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In the ever-evolving landscape of home entertainment, home theater receivers remain the driving force behind high-powered stereo and multi-channel sound systems. Looking back, a lot has changed—gone are the tape decks and VHS players of yesteryear that delivered our audio and video entertainment—these days, smart devices, Blu-ray players, streaming devices, and gaming systems are the major players in content delivery. Many of us carry our primary audio and video media sources with us daily, by way of smartphones and tablets. Most modern receivers can now accommodate these portable devices, giving those devices prominent positions in your home theater system.
While home theater receivers still have the power to crank out hundreds of watts and decode a bevy of surround sound formats, those features are no longer their biggest draw. It’s all about connectivity now, and receivers with the most connectivity options rise to the top of enthusiasts’ wish lists. Much like the devices we connect to our home theater receivers, the way we connect our current devices has also changed. Analog connectors are slowly but surely fading to the background, making way for HDMI, USB, Ethernet, and a host of wireless options. In this article, we’re going to outline how home theater receivers have changed with the times and highlight their ability to interact seamlessly with our mobile devices via wired and wireless connection options.
By now we all know the benefits of HDMI; the primary advantage of this connection type is its ability to carry high-resolution audio and video over a single cable. HDMI isn’t only for connecting large components like cable boxes and gaming systems, however. Home theater receivers like the Pioneer VSX-1130-K feature Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) connectivity over HDMI, which allows you to mirror the screen of your compatible smartphone and tablet, while conveniently charging them at the same time. With this great feature you can share whatever you see on your mobile device’s screen with your TV’s larger display, by way of your receiver. If your smart devices support MHL connectivity, just be sure to get an MHL-compliant cable or adapter, as these accessories are usually sold separately.
Like HDMI, USB ports have been around for a while. We’ve all used them—well, most of us at least. This interface supports a wide variety of devices and computer peripherals. USB is a reliable connection that can also serve a valuable purpose in your home theater. Many receivers, like the aforementioned Pioneer, have front-panel USB inputs for inserting audio sources, such as iPhones, iPads, and portable storage devices. Once connected, you can easily access the files on these devices for playback. Some receivers even support album art display from your connected devices and allow you to control playback directly from the receiver.
Wireless Music Streaming
Considering the number of us who keep music stored on our smartphones, tablets, and computers, it only makes sense that receiver manufacturers incorporate wireless technologies that allow them to communicate directly with our mobile devices. Bluetooth is a common wireless connection type that spans multiple platforms including Android, iOS, Windows Phone—the list goes on. Bluetooth-enabled audio receivers allow you to pair similarly equipped portable devices easily and use them as audio sources, as long as they are within the Bluetooth transmission range, which is approximately 10 meters. As Bluetooth technology has matured over the years, it has become more efficient, consuming less battery life from your source components, allowing you to enjoy hours of music streaming before you reach for your charger.
"There’s no denying the inherent advantages the World Wide Web brings."
If you’re an iOS or iTunes user, receivers like the Sony STR-DN1060 will allow you to use your connected device as a media hub via wireless AirPlay connectivity from Apple. AirPlay is incorporated into many iOS devices and it allows you to send music to the receiver with the touch of an icon. Even better, it’s not just for iOS and Mac users. Windows users who have iTunes installed on their computers can also use this feature to stream music wirelessly. This Sony receiver also supports Google-cast for audio, one of the newer wireless streaming technologies made popular by Google. Similar to AirPlay, Google-cast allows you to stream your music easily with the touch of an icon in the music app interface on your portable device. If you’re concerned about limited support, rest assured—there are many popular Google-cast-ready apps, such as Pandora and Google Play Music that support this streaming method, with more apps being added quite regularly, along with growing developer support.
Wi-Fi and Ethernet Network Connections
Connecting to the Internet has almost become a necessity for our modern-day electronics. There’s no denying the inherent advantages the World Wide Web brings. When you combine those advantages with a home theater receiver such as Onkyo’s TX-NR646, you have the potential to access a massive library of Internet streaming content and local network-based music for your listening pleasure. For example, this Onkyo receiver allows you to access free and subscription-based services, such as TuneIn Radio, Pandora, and Spotify. Having access to these services enables you to have the same music choices you enjoy on your smartphones and tablets, giving you a consistent listening experience across your devices.
Another bonus afforded by receivers like the Onkyo TX-NR646 is Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compatibility. DLNA enables compatible devices on the same network to share media files. If you have music stored on your computer or network attached storage devices, DLNA allows the receiver to communicate with your network connected devices to play back your music files. This allows the receiver to be the main audio source for all of your music spread across multiple networked devices, and if you’re receiver supports multiple rooms—otherwise known as multi-zone audio—you can play your music in multiple locations throughout your home.
Many Internet-connected receivers allow you to take mobile device interaction a step further with free smart device control apps. These apps usually cover Android and iOS platforms, and they allow your smartphone or tablet to act as a remote control. This is one of the more underrated features, as most people keep their smart devices near them at all times, more so than their dedicated remote controls. These apps give your portable devices added functionality, allowing them to serve as an audio source and controller simultaneously. Now that’s convenience.
Add a Receiver to Your Mobile World
So if you’re assembling a home theater system and wondering if you need a receiver to drive your equipment, the likely answer to your question is “yes,” especially if you have one or more of the audio sources we have discussed here. There are other amplified audio components, like soundbars, that incorporate some of the features we’ve discussed, but home theater receivers offer the most flexibility when it comes to external speaker connectors, surround sound decoding, wired and wireless inputs, and more.
What’s great about receivers is how they have evolved with the times, accommodating a new generation of source components. You can have an immersive and unified audio experience without traditional components like DVD and CD players. In fact, many people enjoy high-definition video and audio without physical media. If you’re wondering which receiver best integrates into your mobile world, the experts at B&H are here to help you choose the home theater receiver that best matches your gear. And if you have some of those traditional components we discussed, there’s no need to feel left out, as these modern receivers can still accommodate those devices just fine. There’s no reason your turntable and smartphone can’t co-exist, harmoniously.