What is 2.1 Channel Home Theater?
A 2.1 Channel Home Theater System is like a stereo system for home theater sound. A 2.1 Channel system uses two stereo speakers and a subwoofer to play TV sound, movies and music compared to a 5.1 channel surround sound system that uses left and right stereo speakers but adds two rear surround channel speakers and a center channel speaker for a total of 5 main speakers plus a subwoofer. A 2.1 channel home theater system is a great way to enjoy movies and music without the need for surround and center channel speakers and the clutter of additional wires. 2.1 channel sound is also a giant step up from the sound produced by the small speakers built into most televisions.
What is 5.1 Channel Sound?Most TV shows and DVD/Blu-ray movies are produced in surround sound, intended to be played on a 5.1 channel sound system. Each speaker in a 5.1 channel system has an important role to play in the overall sound, however the front (or stereo) speakers, such as in a 2.1 channel system, are the most critical. Generally, the front speakers reproduce the on-screen action in a movie. It could be a car driving by or the sound of people talking and glasses clinking in a bar or restaurant scene - any sounds that help the viewer connect the scene with sound are heard through the front speakers. The center channel speaker is designed for reproduction of dialog, an important part of any story. In a 2.1 channel system the dialog is routed to the left and right front speakers so it can be heard and not lost. The rear surround speakers in a 5.1 channel system often reproduce sounds that are not on=screen, but they help create a three-dimensional sound field where sounds and special effects are heard from all directions. When used correctly and effectively, surround speakers add realism and excitement to movies and music. In a 2.1 channel system, the sound from the surround speakers is reproduced from the front speakers so you still hear them, although only from the front, not the rear of the room. The subwoofer channel, known as the .1 (point one) channel because it only produces bass, adds impact and realism to TV and movies, and better music reproduction for music.
Simply stated, a 2.1 channel system reproduces TV, movie sound and music with fewer speakers, less wiring and almost as much excitement. Many listeners prefer the simplicity of 2.1 channel sound and find they can use their existing stereo system rather than purchasing a new home theater system. They are completely satisfied with the sound. Other listeners won't settle for anything less than 5.1 channel sound. Here's why: 5.1 channel sound creates a sense of envelopment where music and effects add realism, suspense and intrigue as if you're in the scene. Video is only one-half of home theater, and realistic audio makes it a complete experience. That can best be achieved with 5.1 channel sound.
Is a 2.1 Channel System Right for You?That depends on your interest and tastes in sound and your budget. For the enthusiast a 5.1 channels system is a must. For the casual listener a 2.1 channel system is preferred for its simplicity, lower cost and ease of use. A 2.1 Channel system is ideal for small rooms, apartments, dorms, or in space-limited rooms. 2.1 Channel systems are also a good idea if you don't have a place for surround sound speakers or don't want to hassle with the wires. A home theater component system will provide the best listening experience, but with a 2.1 channel system you can still enjoy music and movies with realistic sound but without the clutter of additional speakers and wires.
How to Get Surround Sound Without Rear Channel Speakers
Some 2.1 Channel systems have special decoders to create the illusion of surround sound effects with two speakers, commonly known as Virtual Surround Sound (VSS). Although known by different terms, VSS systems all have the same goal - to create an enveloping surround sound effect using two front speakers and a subwoofer. The various 2.1 channel systems use 5.1 channel decoders combined with special digital circuits that simulate the sound of rear channel speakers. VSS is so convincing that you'll turn your head when you hear a 'virtual sound' coming from behind you.
2.1 Channel Home Theater Systems
Prepackaged or all-in-one systems such as these from Bose and Samsung include everything you need except the television. These systems have a built-in receiver, DVD player, two speakers and a subwoofer for true home theater sound in a compact, easy to use package. Cambridge Audio offers the Sonata system of 2.1 channel higher end components and speakers that can be purchased separately. Read my full review of the Cambridge Audio Sonata. Click here to see more 2.1 channel systems.