by Paul Sanders
When you want that theater-quality entertainment experience from the comfort of your sofa, it's time to start thinking about constructing or upgrading your home theater. And receivers are the heart of every home theater system. Whether you're assembling an audio receiver and speakers to add surround sound to TV and movies or you're creating the audiophile's dream audio system, features on the receivers you're looking at will be your guide. Here are the top five features to help you cut through the jargon while shopping for home theater receivers.
Digital surround sound: Home theater receivers receive and decode signals from audio sources like your DVD or Blu-ray player to produce the surround sound channels that your speakers use. The two main codices used are Dolby Digital and DTS.
You'll often see receivers labeled with 5.1-channel surround sound. That means that the receivers send out five full-range sound channels and one limited-range channel for the subwoofer. If your receiver has 7.1-channel and multisource capabilities, you can use a 5.1-surround sound system for your theater room and leave the other two channels for use in a separate room, all with one receiver.
Digital inputs: If you know the outputs of your current or future home theater components, you can choose receivers that accept those types of connections, like HDMI, component video or optical. These connections enable you to accept lossless or uncompressed audio formats from current and future digital audio sources.
HDMI: Not all HDMI receivers accept and process high-resolution, multichannel audio over HDMI, so be sure you choose one that does. If you want to use older devices in your home theater that use component video, you'll want to check that the receivers you're considering have component cable inputs.
Up-conversion and cross-conversion: Many DVD players feature up-conversion from analog to high-definition video and audio. Some audio and video receivers can do the same. Cross-conversion allows a receiver to take analog video sources, like S-video, composite or component, and convert them to digital for output through your HDMI connection. This can cut down on cable clutter by allowing only one cable from the receiver to the display.
Auto-calibration: Calibrating your home theater system for your room used to require purchasing a separate microphone and adjusting each channel individually. Now, receivers come with built-in calibration programs and include a microphone. With auto-calibration, receivers do the work for you by equalizing the audio for each channel.