You already know that your next home theater receiver needs sufficient wattage and speaker channels to fill your room with awesome surround sound. You know that it needs to decode the latest Dolby Digital and DTS for your movies. You also know you need a whole bunch of HDMI inputs and maybe a few legacy analog inputs for that Wii game console or something else you refuse to throw away. But beyond that, what’s important, new and so cool your new media room can’t live without? Here’s a rundown on some of the must-haves for your next AVR (audio/video receiver).
1. 4K Scaling
While there are only a few 4K Ultra HD displays currently on the market, there are many more coming later this year, and you can bet that next year there will be multitudes more. As TVs and projectors add resolution, your AV receiver will need to take on the role of upscaling all incoming content to look good with the extra pixels. Just as with 1080p scaling on current TVs, not all 4K scaling will be created equal.
2. Ethernet Switch
We’ve only seen this feature so far in the new Sony ES line of receivers, but we love it and want to see it in more products. Today so many of our home theater sources are dependent on a broadband network, but hardwired connections can be limited. Integrating an Ethernet hub into the receiver allows you to plug in one wire to the receiver, then spider out to all your other Internet-dependent components (Blu-ray player, game console, Roku, Apple TV…). A wired connection will be more reliable and robust than Wi-Fi.
OK, I just told you above to use wired, but I’m also realistic. We can’t always get what we want, and in those cases, Wi-Fi will do. Built-in Wi-Fi is easy to use and for most music streaming it’s good enough. Most AVRs these days include an assortment of music services like Pandora or TuneIn Radio, and for those Wi-Fi works just fine, assuming your network is sound and your kids aren’t hogging up the bandwidth Skyping their friends.
Bluetooth is becoming the less-expensive and more ubiquitous (and in some cases more practical) answer to AirPlay (see the number 5) in many receivers (as well as soundbars and other home audio components). It allows you to easily and wirelessly connect any smart phone (Android users aren’t left out) to your receiver for playing stored or streamed music. It’s simple and works. It doesn’t sound as good as AirPlay, but the new apt-X version of Bluetooth is quite good and commonly available. Many receiver manufacturers implement this, rather than AirPlay, because AirPlay costs more.
The Onkyo TX-NR727 includes Bluetooth, 4K scaling, Wi-Fi and more.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.