Choosing the right AV receiver can be a daunting task. Rectangular boxes that seem a replica of each other, manuals crammed with technical jargon, and countless knobs don’t make things easier. That doesn’t even include the art of pairing quality speakers with your up and coming home theater setup.
AV receivers don’t come with speakers unless you buy an all-in-one set, also known as a home theater in a box. AV receivers are the hub of your home theater, linking various plug-in sources of audio & video signals to deliver high-quality power output on TVs and speakers. In addition to purchasing a quality receiver, invest in quality speakers for better sound output.
For now, there’s not much to say about purchasing all-in-one sets other than the standard: evaluate your needs, look at options, review setup and reviews, and then make a decision. There will be more on this topic in the future if there is enough of a demand.
However, in this article, you’ll find out what AV receivers do in a home theater, what you use them for, and how to choose and buy an AV receiver that’s appropriate for your needs. Once you learn this aspect, you’ll learn that buying separately is usually the better option. Let’s dig in.
What Do AV Receivers Do?
The AV receiver sits as the nucleus of your home theater. It’s that fundamental component that links your various audio or visual content sources with the speakers for thrilling sound quality and the screen for an awesome cinematic adventure.
Essentially, the AV receiver makes it possible to harness music and videos from lots of plug-in sources, interpret them and decodes them for audio and visual output channels – basically speakers and a TV screen.
The AV receiver plays this vital role by capturing audio and video input from multiple sources, interpreting the data, driving speakers by powering their amplifiers and posting images on TV screens or other visual projectors.
The audio and visual sources connected to an AV receiver depend on the kind of plug-in ports or connections your receiver has. Some of the most common plug-ins include:
- HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) input: Single cables that carry high-definition signals in audio and video formats. The HDMI cables are commonly used to convey HD (high-definition) signals from DVD players, BluRay players, Playstation, digital TV, laptops, and PCs.
- USB ports: For plugging in, e.g., USB flash drives.
- Wireless connections: This includes wifi or Bluetooth.
- Digital audio connections: Through online connectivity, you could access music that’s available on your Local Area Network (LAN), on other digital platforms (such as Napster or Spotify) over the internet, or even stream internet radio online.
- Audio and video in analog formats: e.g., from VCRs (Videocassette Recorder).
What Do Loudspeakers Do?
Like receivers, loudspeakers are also part of a home theater system. They are electric devices used to convert electrical signals into sound waves that are transmitted through the air.
Speakers can either be incorporated within an audio player, a radio, or a loudspeaker enclosure containing more than one speaker unit. The only combination that doesn’t automatically come together is an AV receiver and loudspeakers. These two are usually bought separately.
While the loudspeakers are specifically tasked with producing sound, other devices connected to them can also affect the quality of sound produced. For example, AV receivers help to amplify the sound that you get via loudspeakers.
What’s the Difference Between AV Receivers and Stereo Receivers?
Though identical in appearance, AV receivers and stereo receivers are worlds apart in function and performance. Here’s how.
An AV Receiver
The AV Receiver is the central hub behind your home theater experience. It offers vital linkages between multiple origins of audio and visual signals, amplifying those signals, powering the output speakers, and providing the interface to manipulate the system.
The eventual output of sound and video signals is through speakers and TV sets.
An AV receiver primarily yields high-quality audio and video output.
AV receivers aid the latest technology to deliver astounding, crisp surround sound, even with 3D effects.
The basic architecture of a home theater that produces surround sound consists of a minimum of 5 speakers; three at the front, two speakers on the sides, and a subwoofer, commonly referred to as 5.1. The 5 refers to the number of channels (or simply speakers) in the configuration, while “.1” means there’s one subwoofer.
A “7.1” system denotes seven speakers with the “.1” referring to one subwoofer. And a “9.2” system would denote nine speakers and two subwoofers.
More advanced sound systems provide for more speaker arrangements. The ultimate sound heaven is a Dolby Atmos-enabled home theater that accommodates up to 11 or 13 speakers, some placed overhead.
A Stereo Receiver
On the other hand, a stereo receiver differs from an AV receiver in two main ways:
- A stereo receiver principally transmits audio. Video signals cannot be transmitted over a stereo receiver.
- A stereo receiver does not produce surround sound. You’d require at least five channels to achieve surround sound. Even when you connect a stereo receiver to gadgets like TVs, you’ll not attain surround sound.
