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What Should I Consider When Buying a Receiver for my Home Theater?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

A receiver is the main hub of a home theater system. All components in the system are cabled to it, and it serves as a controller. The most important factor in connecting theater components is to make sure that it have the correct input and output ports, including the newest interfaces available. High-definition televisions (HDTVs) use an interface called High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), which combines digital audio and video together. Even if your TV does not have the HDMI interface, it's best to get a receiver that does so that you'll be ready when you upgrade the TV in the future.

DVD and CD players, computer graphics cards, liquid crystal display (LCD) monitors, and portable electronic devices like digicams and cell phones are all migrating to a new audiovisual standard called Unified Digital Interface (UDI). UDI is compatible with the HDMI used on HDTVs. With UDI input and output ports on your receiver, you will be able to take advantage of the latest interfaces for DVD/CD players and portable devices. A device with a UDI-out port can also connect to a UDI-enabled computer graphics card to stream television to the computer.

A home theater with a television, receiver, and speakers.
A home theater with a television, receiver, and speakers.

The receiver should also able to accommodate optical or digital audio interfaces, as well as older style analog left/right cabling. In other words, it should be backward compatible with older technology so that you can upgrade existing components at will.

While stereo receivers only support two speakers, ones designed for home theaters support surround sound, or multiple speaker systems. The most basic configuration is 5-1 surround sound, which includes five speakers and a subwoofer to deliver bass. Newer configurations include 6-1 and 7-1 surround sound, or seven and eight speaker systems respectively, with a subwoofer included in each case.

The device might also support a second set of remote surround sound speakers. These speakers could be located in a bedroom or on a sundeck. Remote surround sound speakers can be activated separately from the main speaker system.

A Blu-ray® player for a home theater.
A Blu-ray® player for a home theater.

To easily set up a surround system, look for a receiver that offers automatic calibration. These devices come with a small microphone and front microphone port. The microphone is placed in the area where you would like the sound to be optimum, such as on a facing couch at ear-level. By engaging the calibration program, the receiver emits a series of signals and sound effects, electronically measuring when each speaker’s output reaches the microphone. Its speaker channels self-adjust so that, regardless of speaker distance, sounds reach the microphone at the same time. This creates a perfect "sweet spot."

A high-definition television.
A high-definition television.

Typical features include equalization settings, controls for switching between connected components, and on-screen setup menus for easy navigation. If you plan to use portable electronic devices, look for front auxiliary ports so that you will not have to reach behind it to use a device. The price you pay for a receiver will depend upon on the amp power and specific feature set. Since it is the hub of the home theater system, it is generally money well spent to get a good one that will be reasonably future proof and provide you with a breathtaking home theater experience.

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Discussion Comments


@ GiraffeEar- The laptop I am writing this on now has UDI integrated into the machine. It's a super slim HP that has an HDMI port that connects directly to my television or receiver if I had one. Even my cell phone has a mini HDMI port that I assume uses UDI to transmit the HD video I can take directly to my television. It seems like UDI saw widespread integration just as consumer electronics began to feature high definition video capabilities in things like cameras, flip camcorders, cell phones, netbooks, and laptops. The beauty of this new interface is I could hook almost all of my electronics up to my HDTV receiver.


@ GiraffeEars- I was curious to find out about UDI so I did an internet search and guess what was the first link to appear on my computer Screen...wiseGEEK! It’s crazy how I found the answer to someones question on the same site the question was asked on.

Anyway, UDI was finalized in 206 and is already on the market. From what I understand, any component that can be hooked up to an HD receiver through an HDMI compatible connection is already using UDI. UDI is an interface that is built in to the newest electronics and has been part of mainstream consumer electronics for the last couple of years. It is slimmer and cheaper to make than DVI, and VGA so it will lead to cheaper and ever more compact electronics.


This was a great article. I haven't looked at any of the new audio receivers on the market in at least four or five years, and the advancements since the last home theater system I owned are amazing. Having features like self-calibration and remote surround sound were things that were unheard of (at least as far as I know) just a few years ago.

I have never even heard of UDI, but it sounds like such a great idea. Having a universal connection port seems like it would be common sense and it will save consumers from having to weed through the maze of cables available at the local electronics store. I wonder when the UDI interface will begin to roll out. Is it something that is already integrated into most new home theater components, or is it something that will eventually be adopted like digital television was by the television broadcast industry?

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    • A home theater with a television, receiver, and speakers.
      By: Pavlo Vakhrushev
      A home theater with a television, receiver, and speakers.
    • A Blu-ray® player for a home theater.
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      A Blu-ray® player for a home theater.
    • A high-definition television.
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      Surround sound speakers.
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