The front panel controls should allow you to perform all the basic functions necessary to set up and use the receiver. You can expect the volume control to be the largest dial, but different manufacturers will design other controls in different ways.
Cheaper models may have no on-screen menu function, so the display on the front of the device is the only way of knowing what it's doing. This front panel display is very important for all AV receivers because it's your primary source of information on the receiver's settings.
On-screen menus (sometimes called a graphic user interface or GUI) appear on your TV. These make it easier to do more complicated setting up because you can see all the options at once, rather than having to cycle through them on the front panel display. However, most of these settings are unlikely to be used often, so a GUI is handy but not essential.
The remote control is very important. Its design has to allow you to control all the receiver's functions. Some come with a basic remote that can control the receiver and some other devices, such as a DVD or video player.
The more expensive models allow you to use the remote to control other brands' devices as well, but none would be as versatile as the best of the universal remote controls we tested in CHOICE July 2008.
Some also come with a second remote control which is smaller and easier to use than the main one. However, these usually can only perform basic functions.