The stereo receiver has two channels, i.e., two speakers. The system comprises two amplifiers that power the two speakers and amplify received audio signals.
A stereo receiver may incorporate an AM/FM radio tuner.
What Are AV Receivers Used For?
AV receivers doubtless play a key role by delivering high-quality audio and video to entertainment enthusiasts. But there’s more. Let’s explore further.
A User Interface for the Home Theater
Provides a convenient way to manipulate the various devices in your home theater system. You can achieve controls like changing channels, adjusting the volume or qualitative aspects of sound or video output, choosing your preferred entertainment source. You may opt to tune in to a digital radio station, watch a movie on pay-TV, or stream music from Spotify on the internet.
The user interface may be via:
- Remote control of the AV receiver
- Messages on the receiver’s display window
- TV screen display
Powering Speakers and Amplifying Audio
The AV receiver powers the speakers linked to it and amplifies the channels in the surround-sound system. An AV receiver has five or more channels that produce the surround-sound effect. There’s an amplifier for each channel that powers up the speakers. The subwoofers have their mini-amplifiers to drive their performance.
Linkage to and Control of Audio & Video Sources
The AV receiver enables connection to the devices that feed audio or video signals into the home theater system. The receiver provides numerous connection knobs at the back for multiple audio and video gadgets such as DVD players, Blu-ray players, laptops and PCs, Playstations, and wireless connections.
The AV receiver also allows you to navigate from one device to another device as per your preferences with ease. For instance, if you’re interested in listening to audio from a CD-playing device, the AV receiver allows you to switch from what you’re currently watching, to select the source that delivers CD music to the receiver.
This presents a tremendous convenience as all you need to do is select your audio or video source. The AV receiver directly links the video source device, such as a DVD player, to the display screen, say a TV. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables transmit audio and video from the source device via the AV receiver without compromising audio and visual output quality.
Decoding Surround-Sound Signal Formats
AV receivers allow for connection to numerous audiovisual sources that unleash content in a diversity of formats. Think about digital content in DVDs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray, CD, online media, MP3, WAV files, and so forth. The AV receivers should be capable of decoding digital content that’s in all these formats.
Whereas stereo receivers can only decode analog sound formats, AV receivers decode analog and advanced digital sound formats. They’re capable of decoding Dolby, DTS Master Audio formats with their high-definition audio formats.
You’re investing in a home theater to enjoy a convincingly rich sound that seems to almost move you to the movie world by replicating and delivering intricate audio details to your living room.
Decoding Discreetly Encoding Dolby Audio Formats
AV receivers are capable of decoding Dolby Digital and DTS audio formats. Dolby Digital is considered a market leader in surround-sound technology, and its audio format was embraced early on by DVD manufacturers.
The surround-sound effect is created when DVD manufacturers encode their DVDs with 5.1 channels of subtly embedded Dolby Digital audio format. Your AV receiver interprets these codes and transmits the different audio tracks to different speakers within the home theater, creating a magnificent, immersive surround-sound effect that almost mimics a real-world scenario that pans out in the movie.
Tuning to Radio
The AV receiver contains a radio tuner that can help you plug into desired radio programs or channels. You may tune in to analog signals via AM radio waves or the more crisp sound of digital radio that delivers sound in HD formats.
What’s more, some AV receivers have satellite radio receiving capabilities.
How Do I Choose and Buy an AV Receiver?
Having explored what AV Receivers are used for, we’ll delve into what you need to consider before choosing and buying an AV receiver. Investing in a superb sound machine is not a cheap enterprise, given that AV receivers can have an average cost of $800, excluding the costs of speakers and the other components of the home theater.
Here are a few aspects you’ll need to consider:
Price is a determinant when it comes to the acquisition of electronic gadgets. It’s no exception for AV receivers. There are always extras that end up adding to the overall cost of your home theater receiver.
It’s important to note that besides the AV receiver, be deliberate about investing in quality speakers and other plug-ins to optimize your sound and visual experience with the latest technology it has to offer.
With that said, it’s still possible to get an impressive deal when you know what you need. Perusing several reviews, too, can help to settle for a fairly-priced AV receiver with outstanding functionalities.
Inputs and Outputs to the AV Receiver
These features are probably the most important consideration before you purchase an AV receiver. If you’ll be exclusively plugging into an audio device with stereo speakers, then a stereo receiver would do. However, you’ll certainly require an AV receiver when plugging onto a TV or a home theater for video and surround sound.
