Home Theater Receivers - A/V and Satellite Options
Types of receiver available
Home theater receivers are the nerve center of your home theater. This page gives you some information about what they do and what features are available.
A/V home theater receivers
Audio/visual, or A/V, receivers take in the content (sound and vision) and pass it on to the output equipment – that is, the display screen and speakers. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. When you’re scrolling through the on-screen menu deciding what to watch, the interface you’re using is provided by the A/V receiver.
It’s the receiver that allows you to choose what to watch or listen to, whether that’s something from the VCR, the CD player or even a vinyl record player. If it wasn’t for the receiver, you’d have to spend a lot of time plugging and unplugging devices every time you decided to stop watching a movie and listen to music instead. The ability to flick between devices such as DVD players and CD players is known as “switching”, and it’s one of the home theater receiver’s key functions. The receiver also tunes the radio to the frequency you choose, amplifies audio signals and decodes surround sound formats, whether they’re analog or digital.
Your decisions when choosing an A/V home theater receiver should be based on the following:
- The WPC, or watts per channel. This indicates the output of the receiver’s amplifying power. However, the WPC isn’t the only indicator of how powerful the system will sound – you need to consider it along with how low the distortion is. Distortion is usually measured in THD, or total harmonic distortion. Don’t compare the WPC of two receivers without also comparing the THD. You should also check that resistance is rated at 8Ω (ohms). Some are given lower resistance ratings to make the power seem higher than it really is.
- The number of inputs – that is, the number of connections that allow you to plug in devices. The number of inputs determines how many machines, such as video recorders and DVD players, you can connect to your home theater system.
- Other features that you want in a receiver.
Features to choose from include:
- HDCD (High-Definition Compatible Digital) decoding. The ability to take advantage of the enhanced audio on HDCD CDs and DVDs. Regular CD players will play HDCD CDs, but they won’t convey the enhanced sound quality.
- Speaker control. This allows you to adjust what output comes from which speaker, so you can vary your listening experience.
- Audio delay. If a DVD doesn’t synchronize the sound and vision properly, an audio delay feature on your receiver allows you to avoid that “badly-dubbed horror movie” effect.
A mid-range A/V home theater receiver costs between $500 and $1000. A really state-of the art model could cost $4000 or more.
Home theater satellite receivers
The signals that come from your satellite dish are in a scrambled format that an ordinary television can’t decipher. So you need a home theater satellite receiver. These are also known as DSS (Digital Satellite Service) receivers. There are several optional features for these receivers, but the most important for you is home-theater compatibility. This means that your receiver should be able to process the signals to produce a sound and vision quality in keeping with your home theater system. Look for an S-video connector. This is a connector that separates the color from the brightness, which means a clearer picture than you get with a standard composite video. You should also check out the audio connector. It should be a digital connector for Dolby Digital surround sound.
Other potential features of your home theater satellite receiver include:
- Parental controls. These allow you to “lock out” undesirable content to stop your children watching it.
- HDTV-capability. This means high-definition programming to go with your high-definition (HDTV) display monitor. It isn’t worth the extra money unless you already have a high-definition display screen or plan to buy one in the near future.
- Picture-in-Picture (PIP) This means that a section of the screen shows a different channel, allowing you to keep an eye on one channel while watching another.
- Personal Video Recorder (PVR)
- Remote controls with extras. Some remote controls have features that allow you to change the channel from a different room, or glowing buttons, allowing you to change the channel more easily in the dark.
You should be able to find a basic satellite receiver for less than $100, but HDTV-capability pushes the price up to at least three times that amount.