I agree that you can start with 3.1 but you really need to go to 5.1 to start the surround experience. 3.1 just will not get you there. I see you personally like the 3.1 but you are leaving a lot on the table. Many, many movies have very good surround content that makes a big difference. I would take your idea and ramp it up to start with a 5.1 (as the OP wants surround sound) and then if he feels the need to to 7.1 he always can later as the AVR will do both. A lot of it is the room design and the movie types that are watched. A very bad room such as a two sided room with the other two sides open are tough to get any decent sound in, stereo or surround. but usually the surround will help out the bad situation a lot.Definitely a lot of people love it. I think a lot of people also don't care too much and find it gimmicky. Not sure if the ratio is 90/10, 10/90, or 50/50.
For my part, I can count the number of times I've been wow'd by it and that number is in single digits, lol.
Individual tastes vary of course. But regardless of one's affinity for surround sound, I do think that for a given dollar amount it's inarguable that the subwoofer and front speakers deliver the most value. Unless working with a totally uncapped budget I would always advise people to spend that money on a 3.1 setup and add the surround speakers later once the war chest has been replenished.
Thanks for posting JohnBooty! Anyone interested in surround around here is welcome. It seems sometimes I am the only one!