Pioneer Receiver Virtual Surround Back Channel Review

I recently had the opportunity to work on a 5.1 surround system that had a new Pioneer receiver with the virtual surround back channel feature. This feature should simulate the left and right back channels by putting part of the sound in the right and left surround channels and creating a synthetic channel between the left and right surrounds. This would be an improvement in how systems today map the left and right back channels into a 5.1 surround system.

All 5.1 systems I have tested currently do this by mapping the back channels of a 7.1 system into either the right or the left surround channel with no part of the sound going to the other surround. Doing it this way weakens the solidity of a pan in the backs. It also reduces the accuracy of positioning sounds in the back when a 7.1 recording is being played back in a 5.1 system.

Unfortunately, when I tested this with a 7.1 signal into the new Pioneer receiver it failed to do anything different. It mapped the back channels to the right and left surrounds as any other system would when using a 7.1 PCM signal as many players would supply to the receiver. Hopefully, this will improve with time.

W. Jeff Meier

ISF and THX Certified Home Theater Consultant

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