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A Brief History of Home Cinema

Human ears are naturally built to perceive sound coming from all directions. When viewing TV however, this experience is diminished if the viewer relies only on the two built-in speakers of the television. In an attempt to recreate natural sound, theatres placed speakers at optimal locations so that viewers would experience sound the same way they would in real situations. The same technology was then implemented on a smaller scale in home theatre systems.

Dual Stereo Setup

The original sound setup consisted of L and R channels placed on the left and right of the viewer respectively. Sounds would be divided between the two in an effort to recreate complex directional sound. This setup had obvious limitations. An example is that of a plane moving across the screen from left to right. This sound could easily be simulated by panning the sound from the L to the R speaker. The problem arises when we talk about a plane moving over-head. Since there were no dedicated speakers representing the directions directly in front or behind us, this could not be convincingly recreated.

Multi-Channel Sound

With the progression of the movie industry during the 50’s and 60’s multi channel sound became part of the home cinema experience. The movie industry experimented with channels and found that the more channels that were added to the theatre, the better it was received by the audience. Film makers were now finally on the verge of simulating real life experiences through sound. Speakers were placed in the background to produce ambient sound while the L and R speakers were dedicated to music.


With the evolution of sound simulation in an effort to simulate real life, audiences started expecting more from the picture as well. This began in the post world war II era as drive-ins and home movies became the norm. The 8mm film projector was what made this possible. As cameras and projectors became commercially available to the masses, they began creating their own cine film reels using super 8 or 8mm film. This meant that they wanted their films to accurately emulate their real life experiences. This was when the VHS tape was introduced which started changing the face of home cinema. Coupled with the Dolby Surround System, film makers were finally able to successfully simulate real life in terms of audio and video.

The Dolby Surround system initially consisted of 4 channels. Dolby digital was released soon after and became known as the 5.1 surround system. It consisted of the traditional Left and Right channels, a center channel, surround left and the surround right placed at the back and a sub-woofer which played low frequency sounds.

The home cinema has come a long way from film reels to DVDs. In fact technology has come so far as to take the data off the old film reels and convert those images into 0s and 1s on DVD. Watching old home films and new in home cinemas have become a tradition that continues on to this day.