The ideal gaming setup incorporates all facets of the virtual experience. It starts with your preferred console, and with the recent releases of the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, it’s hard
to go wrong with either choice. You’ll need some great games to play, of course, and luckily there’s plenty of those to go around. Finally, in addition to a display that makes the most of your console’s supported video quality, you’ll want an audio setup that compliments the audio encoding offered by today’s games and devices.
Surround sound can have a profound impact on gaming, helping players fully immerse themselves into the worlds and environments that they’ve become invested in. Because of this,
Microsoft and Sony have built the necessary tools to create a compelling audio experience into each of their new consoles. Many games have followed suit, crafting sound in such a way that fully utilizes the several audio encodings offered by the PS5 or Xbox Series X.
PS5 Supported Audio Formats:
- Dolby Digital (max 5.1ch)
- Dolby Digital Plus (max 7.1ch)
- Dolby TrueHD (max 7.1ch)
- DTS (max 5.1ch)
- DTS-HD High Resolution Audio (max 7.1ch)
- DTS-HD Master Audio (max 7.1ch)
- AAC (max 5.1ch)
- Linear PCM (max 7.1ch)
- Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X available for Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray disc video
(when connected to a supported device)
Xbox Series X Supported Audio Formats:
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- DTS 5.1
- Dolby TrueHD with Atmos
- Up to 7.1 L-PCM
Benefits of surround sound in gaming
By definition, surround sound separates the audio coming from a source into different channels that disperse sound around a listening environment the way that it’s meant to be heard. Dolby Digital 5.1, for instance, dedicates the center channel of the system to producing clear, powerful dialogue. There’s left and right channels that flank the center, providing the more dynamic sounds that are essential components of the composition of movies and games. There’s surround (or rear) channels that accurately replicate all of the background noise that helps give content a realistic sound. Not to be forgotten, the “.1” of the 5.1 setup represents the subwoofer, which handles all of the low frequencies and adds impactful bass to the ensemble.
While it’s most often associated with movies, gaming with surround sound should not be overlooked. Done right, surround sound uses the channels it has to work with to place sounds in the places they’re supposed to be heard. The important dialogues in storylines from games like The Last of Us (2013) are kept at the forefront of the experience thanks to the center channel. The cinematic elements of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) are expertly highlighted by the hard-working left and right channels. And with sports games like NBA 2K 2021 (2020), the rear channels of a surround sound system are effective enough to convince you that you’re actually courtside at Madison Square Garden.
Simply put, surround sound takes some of the best parts of the gaming experience and amplifies them, allowing gameplay to be the all-encompassing spectacle that it was always
meant to be.
How to set up the PS5 or Xbox Series for surround sound
To optimize the newest consoles for surround sound gaming, it is necessary to dig briefly into the sound settings of each device. The Xbox Series X, for starters, requires you to select a few preferences in the consoles’ audio settings.
First, from the home screen, toggle to the “Volume & Audio Output” tab that’s found by clicking “Settings” then “General.” Select “Speaker Audio” - unless you’re using headphones, but the best surround sound experience does include a full setup - then choose “5.1 or 7.1 uncompressed” for setups where the Xbox is directly connected to a surround sound system. In
the scenario where your Xbox is connected to your TV first, you may have to choose to utilize the “Bitstream Out” setting to achieve proper surround sound. There are additional settings to play with if you have a Dolby Atmos setup, but these basic settings will set your Xbox Series X up for surround sound success.
The process is similarly simple with the PS5. It once again starts by navigating to the “Settings” tab, then moving through “Sound” and “Audio Output” until you land on “HDMI Device Type.” Regardless of what type of surround sound system you have, set the device type to “AV Amplifier,” then choose the number of channels in your specific setup. Conveniently, the PS5 includes a feature that lets you match the output with the locations of the speakers in your listening environment. Finally, you’ll need to choose the Audio Format (Priority) option that suits your exact setup. PS5’s that are connected to your system first will benefit from “Linear PCM while having a TV as a middle man between the console and system will require choosing “Dolby” or “DTS.”
Taking advantage of surround sound in gaming
The good news is, surround sound is as accessible as ever. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X support a wide range of audio formats, and most modern games are seamlessly compatible with those encodings. All that’s left to do is assemble an audio setup that takes advantage of these formats.
Today’s soundbar systems are a cost-effective way to dip your toes into the surround sound world, with many such systems including subwoofers and rear speakers to create an easy-to-use 5.1 experience. However, these systems are often handicapped by their design, with most soundbars usually being incapable of creating the wide soundstage that great surround sound demands. It’s not necessarily their fault - as bars that literally contain the front three speakers of a surround sound setup in one enclosure, it’s an uphill battle to produce sound that achieves accurate separation between left, right, and center channels.
A more traditional home theater setup, one with dedicated speakers for each channel, may very well be a better way to enjoy the full experience that surround sound has to offer. Going this route will let you properly distance your front soundstage and rear speakers, which will immensely improve the system’s ability to create impactful audio. When playing games designed to pull you into entirely different and unique universes, you’re going to want a setup that produces sounds in exactly the places that they’re supposed to be. Some soundbars do that well, but a quality home theater system remains among the best options for capitalizing on surround sound in today’s gaming landscape.
Setups like the Enclave CineHome II or CineHome Pro each fit the bill as quality home theater systems, and make for natural pairings with the immersive surround sound formats that these newer consoles offer. The CineHome II is a 5.1 wireless home theater system featuring four full-range drivers, three tweeters and an 8-inch subwoofer powered by 11 Class-D digital amplifiers. With support for several audio formats (Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, and PCM), the CineHome II allows you to place speakers in optimal locations in your room without having to run wires everywhere. Each individual speaker needs power, but the included CineHub will otherwise correspond wirelessly with each driver to create a compelling 5.1 experience.
The CineHome Pro follows the same wireless blueprint as the CineHome II, but adds a 10-inch subwoofer, larger front speakers, and full-range rear speakers into the mix for an enhanced listening experience. Compared to the CineHome II, the CineHome Pro is meant to have a more powerful, dynamic sound that adds the extra impact the some gamers crave from their sound. That being said, either of these wireless surround systems project to be solid compliments to modern gameplay.