Home theater is the union of two technologies: big-screen HDTV and surround sound. The runaway popularity of flat-panel television sets has brought big screens into more and more homes—and in a form that's more palatable than the hulking boxes of older TV technologies. Unfortunately, these flat-panel HDTV purchases are not always accompanied by a comparable investment in surround sound, so a lot of big-screen-savvy homes are not yet surround-sound savvy.
Aren't built-in TV speakers enough? For watching the news, certainly. And it's unlikely that a surround system will do much to enhance your enjoyment of I Love Lucy. But today's movies—and today's primetime TV programming—are both made in surround sound. That's the way they were meant to be heard and that's the way you should hear them if you want to get the full impact intended by the creative community.
There's no need to panic when you contemplate the transition from the two-channel world to surround sound's 5.1 or 7.1 channels. Don't worry—no hostile army of equipment is going to occupy your home. The system that's right for you can be scaled for your needs and lifestyle. The following primer will discuss four entirely different ways to implement surround sound: