Flat-panel televisions are nothing new.   I think even my father has one in his toolshed by now.  But legitimate flat-panel loudspeakers are harder to come by.    

There are single-speaker surround sound systems, and those are admirable, but speakers, unlike today's televisions, require a great deal of old-fashioned physics, analog-style, because that's how sound reaches our ears - so flat panel ones, though a terrific concept in size, haven't been great in practice.   

If you're suffering from 7.1 channel space overload, there may be good news.   Flat-panel speakers, which don't work very well if actually placed on the walls (which means you don't have a lot of space savings) have gotten a boost from scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT in Ilmenau, Germany and Sennheiser.

They say their new technology is ultra-flat but still resonant nevertheless.   So you'll still need 8 of them, but at least they won't take over your room.  Because they can blend into the surroundings, they can be arranged in better arrays than may be possible now and despite their small size, they can reproduce a frequency range from 100 hertz to 20 kilohertz, according to Dr. Sandra Brix from IDMT.  "This new generation offers tonal balance and acoustic pressure at a level that will even allow the use in the professional movie or concert segment in the future."

flat-panel speakers
Bigger speakers, bigger sound -- this is the music lover's creed. Flat panel loudspeakers offer an alternative to those who would rather not or cannot clutter up their homes with speakers. These speakers can be integrated inconspicuously on walls or in furniture.  Credit: Fraunhofer IDMT

They say their their flat panel loudspeakers achieve response characteristics other speakers can only get if placed a distance from a wall.

Using wave field synthesis, some audio systems are capable of producing terrific sound - having a flat panel speaker system to go with it means we could get rid of them as eyesores and instead have them integrated into the decoration - like as part of a picture.

Credit: www.holophony.net (seriously, go read it - you won't find a better explanation of wave field synthesis)

Sign me up.  I just redid the A/V system in my den and it's basically unfinished because my choice is either fishing cable through the walls or dealing with bulky wireless speakers everywhere;  a good flat-panel speaker set would at least save me from patching up walls.