As the main component housing an amplifier/switcher/tuner, an audio-video surround receiver plays the crucial role in managing all your home theater components. So, it’s important to think about how the receiver will serve your needs, going forward.
The High-Definition Multimedia Interface is the most popular conduit for transferring high-definition video and digital audio from various source components to your HDTV. That’s why the TV set can easily run out of HDMI inputs. But considering the better stereo speakers you’ll attach to a receiver, not to mention the center speaker, satellite speakers and subwoofer bypassed by the TV, it makes more sense to make the receiver your HDMI funnel into one regularly-used HDMI input on your TV. The great thing about the receiver is that you can use its included remote or a premium universal remote to easily switch between incoming signals–no matter what you’re throwing at the screen. That way you can attach your cable or satellite DVR, Blu-ray Disc player, games console and media receiver (with its Internet streaming and USB inputs) to the array of HDMI inputs on the receiver. One HDMI output on the receiver means that you only need to use the TV’s HDMI Port-1. If an auxiliary HDMI input is more accessible on the TV than the receiver, then you could always connect your high-def camcorder directly to the TV for impromptu viewing. On the other hand, if you want to get the sensation of surround sound out of your camcorder, attaching it to your receiver still makes more sense than connecting it directly to the TV.
Though any high-speed HDMI cable should be able to handle the 3D portion of a video signal, if you’re expecting to use a 3D-capable Blu-ray Disc player or other 3D source with a 3D TV, don’t count on passing the signal through a receiver rated for HDMI Version 1.3 or earlier. You’ll either have to connect the source component directly to the TV or get a receiver compatible with HDMI Version 1.4 or higher. (The latter is also referred to as having 3D pass-through capability.) A 3D-compatible receiver neither decodes 3D nor degrades the signal. Clearly, since digital surround sound is such a huge part of the home theater experience, 3D TV owners will have compelling reason to replace an older receiver that delivers big sound and the third dimension.
Even with its station presets and included antennas, the analog tuner embedded in almost every receiver is for many listeners something they’ll never use. But if you want a better radio, you can opt for a receiver that contains subscription-free HD Radio, a terrestrial broadcast system in which some AM stations and even more FM stations simulcast digitally static-free. AM sounds like FM, and FM mimics a CD. Also, each HD station may multicast several music or program genres at once, giving you more choices to tune into including some not heard at all on the AM or FM bands.
Another option is a Sirius or XM satellite radio tuner. Satellite radio does require a subscription, but it offers many more program choices—and they’re all available nationally. HD Radio stations vary by city.
While DVDs from Hollywood and primetime series from the commercial TV networks put 5.1 discrete audio channels on the map, the Blu-ray Disc format can support 7.1-channel surround sound. The first movie released in 7.1 theatrically and on BD is the animated film Megamind.
According to Dolby Laboratories, more than 1,300 theaters worldwide are now equipped with Dolby 7.1 sound, which it says should hasten the release of 7.1 titles for home use. Until recently, the best that home theater enthusiasts could expect was a matrix-encoded center rear surround channel (included in a version called Dolby Digital EX or Dolby Digital 6.1). The center rear was often split to two rear back speakers, thus creating pseudo 7.1-channel output.