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Home Theater Review's Best of 2016 Awards
'Tis the season for Home Theater Review's annual best-of list, where we select the best products we've reviewed in the past 12 months. Read More
Anthem MRX 1120 11.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Dennis Burger examines Anthem's new flagship 11.2-channel MRX 1120 AV receiver. This model delivers the performance we've come to expect from Anthem...and adds some interesting new features, to boot. Read More
Yamaha Aventage RX-A3050 AV Receiver Reviewed
Myron Ho reviews Yamaha's RX-A3050, a 9.2-channel AV receiver that offers a number of upgrades over its predecessor. Read More
Sony STR-ZA5000ES 9.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Dennis Burger explores Sony's flagship STR-ZA5000ES AV receiver--a feature-rich 9.2-channel receiver that boasts a highly intuitive user interface. How does it perform? Follow the link to find out. Read More
Denon AVR-X7200WA 9.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Bob Barrett reviews Denon's flagship AVR-X7200WA, a fully loaded 9.2-channel AV receiver that supports all the latest audio and video technologies. Read More
Onkyo TX-RZ900 7.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
In this week's featured review, Dennis Burger explores Onkyo's TX-RZ900 7.2-channel AV receiver. This $1,599 box is well-built and fully loaded with features, but how does it perform? Read More
Home Theater Review's Best of 2015 Awards
It's that time of year again--time for the HomeTheaterReview.com staff to pick the products that we feel represent the best of the best from all of our 2015 reviews. We've covered a variety of categories and price points. See if your faves made the list. Read More
Integra DTR-70.6 11.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Sean Killebrew swaps out his AV separates for Integra's new flagship DTR-70.6 11.2-channel receiver and comes away loving the experience--especially Dolby Atmos. Read More
Arcam AVR750 Seven-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Dennis Burger reviews the $6,000 AVR750 AV receiver from Arcam. What this product eschews in features, it more than makes up for performance. Read More
Yamaha Aventage RX-A3040 AV Receiver Reviewed
Myron Ho checks out Yamaha's current top-shelf AV receiver, the $2,199 RX-A3040. This 9.2-channel receiver boasts a ton of features, including Dolby Atmos support, network streaming, and multi-zone capability. Read More
Sony STR-DN850 7.2-Channel AV Receiver Reviewed
Sony's $499 STR-DN850 AV receiver is loaded with worthwhile perks (like WiFi, Bluetooth, and a great user interface), but how does it perform? Dennis Burger puts this 7.2-channel receiver through its paces. Read More
Everything You Need To Know About HDMI and Home Theater Receivers1.0 What is an AV Receiver?
2.0 What Does an AV Receiver Do?
2.1 The HDMI Era of Receivers
2.2 Surround Sound
2.3 Room Correction and EQ in AV
2.4 Internet and AV Receivers
3.0 Buying an AV Preamp - The Laundry List Effect
1.0 What is an AV Receiver?
An AV receiver is the heart and soul of any home theater system and consists of a number of essential components, all housed in one (nearly always black) box. AV Receivers typically include a preamplifier, a variety of video inputs and video switching (including HDMI in modern receivers), as well as video outputs, digital and analog audio inputs and outputs for up to 7.1 channels, internal amplifiers for as many as seven channels, satellite (XM and or Sirius) and Terrestrial (FM and AM) radio and more, all housed in one chassis. Some of the newest AV receivers also connect to the Internet via Ethernet cables or via a wireless connection, making them network devices.
The AV receivers big brother is the more audiophile-grade AV preamp, which is often more expensive and by definition doesnt include amplifiers inside the chassis.
The AV receiver is derived from the stereo receiver or integrated amp, which is a much more simplified component that includes a stereo preamp, a stereo amp and often a radio of some sort in one component. An integrated amp would be unlikely to include any radio or tuner.
2.0 What Does an AV Receiver Do?
AV receivers accept audio inputs from various sources, including stereo analog inputs (RCAs) and analog multi-channel inputs (5.1 to 7.1) from sources like SACD, DVD-Audio, HD DVD, Blu-ray and others, as well as digital audio inputs from sources like DVD-Video players, HD DVRs, D-VHS decks, media servers and many more.
AV receivers also accept video inputs of all kinds. The most popular today is the new, often copy-protected HDMI (which can also carry audio from sources like Blu-ray), component video for analog HD (up to 1080i resolution), S-video and even composite video.
Receivers switch inputs at the users command. They process or embellish surround sound effects. They boost the signal to prepare it to be amplified. Receivers amplify the audio signal to a level that allows speakers to create powerful SPLs in the room.
Modern receivers use the latest HDMI inputs for HD audio and 1080p video from Blu-ray via one copy-protected source. They now also frequently have high-powered video processing chips inside the unit to help up-convert SD video to the native HD resolution of a users HDTV (720p, 1080i or 1080p).
2.1 The HDMI Era of AV Receivers
HDMI is the one-cable, copy-protected system that Hollywood studios have approved with the technological help of computer companies. It allows their HD content to be transmitted from a source like a Blu-ray player to an AV receiver, and then to an HD display device like a plasma, LCD, front projector or other type of HDTV.
