The most advanced surround sound formats can send discrete information to each speaker. The best home theater systems will usually consist of 3 speakers up front, the left, center, and right, plus a subwoofer. In a 7.1 channel setup, you add two speakers to the sides of the listening position as well as two speakers behind the listening position as shown in this diagram.
When a soundtrack of a movie, game, or any other source takes advantage of all 7.1 of these channels, a more discreet listening experience can be had. Now you don't just have two surround sound speakers, but four!
Imagine… directly to the right side of you a door creaks open as a breeze is heard from the left rear. A window slams shut on your left side while a crack of thunder erupts from the right rear. You are completely immersed in the eerie storm as each of the four speakers envelops your listening position. Let us not forget the front channels which provide the on screen action and dialogue from the center while the front left and right offer the dramatic score and any other sounds coming from in front of you. The subwoofer provides the thunder its impending growl, while bolstering the powerful score's lowest notes...
In a 7.1 channel system, the sky is the limit when it comes to getting a prime listening experience.