Next, consider the input devices you’ll be connecting your receiver to. Think futuristically too and not just about the CD or DVD players. Explore receivers with in-built features that accommodate such prominent online music streaming services as TIDAL, Pandora, and Napster, if these are vital to you.
Does the receiver have the inbuilt capability to play music from your laptop, PC, or smartphone device via Bluetooth, Airplay, or Wi-Fi? Ideally, the AV receiver should allow for greater connectivity with new devices and emerging technological developments.
Lastly, confirm that your AV receiver can support the number and range of inputs you’ve got. For instance, if you connect many of your devices using HDMI cables, confirm if the HDMI ports on the receiver are sufficient to support your HDMI plug-ins. Whatever devices you’re using, whether they’re the latest in the market or legacy gadgets, you’d be keen to ensure they can be supported.
With the proliferation of AV receivers in a world where technological change is constantly a fast-paced affair, you can be spoilt for choice. The sheer variety of features on AV receivers on offer can be intimidating. But knowing exactly what you need could help.
Zeroing in on the features that are irreducibly essential to your requirements can be helpful and cost-effective. By eliminating receivers heavy on features that you may not require or already being served by an existing device, selecting an appropriate receiver is easier.
Tick off your checklist non-essentials. Do you need ceiling speakers, wireless streaming, or a certain number of HDMI connections, subwoofers, or channels when you consider your living space?
Future-Proof Your AV Receiver
Although this seems contradictory to our last point, it doesn’t have to be. While acquiring a receiver that can meet today’s non-negotiable needs, you must be mindful of accommodating the futuristic addition of new gadgets or adopting better technology.
A few handy tips in this regard are to:
- Have enough channels on your receiver to add more speakers for superior sound output in the future. Each channel corresponds to a speaker that can be connected to the receiver. Five speakers may serve you well right now, but having extra channels can make an upgrade to 7 or 9 speakers a more manageable exercise.
- Consider an AV receiver capable of 4K video switching. 4K TVs have an extremely high level of resolution and color. Investing in such a receiver will enable the connection of numerous devices that are 4K enabled to a single screen.
- It is recommended that you get a receiver fitted with Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos is the latest development by Dolby Laboratories, producing a 3-D surround sound effect that seems to encompass you from every side. A deeply immersive surround-sound experience.
- Confirm if the receiver can run HDR formats. Check if it can handle HLG, DV, and HDR10 formats.
- Consider a receiver with multi-room ability. Some home theater receivers can multitask to run a TV show in one room while screening a movie in another. With such robustness, you could have entertainment streamed to various audiences from the same receiver resource.
Ease of Control
A versatile remote control for the AV receiver is desirable. It allows for an assortment of tasks like inputting settings, switching between various sources, with navigable and easy-to-follow on-screen menus.
Several AV receivers come with buttons that allow for the selection of graphics consisting of various “scenes” that correspond to certain sources such as watching a DVD, streaming online music, or even listening to Pay-tv. These solutions simplify the user interface, making it easy for anyone to operate the system conveniently.
Convenient control of the AV receiver may also come in other ways:
- Smart Phone App Control: It’s almost conventional now that AV receivers’ manufacturers are shifting remote control capabilities to an app on your smartphone. From the convenience of your mobile phone, you can navigate the receiver menu, adjust visual settings, mute certain inputs or speakers, select sources, pause the music, and essentially all that a remote does.
- Voice Control: Modern receivers have integrated voice input as a control mechanism. By issuing verbal commands, the system recognizes and executes as per the preset parameters. Quite convenient when you cannot readily locate the remote control. That you can achieve a range of outcomes by mere verbal commands is in itself phenomenal.
If you still find the going getting tough, there’s an easy way out. Simply check popular reviews of the best AV receiver and pick what you believe resonates with your needs.
In summary, speakers may be purchased independently and connected to an AV receiver. This is the preferable way, although you can purchase a home theater in a box to save some time and money. These respective components of a home theater system must be high quality and well optimized for good proper audio and visual output.
So when planning to buy your AV receiver, consider your budget, inputs, and outputs into the receiver, your non-negotiable attributes of a receiver, acquiring a future-proof receiver, and factoring in the convenience of control when using AV receivers.
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Roy is the leading content creator here at Home Theater Heroes. He is as passionate about planning a home theater setup as building it. He blogs about IT, cybersecurity, business, and more at Davis Tech Media.