This past summer, I realized it was time to purchase a new A/V receiver. While the ability to hear the best audio possible from streaming video services like Netflix and VUDU was the impetus, I’ve come to realize there are a lot of other reasons to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
I’ve had the privilege of spending the last few weeks test driving receivers from Onkyo, Pioneer and Yamaha. A special thanks to all three companies for lending the equipment to Tech of the Hub. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned with you.
As background, I’ve been using a Pioneer VSX-1014 receiver for the last six years and it’s served me well. It’s provided great sound and, with its multi-channel audio inputs it has been fairly future-proof. Besides supporting the latest audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS Master audio, what other enhancements do today’s receivers offer?
Most importantly, today’s receivers, when properly set up, have the potential to provide better sound. Thanks to improved audio formats and processing, movies sound better. Home theater receivers now do a better job of calibrating themselves for a particular room and set of speakers (more detail below).
HDMI simplifies the setup of a receiver. These receivers have lots of HDMI inputs to carry high -resolution audio and video. HDMI also provides one cable for both audio and video between each component and the receiver. In my current configuration, my Blu-ray player has seven cables running between it and the receiver. Could this be the end of the rat’s nest behind my TV stand? But there’s another benefit too…
Post-processing: For Blu-ray on my VSX-1014, each audio cable carries a discrete channel since I rely on the Blu-ray player’s decoder. In this configuration, the receiver cannot apply any of its own audio processing. The receiver simply acts as an amplifier. The current generation of receivers can apply their own post-processing to audio over HDMI, which is the best way to transmit high-resolution audio. This post-processing allows your receiver to adjust the sound for your speakers and room layout. It also allows for additional options to make it sound like you’re in a concert hall or movie theater. Some folks prefer not to add that much processing, as it isn’t true to what the director intended you to hear.
Number of speakers: I thought a six speaker configuration was a lot. Some receivers today can handle 9.1 configurations. Some of these speakers can provide additional depth for surround sound. You probably don’t need that many speakers in your living room (and your wife won’t let you anyway), but it’s nice to have the option for a second zone in the kitchen or outside.
Network and apps: All of the receivers we tested have an ethernet port that allows them to be connected to a home network. Once connected, the receiver has the ability to stream music from both local devices and Internet sources such as Pandora. All of the receivers have apps that run on a variety of smart phones and tablets. In addition, each of the receivers is set up to integrate with SirrusXM out of the box.
Ease of use: The A/V receiver is the most complex part of any home theater. The availability of new codecs, streaming services, displays and components adds to that complexity. Manufacturers have done a lot to simplify this complexity, such as the adding on-screen displays.
All of this being said, take out your ear plugs and get ready for quality time with A/V receivers.