Choosing a Home Theater Receiver

Your home theater receiver is the brains of your home theater’s operations.  It is a piece of equipment that takes incoming signals, organizes them and distributes them to the appropriate channels.  These signals can be radio waves, or the input from a DVD or blu ray player, or VHS if you’re really old school.  The signals are sent to your projector or television, or through your audio channels to your speakers.  Things you want to take into account when purchasing a receiver are how those components are put together, the quality and amount of audio channels, and the power of your home cinema surround sound system.

You have two choices when it comes to building the nervous system of your home cinema.  Your first option is to acquire the various components yourself and piece them together.  Unless you are knowledgeable about such things, this would require the help of a home theater professional.  You can find one at your local electronics or home cinema store.  Your second option is to buy a home theater in a box, or HTIB.  A HTIB comes with a home cinema receiver, speakers, speaker wire, speaker mounting equipment, and a sub-woofer that may be powered or it might piggy-back off the power of the receiver.  A powered sub-woofer is best because it will give you the most bang for your buck.  The receiver itself may or may not play DVD’s or Blu Ray discs, or this may come as a separate component.  Buying a home theater in a box is the simplest solution because the components have been calibrated by the manufacturer to work best together, and they come with one coherent set of instructions so you can get your home theater set up without the aid or a professional.

The amount of channels and signal quality are also important when choosing a receive.  You might want a digital home cinema receiver to match the digital video being presented on screen, or maybe your ears on very discerning and wouldn’t notice the difference between digital and analog signals.  The of channels you want in your home theater is completely up to you.  You want to be sure it has some level of surround sound though, for that true theater sound.  When looking at surround sound notation you’ll often see x.1.  The .1 indicates that there is a subwoofer or bass channel, and this is something you really want in your home theater for rich sound.  Your best options are going to be 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1.  Once again, that .1 indicates the subwoofer channel, while the preceding number indicates home many satellite speakers are in your system.  The typical home theater speaker configuration is one center, two front and two rear.  In 6.1 there is an addition rear center speaker, and in 7.1 there could be either two more front or two side speakers.  A lot of the specifics about the speaker configuration depend on the acoustics of your home theater, so some adjustments may be required after initial set up.  Try not to permanently mount anything that may have to be moved when you notice the sound is a little off while watching the first movie in your new home cinema.

When it comes to the power of your system, raw wattage isn’t necessarily the most important factor.  You also want to look at specifications like distortion, dynamic headroom, continuous power output, and signal/noise ratio.  If your system is putting out 1000 watts of power, it’s really no good if the sound is distorted at high levels .  You want a system with a low Total Harmonic Distortion (TDH).  When the sound in your movie suddenly peaks to high levels, you don’t want to be taken out of the scene because your system can’t handle the extra juice needed to prevent distortion.  This is a separate measure called Dynamic Headroom; the higher the better.  This way you know your home cinema receiver will be able to put out the extra power when needed.  You also want a system that can handle consistent high output levels for those movie marathons.  Your home theater sound system should list its Watts per Channel (WPC) in terms of RMS, or root mean squared, which is a term that refers to the measurement of something that varies over time.  Finally, you want a high signal/noise ratio.  Again, the higher the better, as this is the measurement of your receiver’s ability to separate background noise from voice, music, and the main sound effects.

Taking all of this into account, choosing a home cinema receiver may seem like an daunting task, but it’s really not that bad.  If you feel overwhelmed by the choices available, simply purchase the best HTIB that you can afford.  Stick with well known brand names, and you should be all set.

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