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When choosing a home theater receiver, there are several factors to consider. After all, this device will serve as the controller and centerpiece of your stereo or multi-channel system. While there are plenty of options available, it's important that your new receiver matches your needs and is compatible with your source components, whether they be smartphones, streaming devices, Blu-ray players, or gaming systems. With that in mind, wireless and wired connectivity options are an important factor, as is multi-room capability, automatic speaker configuration, video handling, and more. I know that sounds like a lot to digest, but don't worry—we're here to help you navigate these feature-laden waters, no life jacket required. Let's dive a little deeper and take a closer look at some of these feature considerations and see how each one impacts your home-theater experience.
The most essential connection you make to your receiver will be your speakers. Without speakers, there's no sound—and frankly, where's the fun in that? While this may seem obvious, there are a few things to look out for before you run those speaker wires. Chief among those things are the number of speakers you will need, and matching those speakers with the receiver's wattage output. The number of speakers in your system is a personal choice; you have to gauge the size of your listening environment and decide if you prefer stereo or multi-channel surround sound. Many audio formats and technologies, such as Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby Atmos are engineered for multi-speaker systems, so if you plan to enjoy the full potential of these technologies, multiple speakers are the way to go. If your space is limited, or if you simply prefer to have fewer speakers, you can still enjoy an elevated listening experience over your TV's paltry internal speakers, with as little as two speakers connected to your receiver.
Wired and Wireless Connectivity
Just a few years ago, it seemed as if manufacturers were racing to pack as many inputs into receivers as possible. As HDMI has developed into the wired connection option of choice for high-resolution devices, connectivity has simplified a bit, and it's common to see mid-range receivers with five or more HDMI inputs. While options are a good thing, there's no need to over-prioritize the number of inputs your new receiver has—it's more important to assess the needs of your system. As an example, if a receiver has four HDMI inputs, but you only have two HDMI source components, that receiver will satisfy your needs for that connection type, while giving you a reasonable amount of room to grow. If you're like me, however, and have more source components than you have time to enjoy them, you need as many inputs as you can get. The same approach should be taken for your other wired connections, such as component and composite video, digital optical and coaxial, and analog stereo.
If you have content stored on mobile devices like smartphones or tablets, a receiver with Bluetooth and AirPlay support will allow you to stream music wirelessly from your similarly equipped devices. Some receivers also offer integrated Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity, along with the ability to access premium music-streaming services. With DLNA technology, you can access your locally stored content from your networked PC or other storage devices. DLNA is a great way to unify your audio and video content and play it back from a centralized location. One of the major advantages of wireless and networked music sources is that they can provide listeners with a wealth of listening options while reducing the number of physical devices connected to the receiver.
Automatic Speaker Setup and Calibration
Another welcome addition to the evolution of home theater receivers is integrated automatic speaker setup and calibration. There are a number of variations to this technology, spread across different manufacturers and receiver pricing levels, but they ultimately aim to achieve the same thing: optimal speaker performance in your listening environment, with minimal end-user effort. Receivers that are equipped with this functionality often include a calibration microphone. Once you connect the microphone, the receiver will then walk you through the process of placing that microphone in one or multiple locations in your listening environment and will make the necessary adjustments, internally, for optimized playback. The level of automatic adjustment will depend on how sophisticated your receiver's calibration methods are. Technology such as this needs to be smart and flexible, so you aren't locked into the receiver's automatic calibration methods. Card-carrying audiophiles with fine-tuned ears can still break out the old SPL meter and make adjustments manually, if preferred.
Multiple calibrated locations in a single room
Video Handling and Processing
As high-definition technology continues to expand, packing as many pixels into TVs as possible, you want to make sure your receiver can keep pace with your video-handling needs. If you route video sources through your receiver, you want to make sure it's compatible with devices and your desired resolution. If you have 4K video sources, your receiver will need to be 4K capable in order to faithfully pass those video signals. This is also true of other video resolutions and signal types, such as 1080p and 3D. Thankfully, many current HDMI-equipped receivers are up to this task. Taking it a step further, some receivers incorporate video-processing capabilities that can upscale lower-resolution video sources for enhanced playback on your high-definition television. While this technology won't transform your old VHS tapes from 480i to 4K glory, they'll be polished for an optimized viewing experience. Beyond resolution, there are other video handling considerations to be made, such as HDMI-CEC, which allows you to automate compatible device powering and input switching, and Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), which allows you to mirror and charge compatible portable devices.
It seems as if remaining stationary and listening to music in one location is a luxury that few of us have these days. If this sounds like you, the person who's walking around their home right now reading this article on a smartphone or tablet, you'll be happy to hear that many receivers can accommodate your busy lifestyle. Receivers refer to extra rooms as "Zones," and they allow you to connect additional speakers to your system for playing the same source or different sources in multiple rooms. In some cases, you may need to connect an external amplifier, but many receivers offer built-in powered zone handling as well. This feature allows the receiver to spread sound to other areas of your home, and not be confined to a single room.
Choosing the Right Receiver
Receivers pack a lot of technology, and with lots of technology comes a plethora of options and, ultimately, decisions. When you map out your connected devices and the needs of your system, it becomes easier to discern which features are crucial to your home theater. If you need help deciding which receiver is best suited for your speakers, source components, and listening environment(s), we would be happy to help you choose the right receiver for your situation. Whether you're just getting started, or if you're a seasoned professional; once integrated into your system, a home theater receiver can provide years of enjoyment and seamless, reliable performance.
For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.