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Home Theater Receivers and the Multi-Zone Feature

Incorporation of Multi-Zone Capability in Home Theater and Stereo Receivers


Second and Third Zone Audio/Video Outputs - Yamaha RX-V2700 Home Theater Receiver

Second and Third Zone Audio/Video Outputs - Yamaha RX-V2700 Home Theater Receiver

Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Second Zone Speaker Connections - Yamaha RX-V861 Home Theater Receiver

Second Zone Speaker Connections - Yamaha RX-V861 Home Theater Receiver

Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Zone 2 Preamp Output Example

Zone 2 Preamp Output Example

Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com
Home Theater Receiver Function Overview

A Home Theater Receiver combines the functions of three components:

1. A tuner for AM/FM; in some cases, HD (High Definition Radio), Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, and/or Internet Radio.

2. A Preamp that controls which audio/video source is selected (Blu-ray Disc player, DVD player, VCR, CD player, Media Streamer, iPod, etc...), processes the incoming stereo/surround sound signals, and distributes audio to the channels and subwoofer output. Video from components (such as a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player) are routed to a TV.

3. A built-in Multi-channel amplifier (5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 channels) that sends the surround sound signals and power to the speakers.

However, as the sophistication of Home Theater Receivers increases, another feature that is being incorporated into many of that is referred to as "Multi-Zone Capability".

What Multi-Zone Capability Is

Multi-Zone capability is a function in which the Receiver can send a second source signal to speakers or a separate audio system in another location. This is not the same as just connecting additional speakers and placing them in another room.

The Multi-Zone function allows a Home Theater Receiver to actually control either the same, or a separate, source than the one being listened to in the main room, to another location. For example, the user can be watching a Blu-ray Disc or DVD movie with surround sound in the main room, while someone else can listen to a CD player in another, at the same time. Both the Blu-ray or DVD player and CD player are connected to the same Receiver, but are accessed and controlled separately using the same main Receiver.

How Multi-Zone Capability is Implemented

Multi-Zone capability in Home Theater Receivers is implemented in three different ways:

1. On many 7. 1 Channel Receivers, the user can run the receiver in the 5.1 channel mode for the main room and using the two spare channels (normally devoted to the surround back speakers), as the speakers to run a Second Zone. Also, in some receivers, you can still run a full 7.1 channel system in the main room, provided you are not using the Second Zone setup at the same time.

2. In addition to the method in #1, many 7.1 channel receivers are configured to allow a full 7.1 channel mode for the main room, but provide an additional Preamp Line Output to supply a signal to an additional amplifier (purchased separately) in another room that can power an additional set of speakers. This allows the same Multi-Zone capability, but does not require sacrificing the full 7.1 channel experience in the main room, in order to get the advantages of running a system in a Second Zone.

3. Some high-end Home Theater Receivers incorporate the ability to run both a Zone 2 and Zone 3, in addition to the main zone. On these receivers, Preamp Outputs are provided for both Zones, which require separate amplifiers for each Zone. However, some receivers will give you the option of running either Zone 2 or Zone 3 using the built-in amplifiers of the receiver. In this type of setup, the user can run a Second Zone with the internal amplifiers of the receiver, and a Third Zone using a separate amplifier. However, since you are using the Receiver to power the Second Zone, you will still sacrifice the full 7.1 channel capability of the receiver in the main room.

Additional Multi-Zone Features

In addition to the basic ways in which Multi-Zone capability is implemented in a Home Theater Receiver, there are also some other features that may be included.

1. In many cases, while the receiver can utilize both its full audio and video features in the main room, it may be that analog audio-only functions are accessible for Multi-Zone use.

2. If video functions are accessible for Multi-Zone use, they may be limited to composite video signals. What this means is that while you may be able to access a full high-definition video and surround sound audio source in the main room, only components connected to the receiver using analog stereo and/or analog video connections may be accessible for use in a Second or Third zone.

However, it is important to note that in some higher-end receivers, it is possible that a component video or HDMI output may be provided for Zone 2 use. If these options are important to you, make sure you check.

3. There may be additional speaker connections on the receiver that will allow you to connect a full 7.1 Channel as well as a Second and/or Third Zone that can be powered by the Receiver's internal amplifier. However, in this type of setup, if you are listening to the main zone in full 7.1 channel surround sound, you cannot use Zone 2 and Zone 3 at the same time. What happens when you want to access either Zone 2 or Zone 3, you will need to switch, via the Receiver's operating menu, from a 7.1 channel main zone to 5.1 channels, enabling the extra two channels to power either Zone 2 or Zone 3 speakers.

4. Another interesting way to use the Multi-Zone capable home theater receiver, is to use the second Zone option in the same room as a 5.1/7.1 channel setup. In other words, you can have dedicated 2-channel, controllable, listening option in addition to a dedicated 5.1/7.1 listening option in the same room.

How this setup would work is that you would have the home theater receiver set up with a 5.1 or 7.1 channel channel configuration with 5 or 7 speakers and a subwoofer that you use primarily for home theater listening, but then you would have an additional external power amplifier that is connected to the receiver's Zone 2 Preamp Outputs (if the receiver provides this option) with the external amplifier further connected to a set of front left and right front speakers that you specifically use for two-channel audio-only listening.

This setup option would work for those audiophiles that want to use a higher-end, or more powerful, two channel stereo power amplifier and speakers for audio-only listening, rather than using the front left/right main speakers that are used as part of the main 5.1/7.1 channel surround sound listening setup for movies and other sources. However, in a multi-zone capable home theater receiver, both systems can be controlled by the same receiver's preamp stage.

You don't have to have both the main zone and Zone 2 features running at the same time - and you can lock in your two channel source (such as CD player or Turntable) as your designated source for Zone 2.

Many think that Zone 2 (or Zone 3 or 4) can only be used in another room, but that is not the case. Using a 2nd Zone in your main room can allow you to have an independently dedicated (and controllable) two-channel audio system (using extra speakers and amp) in the same room that may also have a 5.1 or 7.1 setup powered by the Receiver.

Of course, this setup does add a little more speaker clutter to your room as you would have two physical sets of front left and right speakers, and you would not be using both systems at the same time, since they are intended to be used with difference sources.

Proceed to Page 2 - Other Factors to Consider When Considering a Multi-Zone Setup and Final Take

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