The Home Theater Receiver, also referred to as an AV Receiver or Surround Sound Receiver, is the heart of a home theater system and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your television, into. A Home Theater Receiver provides an easy and cost-effective way of centralizing your your home theater system.
In Part One I discussed the basic audio performance and functions to look for.
In Part Two, I dig deeper into some of the more advanced functions to consider when buying a Home Theater Receiver, such as Multi-Room Audio, iPod, Networking, and Video Connectivity.
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 connecting additional speakers and placing them in another room.
The Multi-Zone function allows a Home Theater Receiver to control either the same, or a separate, source than the one being listened to in the main room, in another location. For example, the user can be watching a Blu-ray Disc or DVD in the main room, while someone else can listen to a CD in another, at the same time. Both the Blu-ray or DVD player and CD player are controlled by the same Receiver.
Note: Some higher-end home theater receivers also include two or three HDMI outputs. Depending on the receiver, the multiple HDMI outputs may provide either a parallel audio/video signal to additional zones, or may be configured independently so that one HDMI source can be accessed in main room and a second HDMI source can be sent to a second or third Zone.
- Home Theater Receivers and the Multi-Zone Feature
- How to Use the Multiroom Audio Features in a Stereo or Home Theater Receiver
iPod Connectivity/Control and Bluetooth
With the increasing popularity of the iPod, more receivers are equipped with iPod compatible connections, either via an adapter cable or a "docking station". What you should look for is, not only the ability for the iPod to connect to the receiver, but for the receiver to actually control all iPod playback functions via the receiver's remote control and menu functions.
Also, keep in mind that if you connect a Video iPod, you may only have access to audio playback functions. If you desire to access iPod video playback functions, check the receiver's user manual before you purchase to see if this is possible.
Another addition on a growing number of home theater receivers is the incorporation of Bluetooth. This allows users to stream audio files directly from a compatible Bluetooth-enabled portable device.
Networking and Internet Audio/Video Streaming
Networking is a feature that more home theater receivers are incorporating, especially in the mid-to-high price point. Networking is executed via Ethernet connection or WiFi.
This can allow several capabilities that you should check for. Not all networking receivers have the same capabilities, but some features commonly included are: Streaming audio (and sometimes video) from a PC or the internet, Internet Radio, and Firmware updating directly from the internet. To find out the networking and/or streaming features included in a specific receiver, check the user manual, feature sheet, or a review ahead of time.
In addition to audio, another important feature in most home theater receivers is the incorporation of video switching and processing. When buying a receiver for your home theater system, will you be connecting all of your video sources to the TV directly, or would you like to use the receiver as your central video hub for switching, and, or video processing?
If you plan to use your receiver for video, make sure the unit you consider has the type and number of connections you will need. For an illustration of video connections that can be found on a receiver, what they are used for, check out my Home Theater Receiver Connections Gallery
- Home Theater Receiver Connections Photo Gallery
- HDTV Connections
- How to Connect a 3D Blu-ray Disc Player to a non-3D Home Theater Receiver
In addition to using a home theater receiver as a central location for connecting both audio and video component, a growing number of receivers also feature video processing, just as they offer audio processing.
The most basic video processing feature available is the ability of many receivers to convert Composite video inputs to Component video outputs or composite or component video inputs to HDMI outputs. This type of conversion may only improve the signals very slightly, but does simplifies connections to HDTVs, in that only one type of video connection is needed from the receiver to the TV, instead of two or three.
When considering a receiver, a second level of video processing to check for is deinterlacing. This is a process whereby video signals coming in from the Composite or S-Video inputs are converted from interlaced scan to progressive scan (480i to 480p) and then output via Component or HDMI outputs to the TV. This improves the quality of the image, making it smoother and more acceptable for display on an HDTV.
However, keep in mind that not all receivers can perform this function well. For what to look for in terms of deinterlacing performance, check out an example from one of my Home Theater Receiver Product Reviews
In addition to deinterlacing, another level of video processing is very common in midrange and high-end home theater receivers upscaling. Upscaling is a function that, after the deinterlacing process is done, mathematically attempts to match an incoming video signal to a specific screen resolution, such as 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and in some receivers, up to 4K.
However, keep in mind that this process does not actually convert standard definition to high definition, but improves the image so that it looks better on an HDTV. For more details on Video Upscaling, check out: DVD Video Upscaling, which is the same process, just substitute Upscaling receiver for Upscaling DVD player.
HDMI is a connection available on many receivers. Unlike other connections, HDMI can pass both audio and video signals through a single cable. However, depending on how HDMI is incorporated, access to HDMI's capabilities may be limited.
Many lower priced receivers incorporate pass-through HDMI switching. This allows the connection of HDMI cables into the receiver and provides an HDMI output connection to a TV. However, the receiver can't access the video or audio portions of the HDMI signal for further processing.
Some receivers access both the audio and video portions of the HDMI signals for further processing.
Also, if you are planning to use a 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray Disc Player with your home theater receiver, keep in mind that your receiver should be equipped with HDMI ver 1.4a connections.
It must also be noted that HDMI 1.4 and 1.4a connections also have the ability to pass 4K resolution video signals, provided that feature has been activated by the receiver manufacturer.
Another HDMI connection option that is being incorporated into home theater receivers is HDMI-MHL. This updated HDMI connection can do everything that a "normal" HDMI connection can, but has the added capability to accommodate the connection of MHL-enabled smartphones and tablets. This enables the receiver to access content that is either stored on, or streamed to, the portable devices, for viewing or listening through your home theater system. If your home theater receiver has an MHL-HDMI input, it will be clearly labeled.
For an additional overview on what you need to know when buying a home theater receiver, check out our About.com Video Presentation: Advanced Functions to Consider When Buying a Home Theater Receiver