When people are putting together a home theater system, one of the most important components has to be the audio/video controller/processor. This can either come in the form of a separates-based preamplifier with the necessary amplifier companion, or the much more common audio/video receiver.
The reason many more people choose an audio/video receiver is that it is generally less expensive, and it also comes in a single chassis, which takes up less space. Since the audio/video receiver combines surround sound processing, amplification, switching and control all in one box, it seems like a great value. However, traditionally many receivers have been a bit on the lower-performance skew, since it's so hard to pack one piece of equipment with all of this performance and still have enough back panel space.
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Some manufacturers have figured out how to do this properly, as I've been seeing more and more better performing receivers over the past few years. Sunfire, maker of high-end amplifiers and surround sound preamplifiers (as well as kick ass subwoofers) recently released their interestingly named Ultimate Receiver.
Sunfire products traditionally offer plenty of whiz-bang for the money, and the Ultimate Receiver certainly lives up to its name in this regard. With features such as the ability to automatically turn the unit on, select your source and surround mode when you power up your DVD player or other source, things get really easy to live with. The Ultimate Receiver comes with 7.1 Channel Dolby Digital decoding, as well as processing for Dolby Digital EX, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and Dolby Pro-Logic II decoding. The nice folks at Sunfire have even planned for outputs for 9.1 channels total playback (an additional stereo power amplifier is required for the use of all 9.1 channels). This allows for future upgrade-ability, as well as filling the sound of a very large room.
Also worth mentioning is designer Bob Carver's Holographic Imaging that features noise-free digital signal processing for sound-stage enhancement of two-channel sources. Of course, there are a multitude of digital inputs and outputs, making for very diverse system compatibility. Of course, on a piece like this, SACD and DVD-Audio compatibility are to be expected, and this is in fact so. There are inputs on the back panel that allow for this connection in a simple, well-labeled manner. The seven built-in amplifiers offer 200 watts per channel, which is more than enough power for even the largest of residential theater rooms mated with traditional speakers.
Another noteworthy feature on the audio side of things is the ability to play sources (such as CD or tuner) independent of the main zone (such as a DVD movie) in a second zone such as outdoors or a master bedroom, offering nice multi-room capability. The built-in AM/FM tuner comes with a whopping 40 presets, making even the most diverse family's tastes easily accessible at the touch of a button. On the video side, there are a bevy of S-video and component video connections, again making any videophile eager to enjoy.
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