Making a sound decision
With the popularity of HD TV and the release of Blu-ray, we are now just starting to see the next level in surround sound which is to include two surround speakers on either side of the user to create an even more intense surround experience.
While the idea is great, the amount of content featuring this technology, while growing is still small and restricted to a handful of big movie releases.
If you have a high-end sound card you can encode to 6.1/7.1 using DTS NEO, but that starts to get quite pricey, quite fast.
Wireless has come to multimedia speakers, and if you require the comfort of having uber flexibility with your surround speakers, Logitech can help here if you're willing to spend the extra coin. I have tested this some time ago, and can confirm the technology works.
The choice of how much to spend is quite a personal one indeed. And of course the more extensive and involved your needs, the more the price goes up.
Features and performance are usually a trade-off under $400, so bare that in mind. Power figures can be very misleading indeed; always avoid figures given in PMPO which means Peak Music Power. Instead, look for the RMS figure given as it's the most accurate. If none is given, that's your first reason NOT to buy that system.
Some of the good brands to look out for are Logitech, Creative Labs, Altec Lansing, Klipsch and GIGABYTE. These companies have been making quality products for a long time, and do not sell rubbish given their respective price points.
Considering what's being said already, I would stay clear of anything over 5.1 as it's not a technology that has come into fruition in its entirety yet; best to just wait and see what happens.
Wireless works and works very well, but you're going to have to find two more precious outlets for those rear speakers and fit the extra expense on the system to begin with, so that's a personal one I think.
Remotes, docks and control centers will all come at an extra expense, and will mean a drop in sound quality if you're spending under $450-$500. Sorry, but that's the way it is.
Try and keep the figure you have decided on in your head and stick to it when going out and choosing a system. It's easy to spend more than you need to because of an over eager salesperson barking at you.