The AV receiver (also known as the AVR or home theater receiver) isn’t the prettiest piece of a home theater system, but it’s certainly the most important. It’s a magical place where all of the audio meets all of the video and sends music and soundtracks to your home theater speakers. Sometimes, it has processing powers and other times it can connect to the web. In other words, it’s something that you really shouldn’t skimp on. This one heavy home theater component serves as the cornerstone, the hub and the “brains” behind any good setup.
The typical AV receiver combines a preamplifier, a tuner and an amplifier into one unit. With all of that going on inside, you should know that the best AV receivers have a mind-numbing amount of specs. When it comes down to it, you don’t really need to examine every single item on that detailed list—unless you want to, of course. (Have at it!) However, it’s not worth a panic attack. Here are a few simple things to keep in mind when shopping for a receiver:
Your Speaker Collection. Been collecting speakers since the ‘70s? Don’t expect to connect all of them to your AV receiver. Most of today’s AVRs won’t support that kind of crazy setup, but there are options. Whether you want a 5.1 setup or want to go for 9.2, make sure that your receiver can handle the number of speakers and subwoofers you want populating your system. And know that if you’re on a budget, your selection may be limited.
4K Support. If you’re going to upgrade to a 4K Ultra HD TV or projector, you probably want to actually use it. Make sure that your receiver can support 4K content.
HDMI Inputs. How many HDMI inputs is enough? That can be a very personal answer. If you don’t have enough, an HDMI switcher will add in a few more ports, but that’s probably not a purchase you want to make right away. Make sure you have enough inputs (and outputs) for your current needs—and maybe even one or two extras for components you will inevitably buy in the near future.
Wireless Networking. Even if you don’t ever plan to stream one web radio station, having Bluetooth, AirPlay or Wi-Fi built in is probably something you’ll want at some point. It allows you to snag stored content from networked NAS devices, as well as stream web radio and subscription services like Pandora, Rhapsody and Spotify, all without the need for other boxes or your smartphone. And speaking of which: There will be times when you won’t feel like hoarding, which makes the option to cast audio from a smartphone or tablet directly to a system quite nice.
Other Rooms. Do you want to rock a second space in your home? The best home theater receivers support multi-zone and multi-source audio. For instance, a lot of 7.1 receivers can be set up to deliver 5.1 in a main area, saving two channels for the back deck (or wherever else you want music). Just as long as you aren’t expecting a second zone that has a full 5.1 complement, you should be able to find something suitable at an affordable price.
Of course, budget is a main concern as well. Thankfully, there are a lot of affordable AV receivers that can deliver great surround sound and all of the above bells and whistles. Yes, you shouldn’t skimp, but it doesn’t mean that you have to spend a bundle, either. Take a peek at our slideshow of 10 Top Home Theater Receivers for Under $1,000.
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Over the past 15 years, Rachel Cericola has covered entertainment, web and technology trends. Check her out at www.rachelcericola.com.