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Poll: Is 7.1 channel home theater a bust?

Just about every mid-price or more expensive receiver is a 7.1 channel model, but only a tiny minority of buyers actually use all seven channels, or do they? Take the Poll and tell us how many channels you use in your home theater.

CNET News Poll

Channel choices
When it comes to multichannel sound, where do you draw the line?

5.1 sounds great to me
6.1 is nicer
7.1 is way better
9.1 with height channels is fantastic
Once you hear 11.1 there's no going back

View results

I'm a big proponent of stereo home theater, but I'd quickly concede that most home theater buyers are looking for multichannel systems. Of all the available multichannel options--11.1, 9.1, 7.1, 6.1, and 5.1 --that last one is the most popular, but that hasn't stopped most manufacturers from only offering 7.1-channel models. Budget-priced models are the only 5.1 receivers you can buy.

And in 2009, Dolby Pro-Logic IIz, which featured two additional "height" channels, bumped the total for some receivers to 9.1 channels, even though our listening tests here at CNET proved height channels added virtually nothing to the surround experience.

Audyssey countered Pro-Logic IIz with its own height system, DSX, that offered users a choice of using up to 11 channels! In addition to DSX's height channels, there are two "wide" channels to produce a more expansive front soundstage. With a fully implemented Audyssey DSX setup you would need seven front channel speakers and four surround speakers!

My biggest problem with the trend to more and more channels is that the designers divert resources in the receiver to amplifier channels that largely go unused. Buyers are paying for features that lower the overall quality of the 5.1 channels they actually listen to. I'd love to see a brave manufacturer offer higher-end 5.1 models of their lines.

What about you, take and the poll and tell us how many channels you run in your home theater.