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The receiver is the brain of an audio/video system. It provides AM and FM tuners, amplifiers, surround sound, and switching capabilities. Its also the guts of the setup–many of the devices in a house-entertainment system connect to it, including audio components resembling speakers, a CD player, cassette deck, and turntable, as well as video sources corresponding to a TV, DVD player, VCR, and cable and satellite boxes. At the same time as receivers take on an even bigger role in home entertainment, theyre losing some audio-related features that were common years back, comparable to tape monitors and phono inputs. Manufacturers say they must eliminate those less-used features to make room for others.
Sony is by far the most important-selling brand. Other top-selling brands include Denon, JVC, Kenwood, Onkyo, Panasonic, Pioneer, RCA, and Yamaha. Most models now are digital, designed for the six-channel surround-sound formats encoded in most DVDs and a few TV fare, resembling high-definition (HD) programming. Here are the types youll see, from least to most expensive:
Stereo. Basic receivers accept the analog stereo signals from a tape deck, CD player, or turntable. They provide two channels that power a pair of stereo speakers. For a simple music setup, add a DVD or CD player to play CDs, or a cassette deck for tapes. For rudimentary home theater, add a TV and DVD player or VCR. Power typically runs 50 to 100 watts per channel.
Price range: $125 to $250.
Dolby Pro Logic. Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, and Pro Logic IIx are the analog home-theater surround-sound standard. Receivers that support it could actually take a Dolby-encoded two-channel stereo source out of your TV, DVD player, or hi-fi VCR and output them to four to six speakers–three in front, and one to a few in back. Power for Dolby Pro Logic models is often 60 to 150 watts per channel.
Price range: $150 to $300 or more.
Dolby Digital. Currently the prevailing digital surround-sound standard, a Dolby Digital 5.1 receiver has a built-in decoder for six-channel audio capability–front left and right, front center, two rear with discrete wide-band signals, and a powered subwoofer for low-frequency, or bass, effects (thats where the .1 comes in). Dolby Digital is the sound format for most DVDs, HDTV, digital cable TV, and some satellite-TV broadcast systems. Newer versions of Dolby Digital, 6.1 and 7.1, add one or two back surround channels for a complete of seven-channel and eight-channel sound, respectively. To reap the benefits of true surround-sound capability, youll need speakers that do a superb job of reproducing full-spectrum sound. Receivers with digital decoding capability can also accept a signal that has been digitized, or sampled, at a given rate per second and converted to digital form. Dolby Digital is backward-compatible and supports earlier versions of Dolby similar to Pro Logic. Power for Dolby Digital receivers is often 75 to 150 watts per channel.
DTS. A rival to Dolby Digital 5.1, Digital Theater Systems also offers six channels. Its a less common form of digital surround sound that’s used in some movie tracks. Both DTS and Dolby Digital are often found on the identical receivers. Power for DTS models is often 75 to 150 watts per channel.
Price range: $200 to $500 or more.
THX-certified. The high-end receivers that meet this quality standard include full support for Dolby Pro Logic, Dolby Digital, and DTS. THX Select is the standard for components designed for small and average-sized rooms; THX Ultra is for larger rooms. Power for THX models is often 100 to 170 watts per channel.
Price range: $500 to $2,500 and up.
Controls ought to be easy to use. Search for a front panel with displays and controls clearly labeled and grouped by function. Onscreen display enables you to control the receiver via a TV screen, a squint-free alternative to using the receivers tiny LED or LCD display. Switched AC outlets (expect one or two) let you plug in other components and turn the whole system on and off with one button.
Remote controls are most useful when they have clear labels and buttons that light up for use in dim rooms. Its best if the buttons have different shapes and are color-coded and grouped by function–a goal seldom achieved in receiver remotes. A learning remote can receive programming data for other devices via their remotes infrared signal; on some remotes, the mandatory codes for other manufacturers devices are built-in.
Input/output jacks matter more on a receiver than on every other component of your property theater. Clear labeling, color-coding, and logical groupings of the numerous jacks on the rear panel can assist avert glitches during setup comparable to reversed speaker polarities and mixed-up inputs and outputs. Input jacks situated on the front panel make for easy connections to camcorders, video games, MP3 players, digital cameras, MiniDisc players, and PDAs.
A stereo receiver provides you with a few audio inputs and no video jacks. Digital-ready receivers with Dolby Pro Logic may have several forms of video inputs, including composite and S-video and sometimes component-video. S-video and component-video jacks let you route signals from DVD players and other high-quality video sources through the receiver to light switch in bathroom the TV. Digital-ready receivers also have analog 5.1 audio inputs. These accept input from a DVD player with its own built-in Dolby Digital decoder, light switch in bathroom an outboard decoder, or other components with multichannel analog signals, resembling a DVD-Audio or SACD player. This permits the receiver to convey up to six channels of sound or music to your speakers. Dolby Digital and DTS receivers have probably the most complete array of audio and video inputs, often with several of a given type to accommodate multiple components.