The adoption of HDMI has been a rocky road in its first few years. Custom installers and retailers complain about flimsy, breakable plastic connectors that dont lock, as well as technical video synch issues call handshake problems. Early systems were plagued with intermittent video issues.
Some receivers have been upgradeable from early HDMI versions like 1.0 and 1.1 to the current standard of HDMI 1.3a (or HDMI 1.3b) via firmware updates. Many are not upgradeable at all.
HDMI 1.3 allows the passing of both 1080p video and HD-quality lossless audio via DTS HD Master Audio and or Dolby True HD on one cable. Only the newest receivers have these types of inputs, so users needing to run PCM audio analog out of their Blu-ray players into the multi-channel (7.1 analog) inputs of the receivers. Not all Blu-ray discs have PCM audio outputs and not all Blu-ray players have 7.1 analog audio outputs.
Earlier versions of HDMI receivers could only switch video via HDMI.
2.2 Surround Sound For AV Receivers
Receivers mostly started out as stereo, all-in-one audio solutions, but by the early 1980s, and with the rise in popularity of both VHS and the advent of Dolby Pro Logic, receivers quickly and forever became associated with surround sound.
Early receivers had little to no processing power, so their church and stadium effects often sounded thin, hollow or just outright fake.
The advent of lossy (or compressed) discrete surround sound formats like Dolby Digital and DTS at the end of the laserdisc era and, more importantly, into the DVD era gave users the chance to get discrete surround sound from their discs. Discrete surround sound implies that each of the 5.1 channels (front left, front right, center, rear left, rear right and the point 1 subwoofer) all get unique audio information, just as stereo systems gets unique information for the left and right channels. This data flows via a digital audio cable while the video is sent via a video cable, such as an S-video or component cable. This information was almost never copy-protected.
SACD and DVD-Audio came to market in the early 2000s and AV receivers were one of the more popular and affordable ways to upgrade systems to accommodate movie surround sound and the new discrete, MLP lossless audio and/or DSD audio found on DVD-Audio and SACD alike. With the high cost of universal players, a new receiver, at least six cables and a serious lack of quality titles on either format mixed in surround sound, both formats were failures. However, the 5.1 and 7.1 analog inputs are still used today for a variety of sources, specifically in older receivers looking to run uncompressed HD audio from Blu-ray.
Todays receivers are powerful computers with strong internal processors that can handle all sorts of surround sound challenges. The most significant upgrade seen in todays receivers is the ability to take traditional audio inputs like a stereo CD or a DVD-Video disc and expand the sound in faux or matrix surround. Yamahas DSP surround sound processing is generally believed to be the best in the receiver class. Audiophiles who once scoffed at cheesy surround sound effects from receivers of the past now admit that even entry-level receivers can process quality audio.
2.3 Room Correction in AV Receivers
One of the most sought-after features in a new AV receiver is room correction EQ. Companies like Audyssey and others have created systems that use internal processing inside of the receiver, plus a simple microphone, to equalize the sound coming out of an AV receiver, which allows for physical room anomalies and acoustical challenges. Up until only a few years ago, this type of room correction was done only for the most expensive $100,000-plus home theaters. These corrections included analog equalizers and needed a professional acoustician. Today, competent room correction software is found in $500 AV receivers.
Audyssey is at the forefront of room correction for home theater preamps. Meridian, Harman, Integra and many others offer room correction for their latest AV preamps. Many come equipped with a mic and an auto-set-up that most savvy consumers can use with desirable results. Neptune Audio makes an outboard EQ and room correction model for higher-end home theater systems. Wisdom Audio uses Audyssey EQs in their electronics for their ultimate-grade on-wall and in-wall speakers.
2.4 Internet and Firmware
Many of the newest AV receivers are coming with wired (via Ethernet) or even wireless Internet connections and are therefore network devices. This helps allows easy firmware and software updates, so that the increasingly computer-based receivers can stay current in an ever-changing technological marketplace.
Given that its called a receiver, you might expect an AV receiver to actually receive something. In fact, most of them do. Traditional receivers have received AM and FM terrestrial radio. Todays receivers are starting to come XM- and/or Sirius satellite radio-ready. The most advanced receivers connected to the Internet can sometimes receive Internet Radio.
2.6 iPod Connectivity
Most receivers today offer an included or optional iPod dock, so that you can easily park and charge your iPod in your home theater, allowing you to enjoy your music collection.
Its important to note that the native resolution of a song from iTunes is about one quarter as good as that of a traditional compact disc, so set your expectations accordingly. iPods are very convenient, however. Using a full-resolution music storage system, such as a Sonos or even a Mac Mini, allows you to have full CD resolution access to your music from a server without losing a lot of meaningful detail.
3.0 Buying an AV Receiver Avoiding the Laundry List Effect
When researching an AV receiver, its easy to get sucked into all of the whiz-bang features that receivers have more of today than ever before. However, some of the most important questions regarding your future happiness include How does the receiver sound? and Is this a reliable AV receiver?
Beware the concept of just buying the receiver with the most effects or the most features when those features are ones you are likely never going to use. Trust your ears. Audition the receiver in a store and read as much as you can about the unit, especially from the best AV publications both online and in print.