Nothing beats the surround sound for movies and TV, and the surround sound starts with a home theatre receiver. But an AV receiver can give you a lot more than that. We’ll walk you through the most important and coolest features so you know what to look for when choosing a shiny new one.
Covering the basics
A home theatre receiver (also known as an AV Receiver) brings immersive, theatre-like surround sound to your living room. It acts as a connection hub for a variety of audio, video, and internet streaming sources. To make movies and TV look and sound their best, it uses video processing and surround sound decoding that brings it all alive.
A receiver routes incoming video signals from your Sky TV, Apple TV, Blu-ray player, and other devices to your TV or projector. At the same time, it directs the audio from these devices to your speakers around your room. So you can sit back in your favourite couch (or Laz-e-boy) and really get taken away by the images and sound.
Home theatre receivers have built-in multi-channel amplifiers to power a full complement of surround sound speakers in your room, plus the ability to use spare zones for other areas in your home.
So how much power do you really need? The ideal wattage for your receiver depends on the size of your room and the power requirements of your speakers. You’ll often see a range of acceptable wattages to power a speaker, so to get the clearest sound with minimal distortion, aim for the high end of this power range.
What kinds of inputs and outputs do you need?
Look at the back panel of any AV receiver and you’ll find lots of different connections for audio and video components. Most peoples eyes roll into their heads and a silent scream is heard as they see all these things looking back. But don’t worry, they aren’t that complex (although we can help to do the install as we do a for a lot of our customers). Most of your content sources (that’s the Sky / Apple TV etc) will connect to your receiver via HDMI cables, which carry both audio and video signals.
To allow for system expansion, get a receiver that has more HDMI inputs than you need right now. Nothing worse than buying the latest PlayStation, and there is no space for it (another silent scream). Want to connect two TVs? Look for a receiver that has more than one HDMI output. If you have audio components without HDMI connections, an RCA or optical digital connection is your best bet.
Got a turntable? For the easiest connection, look for a receiver with a dedicated phono input for receivers with no phono input then you can use a separate phono stage like these ones.
How many channels do you need?
We usually recommend receivers with at least seven channels. Even if you’re just starting with a pair of speakers or a 3.1 system, you can always add more as your budget permits. Easiest way to know what you need is to count the number of speakers you have. If it you have 3 fronts, 2 rears and 2 surrounds, that is 7 channels. Don’t be pushed into a 11 channel amp if you don’t need it.
With seven or more channels of power, you can play cutting-edge surround sound formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X . These are the sounds that make your skin get goose-bumps as something makes a noise you didn’t expect… behind you. They use in-ceiling speakers or special up-firing speakers to project sound from the ceiling. Want to listen to music out on the patio? Get a seven-channel receiver and you can use five channels for surround sound and two channels to hook up a pair of stereo speakers outdoors or in another room.
Most A/V receivers can provide power to at least two zones, again count the speakers.
Get the right fit
You may need to think about how your current living room setup will accommodate an AV receiver. Look at the depth of the cabinet, the other AV gear you have and where you want to put it.
A slimline receiver like the Marantz NR1711 is about half the height of a typical home theater receiver, so It’s perfect when space is at a premium.
AV receivers are great for hooking up all kinds of audio components, but your music choices don’t stop there. You’ll find plenty of AV receivers with built-in support for popular streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and TIDAL. Receivers that have built-in Bluetooth let you play anything you want from a Bluetooth-equipped phone, tablet, or computer. Home theatre receivers can reproduce top-quality audio, so naturally most of them are compatible with popular high-resolution audio formats like FLAC and DSD.
Wireless multi-room music
Many receivers work with multi-room music platforms that let you stream music to compatible wireless speakers you have set up throughout your home. You can create different zones and control what’s playing in each room with an app on your phone or by using voice commands. If you want your receiver to be part of a wireless multi-room music system, you have quite a few options. The current list is as follows:
- Yamaha MusicCast
- Denon HEOS
- DTS Play-Fi
- Apple AirPlay 2
- Chromecast built-in
How about wireless surround sound?
Customers have been asking us about wireless surround sound for years, so we’re very excited that technology has finally advanced enough to make it a reality. We expect to see more and more wireless surround sound solutions in the coming years, but there are a couple of compelling options already. All Yamaha MusicCast receivers from 2018 on support wireless surround sound with the addition of MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 wireless speakers.
Convenient control options
The remote controls included with most home theatre receivers have extensive options for switching sources and dialing in settings.
Many remotes have “scene” buttons, which are presets for specific activities like watching TV or listening to the FM radio. Press a scene button to select the source and all the settings you need to enjoy it. Scene-button shortcuts make life easy for guests, babysitters, or anyone else who doesn’t want to learn how to operate your system. Receivers typically come with a few pre-programmed scenes. You can easily edit them and add new ones.
Convenient “Scene” buttons on a receiver’s remote let you quickly fire up your favorite sources and settings.
Just about every AV receiver with network capability offers a free app to use your phone or tablet as a remote. They make it easy to switch sources, adjust the volume, tweak settings, and stream music from online sources.
Remote apps are the easiest way to control your receiver’s multi-zone features. You can choose which rooms to play music in, and select the music for each room.
Voice control integration adds a new level of convenience to today’s home theatre receivers. When you don’t have your phone or remote handy, you can just speak. But remember, they won’t make dinner or order Uber-Eats.
Receivers with voice control capability work together with voice-activated virtual assistants like the Amazon Echo Dot for easy control of your A/V system. Some receiver models support voice control with Amazon Alexa, and others support Google Home voice control. Whichever your preference, you can use verbal commands to:
- power your receiver on or off
- control volume on the receiver
- play and pause music; skip or go back to the previous track
- mute/unmute the receiver
- change the receiver’s input selection
- link or unlink rooms in a multi-room music setup
- control music playback in different rooms
Whether you use Alexa or Google Home, voice control functionality is constantly improving. Alexa is always acquiring new skills and Google Assistant gets smarter all the time.
We’re here to help
Have questions about hooking up your new receiver or need help choosing the right receiver? Get in touch with one of our specialists and they know the gear inside and out!
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