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The audio/video (A/V) receiver is the heart of a home theater. It’s where all of the parts of the system such as the television, Blu-ray, DVD, iPod, all of the speakers, and more come together and form a single, cohesive whole. It’s worth spending a few minutes learning about A/V receivers because of their important role in how the home theater experience is created.

Why do they call it a receiver? 
The name goes back to the very beginnings of hi-fi. In the 50’s and 60’s if you were putting together a high fidelity music system, you started with a single speaker (going way back, before stereo sound) connected to an amplifier, which supplied the power needed to make the speakers play. Connected to the amplifier was usually a record turntable for LP records (ah, vinyl!) and maybe a tape deck (8-tracks anyone?). Now, if you wanted to listen to your favorite AM or FM radio stations a separate AM/FM tuner had to be connected to the amplifier, much like the turntable. But a lot of people thought that was silly. Why don’t you build the AM/FM tuner into the amplifier so it can “receive” radio stations without adding another component? It made perfect sense, and the stereo receiver was born. Today, the name receiver is still used for any A/V amplifier that includes a built in AM/FM tuner, which is just about all of them.

What exactly does it do?
It Amplifies. The A/V receiver supplies the power necessary to make your speakers play. When you hear “Watts”, it is this power that is being measured. The more powerful the amplifier is, the more watts it produces, which in turn makes the speakers play louder and clearer. A separate amplifier channel is used to drive each speaker. In a modern home theater system there can be from five to nine individual speakers used to create the surround sound effects. So an A/V receiver needs from five to nine individual amplifier channels.

It Switches. One of the most important functions of an A/V receiver is how it takes the various parts of the home theater and brings them together into a cohesive whole. It’s kind of like one of those old telephone switchboard operators. If Sue wanted to call Betsy, Sue called the telephone operator who then routed the call to Betsy by connecting wires on a switchboard. In a home theater system, if you want a DVD to play through the television and speakers, the A/V receiver performs the same role as the telephone operator and “connects” the various parts of the system together.

This is one of the most important roles of the A/V receiver. When buying an A/V receiver, you must keep in mind the number separate parts in the system (DVD, iPod, Blu-ray, media server, etc.) and the type of connection each uses. One type of connection that deserves special mention is HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). Blu-ray disc players, high definition cable converters and satellite boxes commonly use an HDMI connection. The advantage of HDMI has is that it sends both video and audio through the same wire, taking the place of up to five individual cables. So make sure the A/V receiver you select has plenty of HDMI inputs and outputs. You don’t want to be stuck with an A/V receiver that can’t handle the equipment that you have, and the equipment that you are planning for the future (video games, media servers, etc.). This is where Sound Advice system designers can help. They’ll know exactly how many and what type of connections you’ll need for your A/V receiver to get the job done..

It Processes. Home theater is all about surround sound. The emotional impact of a dinosaur’s heavy footsteps coming up from behind you. Or the whirl of a helicopter swooping in just in time to save the film’s hero. These sounds are important, and making them sound right is one of the functions of the A/V receiver. The names Dolby® and dts® may be familiar to you. These are companies that make the electronic circuits used to create surround sound, for both home and pro movie theaters worldwide. These surround sound circuits are built in to virtually all A/V receivers, so when you play a Blu-ray disc or a DVD the complete surround sound experience is recreated in your living room.

Some A/V receivers take the processing concept a step further. Some can actually recreate the acoustic space of a concert hall or arena, giving music an incredibly “live” sound. This digital sound processing (DSP) can puts you right into the front row of favorite artist‘s concert. It’s amazingly realistic. Your Sound Advice system designer can walk you through all of the options and come up with the perfect A/V receiver to fit the type of music and movies you like. 

A look at stereo receivers
Before we leave the subject of A/V receivers, we should take a look a look at a slightly different kind of receiver: the basic stereo receiver. Before the advent of the home theater and the A/V receiver, nearly all receivers were stereo. Designed for simple two-speaker music systems, stereo receivers are still around today and serve a couple of useful roles.

Obviously they can be used for basic two-speakers systems, however, the market is much smaller than it used to be. The other, and more popular, use for stereo receivers today is in multi-room audio systems. Many A/V receivers have what is called a second zone output. This enables everything connected to the A/V receiver (CD, DVD, iPod) to be routed and played in another room, let’s say a den. But most two-zone A/V receivers don’t include the amplification needed to drive the second zone speakers. A basic stereo receiver is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to add that amplifier power. 

Multi-room receivers
As I described above, many A/V receivers come equipped with a second-zone output so you can enjoy your system in another room. But the second-zone output usually requires a second amplifier or a stereo receiver in order to drive the speakers. But not all A/V receivers have this limitation. Some have the additional amplification built in, which makes them multi-room A/V receivers. This is a nice feature if you want a couple of rooms wired for sound. But what if you want more—let’s say sound in eight rooms? This puts you into an entirely different receiver category: the multi-room/multi-source audio receiver. You lose many of the surround sound and video capabilities of an A/V receiver, but you gain the ability to enjoy music throughout your home. And the cool thing is that the music can be different in each room. While you listen to talk radio in the den, the kids can be rocking out upstairs, all through the same system.

So which one is best for me?
That’s where your Sound Advice system designer comes in. They’re highly trained and have the experience needed to make the perfect recommendation. So give us a call, or click for help today. The quality of your home entertainment is at stake. Trust the experts at Sound Advice.

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