What you should know before buying an HT receiver

Picture credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/ NickArcam

This is the age when DTH and streaming video services are offering multi-channel surround sound for movies and serials. And to enjoy content to the fullest, it would be a good idea to buy a proper home theatre system.

If there is a spare room in the house, it makes sense to have a dedicated entertainment setup with a bit of acoustic room treatment. This way, it can give the best user experience. For a home theatre (HT) setup, the minimum requirement is an AV receiver, five speakers and a subwoofer.

Selecting speakers is generally slightly easier than buying a receiver because the former does not have a lot of specifications to confuse the buyer. A glance at the specifications of an HT receiver can be confusing, thanks to a lot of technology crammed into it. From amplifier power ratings to input/ output ports, surround formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS X and a whole lot of other stuff, it can be a daunting task to decipher it all and finalise on a model. Adding to the confusion will be the marketing push and this makes things even worse.

But finalising on a receiver need not be complicated if a few things are kept in mind.

It is best to decide how much one wants to spend and stick to it. There might be various models in increments of Rs 5,000 or 10,000 and it is tempting to buy the next better model ‘by spending a little more’. There is no end to this because the slightly more expensive model will have better features. However, one may never use the extra features.

One of the basics is to buy a receiver with good amplifier power output. Here, amplifier power is not about getting louder sound. Ample power will ensure that the speakers are not starved for power. If there isn’t enough power, the user will tend to crank up the volume and this will lead to an overheated receiver.

It makes sense to buy something with a bit of futureproofing because home theatre technology is changing at a rapid pace. But spending vast amounts of money on the receiver, particularly if one is not going to use all features, would be foolhardy. Instead, it would be better to invest more money on the loudspeakers due to two reasons. Firstly, loudspeaker technology is not changing at a rapid pace, at least not as quickly as receivers and secondly, loudspeakers are the devices that convert electrical energy to sound energy. If ordinary-sounding speakers are used with an expensive receiver, the setup is likely to perform far below par.

If one is not going to use features like Dolby Atmos or DTS X, buying a receiver that does not have these surround sound formats might be cheaper. The two formats allow for installation of two or four speakers to the ceiling for overhead sound reproduction for the total sound effect. This is in addition to the front, centre and rear speakers and subwoofer. But buying one with Dolby Atmos and DTS X playback capability is a way of futureproofing.

Input/ output ports like high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) is a must these days because it has become an industry standard of sorts. Therefore, one should select a receiver that has a good number of inputs to connect several devices that the user may own. Ideally, these HDMI ports should be capable of handling 4K video.

Another must-have is a receiver with Wi-Fi connectivity. Even if it is not for using the internet, the Wireless LAN can be used to connect other wireless devices.

Receivers these days are equipped for automatic speaker placement help and calibration. Home theatre is all about precise speaker placement. If speakers are not placed correctly, the system could sound bad and not be in sync with each other. So, inbuilt speaker placement help is a useful feature to have in a receiver.

To sum up, here is a checklist to help with the HT receiver purchase:

Zero in on a budget.

Give some thought to futureproofing the buy.

Spend more on loudspeakers than the receiver.

Decide on speakers and buy a receiver that will power them adequately.

If you do not intend to use some features, look for a receiver that does not have them. It might be cheaper.

Pick a receiver with several input/ output ports, particularly HDMI. There is nothing called too many ports.

Buy a receiver with wireless internet connectivity.

Automatic speaker placement setup is a useful feature.

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