No home theatre system is complete without an AV receiver. Whether you’re watching a Blu-ray movie or jamming to some great tunes, a receiver helps you get the best sound and video quality possible. Sony, Yamaha, and Pioneer are just some of the great names in receivers looking to help you get more out of your entertainment.
What is an AV Receiver?
The AV receiver acts as the brains of your home theatre system. As its name implies, it receives signals from your devices and outputs them as either audio or video. The more advanced the receiver, the higher the quality of the outgoing signals.
Its main job is to control which AV source is selected (i.e. Blu-ray disc player, television, etc), allowing you to choose which components you want to watch or listen to. Afterwards, it processes the stereo/surround sound coming in from this source and sends the audio to your speakers and subwoofer output.
This process adds depth and dimension to your audio, so that even weak incoming audio signals are amplified to a level that will produce clean and loud sound. Likewise, receivers can take weak video signals and process them to be clearer and higher in quality.
AV receivers are also packed with inputs and outputs that allow you to connect different AV components, including your HDTV, Blu-ray player, and video game consoles. This helps to ensure that no matter which device you use, you always get optimal sound and picture performance.
Stereo Receivers vs. Home Theatre Receivers
Stereo receivers can operate only two speakers at a time and tend not to have video decoding components, which makes them more perfectly suited for audio systems. Some models have HD radio tuners, AM/FM tuners, and satellite radio capability.
Home theatre receivers, or AV receivers, are capable of surround sound and can control more than two speakers at a time. These devices usually come with digital video processing, which allows them to work with both audio and video components, and also have advanced features like digital audio processing, automatic speaker setup, and wireless network connectivity.
It’s common to see 5.1 channel or 7.1 channel receivers, which provide five to seven channels for transmitting surround sound to multiple speakers. The “1” indicates that these receivers also have an output for one subwoofer. Furthermore, advanced seven channel receivers can use five channels for playing a movie while two other stereo channels can be used to play music in another room.
Watts per Channel
Watts per channel (WPC) refers to how much power the receiver can output through each channel. Not only does this indicate how loud your sound can go per channel, but also how high the quality of your sound will be.
Sound levels are measured in decibels (db). In receivers, the decibel number indicates how loud the sound output is. 0db is the threshold of hearing and the higher you go, the louder you perceive the sound to be.
Distortion indicates the lack of purity in your audio. A good receiver will produce sound that is smooth and lacking artifacts or harsh noises like static. The more noise you can hear that isn’t supposed to be there, the higher the distortion of your sound.
The ratio of sound to background noise is known as the Signal-to-Noise ratio (S/N). All AV components add some background noise to an audio signal, and it’s the receiver’s job to minimize this noise as much as possible. The higher the S/N ratio, the more the sounds you want to hear (music, voice, etc) will shine through.
A good receiver should be capable of continuous power output. This means that if your receiver can output 100WPC, it should be able to sustain that amount of power at a specific volume.
Advanced Features to Consider
Multi-zone audio is a crowd pleaser. It not only allows you to send an audio signal to a speaker in another room, but it also allows you to control two different sources at the same time. For example, you can watch a Blu-ray movie in the living room while your son listens to a CD in his room. Both the Blu-ray movie and CD player are controlled by one receiver.
Device Connectivity and Control
With the increase in popularity of MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets, receivers have been designed to be able to connect to these devices and play music and videos off them, either using an adapter cable or a dock. Some receivers may even be able to charge your device while it’s connected.
Look for a receiver that not only offers playback, but control options as well. You should be able to play/pause music, skip forward and back, and control the volume using either your receiver or a remote control.
Networking and Internet Audio/Video Streaming
Receivers that are capable of networking and Internet streaming give you the ability to wirelessly connect to the web or other devices and access music, movies, and photos from them. Once you’re connected via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, you can stream Internet radio stations, watch movies on your PC via a router, and more.
Most receivers offer a ton of different video inputs, which makes them handy if you’ve got a lot of video equipment in your home theatre system. These devices can also switch between different components, so you can choose the one you want to watch and send the selected video signal to your HDTV.
Receivers with HDMI connectivity can send both audio and video signals from a single cable to your devices. If you’re planning on building a home theatre set that is compatible with 3D, then you need to ensure your receiver has the latest HDMI connections.
Video conversion gives your receiver the ability to accept different video connections and send them to your TV using a different type of video connection. It’s good to have if you don’t want to manually switch your TV’s input settings whenever you use different components. These are the most common types of video conversion:
- Composite to S-video conversion – takes any video signal entering your receiver from a composite or S-video connection and converts it to S-video for your TV.
- Component video conversion – takes component, S-video, and composite inputs and sends it to your television via a component video connection.
- HDMI video conversion – takes composite, S-video, component, and HDMI inputs and sends it to your TV using an HDMI cable.
It’s important to note that video conversion doesn’t improve picture quality, but simply maintains the best possible quality for each kind of input.
Also known as upconversion, video upscaling means your receiver can convert standard definition video into a higher resolution video signal that more closely matches the high definition capabilities of your HDTV. This is a great way to give older DVD’s and even VHS tapes a crisper and more detailed look onscreen.
A home theatre system would be incomplete without a great television set. Having to choose between LED’s, LCD’s, Plasma’s, and Smart TV’s can be downright confusing, so check out our HDTV Buying Guide to help you make an informed decision.
Whether you’re a fan of Blu-ray or loyal to DVD’s, these players can make watching movies at home easy and fun. Hook one up to your receiver and let the movie marathon begin!
Audio and video receiver cables
Make sure you pick up all the appropriate cables that are compatible with your receiver. Also check that you have the right connector that will fit into your receiver or grab an adapter that will do the job.
If you have any HD devices, such as an HDTV, Blu-ray player or 3D gaming console, then you will need an HDMI cable to connect them properly to your receiver.
When you’ve got multiple devices connected to your receiver, it can be a headache trying to keep track of which remote controls which device. Use one universal remote to control all of your components and kiss that migraine good-bye.
Take the Next Step
Take control of your home theatre components and make watching movies or listening to music a breeze with a great receiver. Find the right one for your system by checking out Best Buy for high-quality receivers from top brands like Sony, Denon, Sherwood, and Onkyo.