5.1 Audio can put Viewers into Seats

2 min

How much emphasis do you put on audio in your films? Whether it’s for television or movie production, audio doesn’t always capture enough attention from the production staff, director, or editing department, yet it can have a powerful and lasting impact on the entire production itself. 5.1 audio has the potential to turn even the most mundane film into a sensory smorgasbord for the viewing audience.

When in the market for the latest in home theater surround sounds systems, the term 5.1 audio in some variation or another tends to come up. What this number refers to basically is a six-speaker, or signal, system sends a different signal to each individual speaker, assuming that the playback supports the 5.1 format. When this is the case, then the six speakers (five main speakers and a sub-woofer) can create the illusion of being in the center of the action.

How 5.1 differs from general stereo signals

When you are sitting in the center of a surround sound system listening to a playback in standard stereo format, you are listening to two basic signals, left and right speakers. The traditional 5.1 setup consists of a front left, front center, and front right speakers along with rear left and rear right, plus the sub-woofer (thus the 5.1 designation). A stereo playback will split the signal to left and right and combine the two for the front center speaker.

However, when the incoming signal supports 5.1 technology, each speaker receivers its own unique signal. Imagine sitting in the middle of a car cash on a highway, the good guys are leaning out the window of their car trying to bring down the bad guys. In real life, the sounds would be all around, from screeching tires to crashes behind them to gun shots whizzing by their heads and engines revving.

In stereo, this will sound flat and one-dimensional, but in 5.1, the viewing audience will feel as though they are right there in the midst of the action because the sound will move around them, just as it does in real life. A horn blast from a car in front of our heroes could roll from the front center speaker to the front right, then as the good guys pass the aggravated driver with his hand lodged on the horn, that sound will then move to the right rear speaker and then finally disappear. With plain old stereo signals, this sound would appear as a swell in volume followed by a fade in the right speakers, nothing more.

Grabbing the viewers with everything you’ve got

The object of a filmmaker is to draw in their audience and keep them tuned in to the story, action, drama, or whatever else you are trying to get across and the visual effects are only a part of the full equation. Sound is one of the most powerful senses in the human body and when you take advantage of the technology that exists to bring the scene fully to life through 5.1 audio, you create an impact within the audience members that is measurable.

When a person sits in the center of a 5.1 system for the first time, they immediately notice the difference. That’s why so many 5.1 audio systems have been sold in the past several years. The problem is that when films aren’t presented in Audio 5.1, then the consumer cannot take full advantage of the technology that is within their own home.

By using 5.1 audio technology in your films, you will be able to bring your audience into the scenes that you’re filming, making them feel, if only for a short time, that they are part of the movie itself. And that is one of the most powerful emotions a filmmaker can create within his or her audience.


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Rick Davis


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