Google is now working to 5.1 and 7.1-channel surround sound support to Chrome OS, in support of Stadia on Chromebooks. That's based on recent reports citing changes to the operating system's underlying code in the Chromium Gerrit. Summarily, the change — along with others — enables 'multi-channel audio support' for Chrome on Chrome OS. The documentation associated with that explicitly points to "stadia-support."
The support for surround sound on Chromebooks in Chrome is explicitly tied to Stadia but doesn't seem to work across the system. At the very least, all of the tests so far seem to have been over HDMI only and only in Chrome. Specifically, 5.1-channel was tested on an HP Chromebook x2. All that was required was connecting a compatible receiving device via the above-mentioned port.
But that may not remain the case. The HP device in question doesn't actually have an HDMI port to speak of. Instead, the test would have had to have been conducted using a USB-C to HDMI adapter cable. That could equate to wider support still, whether via headphones or some other accessory. Prior to the changes, Chromebooks only supported stereo sound, despite having the hardware to use surround sound.
In the meantime, it appears as though this change will work directly in the Chrome browser. So it should be useable for more than just gaming. It may, in fact, also work with streaming of either audio or video content as well.
Why bring surround sound to the table for Chromebooks now?
Now, there are plenty of reasons for bringing multi-channel surround sound to Chromebooks and Stadia on Chrome OS. Not least of those is the fact that Google already pushed a similar update to Chrome on other platforms. Google Stadia, in particular, enabled support for 5.1 surround sound last month on both Windows and macOS machines in Chrome.
That means that in order for Chromebooks to compete via Google's own game streaming service, Chrome on Chrome OS will need support for surround sound. If the search giant can ensure it works across more than just Stadia, that will only bolster the feature for Chromebooks. It will also make Stadia Pro a more enticing offering alongside 4K HDR support for a wider audience.
This probably won't arrive anytime soon
None of that necessarily equates to a rapid launch for this new feature. As noted by the source, the “feature freeze” date for Chrome OS 84 has already passed as of May 1. That, in effect, means that all of the incoming features for that update — scheduled for July 21 for Chrome OS — are already set in stone. It's not impossible for Google to squeeze surround sound in, but it's unlikely.
The next update to land for Chrome OS — Chrome OS 85 — isn't slated to arrive until September. More specifically, that's September 1. But Google has been reworking its launch schedule for Chrome on Chrome OS too. The browser may or may not cease to be tied directly to the overall update in the future. If that happens anytime soon, all bets are off as to when the feature could arrive.