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Wednesday, March 3, 2010
7.1 - The Revolution That Never Came
I was a big proponent of 5.1 surround sound. I even worked exclusively in that side of the business (working on over 120 music DVDs for artists like The Who, Iron Maiden, Neil Young and Todd Rundgren) for 5 years and was the West Coast Bureau Chief for the now defunct Surround Professional magazine. But 4 years ago, I gave up.
The consumer just didn't care about the higher quality or the sonic envelopment that surround sound provides. The "audio sculpture" that gives you such a great user experience seems to be lost on a culture that doesn't care much about quality any more. It's convenience they're after.
After a big push by both the music industry and consumer electronics industry, everyone in the music business saw the writing on the wall and gave up. Reluctantly, so did I. It wasn't worth the fight any more. I went from being one of the biggest proponents of surround sound on the planet to someone who now thinks stereo is "good enough." I've even disconnected my 5.1 playback system at home. Sorry, I'm not interested. Too many heartaches, and I no longer want to take one for the team.
So I have to laugh when I read about 7.1 being the next new thing in consumer electronics. In my heart and ears, I know it's a lot better than 5.1, and I know that adding yet another height channel speaker makes the sound even more realistic, but the sad fact is, the only people who want this is the audio equipment manufacturers who think they have something new to sell.
Consumers had a hard time finding space for 6 speakers, so what makes you think they'll be able to find it for 8?
And consumers never were able to place the surround speakers in the right place anyway. Most listening spaces don't allow it because there's always a couch or chair or wall or doorway in the way. Why do the CE manufacturers suddenly think that the typical consumer's listening room can now ideally place yet 2 more speakers?
Wives hated the extra speakers and the wires connecting them. "Unsightly," "Ugly," and other similarly descriptive words and phrases were common. Don't you think they'll have some choice new ones (like "Get the hell out of the house and take your speakers with you") with the arrival of a 7.1 system?
No, 7.1 was a revolution dead on arrival. Don't hope for a sudden change in the consumer's collective heart. It's just not going to happen. Let's all enjoy the 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 (and beyond) systems at our favorite theaters, amusement parks, and war games simulators instead.