Tone controls adjust bass and treble, allowing you to correct room acoustics and satisfy your personal preferences. A graphic equalizer breaks the sound spectrum into three or more sections, providing you with slightly more control over the full audio spectrum. Instead of tone controls, some receivers include tone presets comparable to Jazz, Classical, or Rock, each accentuating a different frequency pattern; often you’ll be able to craft your own styles.
DSP (digital signal processor) modes use a pc chip to duplicate the sound characteristics of a concert hall and other listening environments. A bass-boost switch amplifies the deepest sounds, and midnight mode reduces loud sounds and amplifies quiet ones in music or soundtracks.
Sometimes called one touch, a settings memory enables you to store settings for each source to reduce differences in volume, tone, and other settings when switching between sources. An analogous feature, loudness memory, is restricted to volume settings alone.
Tape monitor allows you to either listen to one source as you record a second on a tape deck or listen to the recording as its being made. Automatic radio tuning includes such features as seek (automatic looking for the subsequent in-range station) and 20 to 40 presets to call up your favorite stations.
To catch stations too weak for the seek mode, most receivers even have a manual stepping knob or buttons, best in a single-channel increments. But most models creep in half- or quarter-steps, meaning unnecessary button tapping to search out the frequency you want. Direct tuning of frequencies permits you to tune a radio station by entering its frequency on a keypad.
First, dont assume that pricey brands outperform less costly ones. Weve found fine performers at all prices. Points to think about:
What number of devices would you like to connect Even low-end receivers generally have enough video and audio inputs for a CD or DVD player, a VCR, and a cable box or satellite receiver. Mid- and high-priced models usually have more inputs, so you’ll be able to connect additional devices, corresponding to a camcorder, a private video recorder, or a game system.
The variety of inputs isnt the only issue; the type also matters. Composite-video inputs, probably the most basic type, can be utilized with everything from an older VCR to a new DVD player. S-video and component-video inputs are used mostly by digital devices comparable to DVD players and satellite receivers. You probably have such digital devices or may add them, get a receiver with a couple of S-video and/or component-video inputs. Both can provide better video quality than composite-video.
All these video inputs require a companion audio input. The fundamental left/right audio inputs can be utilized with almost any device to offer stereo sound. A turntable requires a phono input, which is accessible on fewer models than in years past.
To get multichannel sound from DVD players, digital-cable boxes, and satellite receivers, you generally use a digital-audio input. With this input, encoded multichannel sound is relayed on one cable to the receiver, which decodes it into separate channels. The input on the receiver have to be the identical type–either optical, the more common type, or coaxial–as the output on the opposite device. You usually must buy cables, about $10 and up, for digital-audio, S-video, and component-video connections.
What sort of sound would you like from movies All new digital receivers support Dolby Digital and DTS, the surround-sound formats used on most movies. Both provide 5.1 channels. Most receivers also support Dolby Pro Logic, Pro Logic II, and sometimes Pro Logic IIx. In order for you the most recent type of surround sound, look for a receiver that supports Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES. These offer 6.1 or 7.1 channels, subtly enhancing the rear surround. Fairly few movies using these formats can be found, but offerings should increase.
What sort of music do you like Any receiver can reproduce stereo from regular CDs. Most models have digital signal processing (DSP) modes that process a CDs two channels to simulate a sound environment corresponding to a concert hall. DSP modes feed a stereo signal through all of the speakers to simulate surround. For multichannel music from SACD or DVD-Audio discs, get a receiver with 5.1 analog inputs.
How big is your room Be sure a receiver has the oomph to offer adequate volume: at least 50 watts per channel in a typical 12-by-20-foot living room, or 85 watts for a 15-by-25-foot space. An enormous room, plush furnishings, or a noisy setting all call for more power.
Is the receiver compatible together with your speakers For those who wish to blast music for hours on end, get a receiver rated to handle your front speakers impedance. Most receivers are rated for six-ohm and 8-ohm speakers. If used with 4-ohm speakers, such a receiver could overheat and shut down.
Is it easy to make use of Most receivers have legible displays and well-labeled function buttons. Some add an onscreen menu, which displays settings in your TV screen. An auto-calibration feature adjusts sound levels and balance to enhance the surround effect. Models with a test-tone function for setting speaker levels assist you balance the sound yourself.
Two tips: When deciding where to put your receiver, allow 4 inches or so of space behind it for cables and not less than 2 inches on top for venting to stop overheating. If organising a home theater is greater than you wish to tackle, consider calling in an expert installer. Retailers often offer an installation service or can refer you to 1.
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