With Toy Story 3 coming out in 7.1, are we going to see a flood of movies coming out with this new format? Sort of like what Avatar did to movies coming out in 3D?

Most of the big blockbusters are mixed at Skywalker anyway, which is where Toy Story was mixed. So I guess we will see more 7.1 mixes very soon.

Should I upgrade to 7.1 now because it will be the new standard?

Or will 5.1 continue to hold strong for at least another 5 years?

I know Dolby has made it easy for theaters to switch over to provide 7.1 on their systems, but do you think it will catch on?

I personally love the idea and I think I will upgrade in the near future. What do you guys think?

7 Answers 7


How do you mean you will 'upgrade to 7.1?'

Its a mixing/delivery format...

FWIW Avatar didn't cause any big flood of 3D films - lets face it, 3D is a technology that only suits a certain type of film (aka studio tent pole/blockbuster movies)

Of course I welcome 7.1 as an advance in sound mixing & replay, but the realities of what impact it will have remain to be seen, especially when there are many theatres that can't even replay 5.1 well....

  • Yeah good point! Wow, that Dolby guy does a good job of hyping up the goodness of it in his Soundworks special. I had the idea it's a revolutionary advance.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jun 20, 2010 at 14:57

I agree Tim. I see it as a small evolutionary step for sound mixing. It'll be a while before it filters through to mixing stages surely? Unless patches can be create by Dolby for their plugins or firmware upgrades for their hardware. Dolby kit is rather expensive. Adding a couple more speakers will be the cheapest part.

Is it really that much of an improvement though? Human's ability to focus on sounds coming from behind us is limited. Our instinct to turn around to face the source being a clue here. It's not that I am being critical but I'd like more of an explanation or demonstration of it before I hail the upgrade as the best thing since sliced bread.

I'm not personally keen on the 3D thing. I wear glasses and remember that every few minutes I had to push the 3D glasses back up my nose. I also found looking through the lenses at the screen a little unpleasant on my clearly crap vision (1 eye is fine, the other is extremely short sighted). Again I wonder how much of a standard it will be. Like HD, do I really want to watch the news in 3D? A small window in my browser is more than sufficient.

Cynical rant over. ;)

  • Well, I remember being very cynical about mixing a score for a film in 7.1 with 5 speakers in the front. I was like, "Why do you want 5 speakers in the front?" Then I sat back and sent something solidly between the center and the right speaker, and I understood the concept a bit better. It was nice.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jun 20, 2010 at 14:59
  • I agree re 3D, I actually find it 'un-cinematic' - I love the poetic use of focus and depth of field by the worlds great cinematographers and so far 3D feels like a major step backwards...
    – user49
    Commented Jun 20, 2010 at 20:08
  • @ryan The way I understand panning is that the more speakers the easier it is to bring focus to where a sound is coming from. I've been into electroacoustic performance spaces with 32 speaks going from underneath you to on the 50ft ceiling and the panning ability was truly amazing. I'm not poo-pooing 7.1 over 5.1. I merely see it as an progressive evolution, not some amazing and giant step forward.
    – ianjpalmer
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 8:21
  • We got a 3D tv at work for some upcoming R&D - its quite tiring to watch and the glasses thing is a mess - they fall off my bosses kids right away which instantly takes away from the experience. Plus until they decide on ONE standard, its gonna be another blu-ray vs HD DVD and no-ones gonna jump until there's a winner - techradar.com/news/television/…. While I enjoyed Avatar/Up in 3D, its far from standard, its still in the gimmicky stage. The botched 'afterthought' that was Clash of the Titans (3D) being a prime example. Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 9:36
  • Or until they make 3D contact lenses. That way your iTV, MacBook, iPad, iPhone and even your iCar dashboard can be viewed in 3D. Then they'll make billboards on the highway 3D. And then and then and then...
    – Utopia
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 17:56

I've heard several examples of 5.1 sequences remixed into 7.1. It is a big improvement in my opinion, especially for panning from the front to the back of the theater or panning off screen to the far left or right. Movement across three speakers just sounds more natural to me than moving from the front all the way to the back. It's also a great way to pull the music slightly out of the LR.

It's also relatively easy (and a cheap upgrade) for theaters to convert their rooms from 5.1 to 7.1, and I know that several movie chains in the US and Europe have already agreed to do this. I wouldn't bother upgrading a cutting room system to 7.1 quite yet (these panning decisions should be made on a proper dub stage anyway). But I do think that 7.1 is here to stay.


Most of you are probably on Gearslutz anyway but in case you missed it...http://www.gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/495367-article-about-new-dolby-format-3d.html Some interesting thoughts on the practicalities of actually producing content for 7.1 - eg. Protools doesn't actually support this updated 7.1 standard so how easy will the upgrade be disregarding the extra hardware...

I would agree with most things said - Seating position is key (applies to 5.1 too..) so immersive/intricate panning will only work for some in the sweet sport - the z-plane would bring greater overall value to the experience.

  • Good point about seating. That's why I hate adding stereo music into a 5.1 mix. Sit one seat to the left or right from the center of the theater and the music is suddenly panned all the way to the right or left.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 17:58

For those may not have seen it yet, Michael Semanick has a great explaination panning in 7.1 for Toy Story 3 in this SoundWorks Collection piece:



I'm willing to bet that 7.1's popularity will closely follow consumers' 3D TV trends. I'm also predicting, with very little disappointment, that neither are going away anytime soon.

  • True, problem is with tv 5.1 broadcasting being the mind field that it is to deliver & stations still broadcasting stereo only, how will 7.1 get off the ground? The tech would have to rely on DVD/blu-ray users only. There's a lot to be said for a decent LtRt.... Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 14:27
  • Michael Semanick is one of the best.
    – Utopia
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 17:54
  • My guess is that, even though there may not be 8 discreet channels from broadcast sources, folks will watch TV in 7.1 with some kind of Dolby Pro Logic split like this: dolby.com/consumer/understand/playback/dolby-pro-logic-iix.html Though it's not a purist's technology, it provides the masses with full use of their home theater for TV, movies, gaming, web, etc. Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 20:05

5.1 as a term was coined by Tomlinson Holman aka Mr THX. He's wading into this debate by putting forward 10.2 as an alternative to 7.1 - 10.2 has panning height and subs. alt text http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/c/c8/10.2_surround_sound_speaker_configuration.jpg

It'll be interesting to see where this all goes in the coming years - mostly, these are formats for theatrical replay and it'll be ages before we see domestic systems take off IMHO.


I honestly hope so.

Bobby Owsinski said that 7.1 was never going to come, or at least never come to complete fruition, only a few months ago (and it's totally true to the home-media market). If 3D can move sound forward to a more immersive standard, I'm all for it.

Personally, I'd prefer 8.1, but since I've never mixed in anything but stereo, it's just a listening preference.

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