An AV receiver is the hub of any home-theatre system. Its job is to take the sound and video information from your DVD, CD player or set-top-box and, if necessary, convert it to an appropriate output – then send it through to your screen and speakers.
Our buying guide explains:
- Controls you should look for
- Which types of connections are necessary
- How much power you need for good sound quality
- Some of the jargon associated with audio equipment
For more information about Home theatre, see Home entertainment.
When you buy a 'home theatre in a box' the AV receiver and DVD/CD player are often combined into one unit, which you connect to the speakers and TV. However, there are two good reasons to buy separate components: you get more control over the quality of each and, should one component break down, you don't have to replace the whole system. The former is by far the most important.
The main purpose of a home theatre set-up is to provide surround sound. The AV receiver includes the amplifiers necessary to drive your speakers.
At the cheaper end you’re likely to get a 5.1 system, which means it has five speaker connections (three front and two back) and a sub-woofer connection. This is the most common format for DVD movies.
More expensive systems tend to be 6.1, with three at the front, two back and one back centre, or 7.1, which has an extra back centre speaker. You don’t necessarily get better sound with a 6.1 or 7.1.
Their aim is to try to increase the sensation of sounds coming from different directions by using more speakers, as you’d expect in a movie theatre.
For most consumers a mid-priced AV receiver (around $1,000) should provide enough power, connections and quality of sound. Extra connections often come with more power, but that's no guarantee of sound quality – always check the specs, especially total harmonic distortion.