Re: 5.1 vs. 7.1
- There is very little material out there that is specifically encoded as 7.1. The vast majority of movies are still encoded as 5.1 so listening to them in their native format means the extra speakers aren't used all that often.
However, 7.1 receivers often have listening modes or decoding options that better utilize the back surround speakers. Generally, larger rooms benefit from this a bit more than smaller rooms because the added speakers help "fill" the room with sound.
Finally, consider the recommended speaker placement for 5.1 vs. 7.1 systems (check out this Dolby guide
). 5.1 systems have surrounds placed to the sides of the listening position, and the added speakers for 7.1 should be placed several feet behind the listener. If your room geometry favors one setup over another, then that should help you decide.
Re: Home Theater Systems
I apologize that I haven't taken the time to look closely or compare the specs of the systems you referenced, but a strong word of caution with many budget HTiB systems:
You often get what you pay for
. Keep in mind that in order to offer a complete system at a low price, compromises have to be made. Most often these compromises come in the form of:
- crummy, low-impedance speakers with proprietary connections (so they can't be used with other receivers or equipment)
- trimmed-down receivers that have little to no support for additional devices, and come without common features of "regular" receives such as the ability to upconvert analog video sources to HDMI.
The most commonly recommended all-in-one systems around here are the systems from Onkyo (the 5300 in particular). The reason is simple: they are built around a regular, full-featured receiver that can expand as your system grows.
When looking at budget HTiB systems, do yourself a favor and:
[*] Make sure it has enough audio AND video INPUTS for all your sources (Blu-Ray/PC, HD Cable/Satellite, game system, etc.) [*] Make sure it uses regular spring-clip or binding post connections for the speakers. If there are specially shaped "plug" connectors, I would pass - the speakers will work ONLY with that receiver and should you decide to upgrade will have to start over. [*] Make sure the speaker specs list a nominal impedance of 8 ohms (6 ohms would be OK, but pass on anything like 4 or 3 ohms - same problem as #2). [*] If you have a mix of HDMI and analog video devices (the Wii is a common example of component only) make sure the system will convert analog video to HDMI or you will need to run mutliple video cables from receiver to TV (one of each type). [*] Don't pay any attention to wattage ratings when comparing systems. Wattage is meaningless. A better indicator of a system's ability to play loud is the sensitivity rating of the speakers (measured in dB: 90dB and higher is good). [*] Avoid systems that integrate a DVD or Blu-Ray player with the receiver. Generally, these models have even less support for external devices, and if the Blu-Ray breaks, you're out the whole system. Separates are better.