ground so in most instances you've only really got 5.1 discrete channels.
But the real question here is whether a set of PC speakers can create a proper surround sound environment and whether or not youâ€™d want a set of eight speakers surrounding your PC in the first place.