Importance of Center Channel in small room

Listening to my friends HT system in his huge den, the center channel contribution is substantial.

Listening to my 2.1 in my 10 x 12 HT room, seems like center channel would be beneficial but optional.

Have any of you experimented with a center in a small HT room, determined how big was the impact?

One nice thing I think if I had center is that I could widen the front pair and create a wider soundstage.

To me the main reason for a center speaker is if you sit off to one side. Then the center speaker makes the dialogue seem to come out of the tv. Finding a center speaker that actually matches the fronts is not all that easy. My office is about the size of your room and I don't feel any need to get another speaker. I just feel like if you don't need it and you like the sound of your fronts by themselves, don't mess with it. Dan
I have a small room, 12x13. I use a center channel, mostly with three channel, hybrid SACD's. Most of the latter come from masters that were three channel mono. So, the hybrid is three mono channels. Miles/Blue is one of the disk's and and sounds great. I also use the center for other two channel stereo, using a VAS 1 preamp that has a center out.

You are right about the sound stage, I have the speakers, ProAc's 1sc, about a foot off the side walls.

Tweaking goes on.
Yes, even in a smaller room, the cc speaker does improve overall soundstage and imaging when it comes to playing music in surround sound or even 3 channel as for Tiger above. No question about it.

As I built my HT system over time (as funds allowed), the center channel was the last speaker I purchased. I was using the TV's speakers as the center channel for dialog and it wasn't bad. It worked. For music though, no good. I then went to small satellite type speaker for the center channel and that certainly improved the dialog for a while. Now I just recently upgraded to a full blown cc speaker (new B&W HTM61). Now the entire overall sound in music, movies, concert DVD's, and dialog has improved considerably. But that's the fun of it. Going one step at a time. For pure music, this HTM61 has greatly improved the soundstage, bass extension and punch, detail, vocals, and imaging of my system (Rotel A-V receiver). For movies, dialog is far superior now. So yes, it's important not only to have a cc speaker but the selection for your particular application is equally important.
Problems: with no center in your small (acoustically very difficut) room, you will have to sit smack dab in the middle of the room to get a Phantom center. If you don't, yo'll have dialogue collaps into one speaker - not connecting with your monitor/video immage. If you, on the otherhand, do sit in the middle of the room by yourself, you've now put yourself in a horrible acoustical spot in your room, yes! (that's where all the nasty peaks and dips in the frequency response is.)
In small 10 x 12'ish rooms, I'm alsmost always using two seat setup's, with the seats either in the 1/3 width and lenght dimmensions, or in the 1/3 width and 1/5th lenght dimmension (or, with smaller seats, maybe 2/5th and 3/5th width positions, depending).
These positions, in relation to proper speaker settings (in rectangular closed-in rooms), offer smoother frequency response, fundamentally.
So, if it were me, I'd give up on your center, so called, "sweet spot", and do dual seating arrangements - if it were me. And, I'd be DEFINITELY chosing a center speaker, yes.
Center channel is needed for off axis listening - especially far outside the sweetspot. If you sit in the sweetspot then you are actually better off without one of those horizontally mounted center channels under the screen.

Think about it - would you listen to stereo with one speaker turned upsside down => that is the equivalent effect of a center channel that sits two feet below the creates all kinds of problems...
As it has already been said, if you only watch alone and sit in the sweet spot, you can do without a center. If however, anyone joins you and sits to the right or left of you, as you keep the sweet spot to yourself, their experience, will not be as enjoyable as yours.
Yep, I'm thinking about these comments and others on avforum, videoasylum that I found after searching.... and some personal experiences too. I figure that center is optional in a small room unless you want to have the gang over. Center is not really optional in a large room.

Funny though some people on the other forums HATE center channels and always prefer phantom. I can see the appeal of it. To each his own I guess.

Funny though some people on the other forums HATE center channels and always prefer phantom.

Yes indeed - a large number of audio studio professionals do not like center channels - although not many will admit it, after all multi-channel mixing is all additional business to many of them. They mix with identical speakers all at the same height but many prefer the sound without a center - Chesky is a good example.

Remember that in order to move the location of a sound you need 10 DB extra fact our ears tend to place things in the soundstage mostly by time arrival. Therefore you don't need to sit in the sweetspot to get excellent imaging provided you are far enough back!

In a small room the geometry is inevitably going to be less forgiving.
Some DVD-A discs I have do not have a center channel mix. It was confusing at first, but now I see the logic. As has been stated, if you don't tell your processor that you have a center, it will distribute the sounds to the left and right mains, thus depriving other listeners of the full breadth of sound from the front. But, after all, who cares about them anyway. Its all about us, isn't it?
If you want the best sound possible you can not go with out a center!!! With out a center you processor is splitting the information that should go to the center to the front left and right speakers. (I think everyone knows this) By doing this your fronts are now trying to do there job and the centers job. Speakers have a hard enough time doing one job and adding to it really takes away details, clarity and overall performance. Considering more the 70% of what you hear from a movie is in the center channel I think it is the most important speaker.
Most 2 channel audio guys (who've been 2 channel-guys for the last 30 years, anyway), are always going to be biased towards even an 7.1 channel mix PLAYED BACK AS TWO CHANNELS!...SANS THE SUBWOOFER, EVEN! Nothing, including God himself coming down in a flood and prophesying about how much better it is to have a center channel in your home theater, is going to do anyting to persuade them otherwise!
So, sounds like you're going "without" one. Let us know how it works for you, and get back to us.
I would recommend this however, if you' are into accurate sound - and that's to pick up a sound level meter and a testtone disc, and let us know your readings from your seat! Bet they're all over the board
good luck