Guide to Home Theater Receivers and Surround Sound

Sorting out the confusion about surround sound and home theater receivers

The core of the home theater experience is surround sound, and the most effective way to deliver it is with a home theater receiver. However, with the abundance of surround sound formats, varied capabilities of home theater receivers, and all that techie jargon, many consumers find home theater intimidating. In reality, a home theater setup can be modest or complex, depending on your needs.

We assembled key Lifewire articles that will arm you with the information you'll need to make your way through the surround sound and home theater receiver maze.

Surround Sound: History and Facts of Home Theater Audio

Today's home theater surround sound experience is the result of decades of evolution. Since the early days of stereo, the race has been on to create the ultimate home listening experience for television, music, and movies.

Dolby Atmos Soundfield

Onkyo USA and Dolby Labs

To provide context, take an enlightening journey back to the beginnings of surround sound, its evolution over the years, and how it fits into today's home entertainment landscape.

Surround Sound Formats Guide

What is Dolby Digital? What is DTS? What is Auro 3D Audio? To dig deeper into each of the major surround sound formats that are available on home theater receivers, our surround sound formats guide provides easy-to-understand explanations on how these formats work and how you can use each format to enhance your home theater experience.

Surround Sound Format Logos

Dolby, DTS, and Auro Technologies

Home Theater Receiver vs. Stereo Receiver: Which Is Best For You?

What is your primary goal? Do you want a great home theater movie experience or a dedicated music listening experience? For movies, a home theater receiver provides the most flexibility.

Onkyo TX-8140 Stereo Receiver vs Yamaha RX-V681 Home Theater Receiver

Onkyo and Yamaha

However, if all you need is something that will serve as the centerpiece of a music-only listening experience, a stereo receiver might be the better option. Find out what you need to know about the differences between a home theater receiver and a stereo receiver.

Before You Buy a Home Theater Receiver

The home theater receiver, also referred to as an AV receiver or surround sound receiver, is the heart of a home theater system. The receiver provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your TV, into.

Yamaha RX-V483 5.1 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver


Depending on the brand and model of the home theater receiver, it may seem quite complex. However, in reality, a receiver provides an efficient way of centralizing your home theater system. Still, not all home theater receivers have the same capabilities, which means that the one you purchase must have what you need. Before you separate with your case to purchase a home theater receiver, you need to know what to look for.

How Much Amplifier Power Do You Really Need?

When considering the purchase of a home theater, one of the first things to look at are the amplifier power ratings, expressed in watts-per-channel. It is easy to get sucked in when the salesperson tells you that a particular home theater receiver can output twice as many watts as another.

Denon AVR-X4300H Home Theater Receiver - Inside View

 D&M Holdings

More is better right? Not necessarily. Although power output is important, there's more to the watts-per-channel number than the salesperson or advertisement tells you. Also, power output isn't the only thing that tells you how good that receiver is.

What The .1 Means in Surround Sound

One concept that confuses consumers about a home theater is what the terms 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 mean with regards to surround sound and home theater receiver specifications. The terms 5, 6, and 7 refer to the number of channels and speakers there are in a home theater setup.

Jamo J 112 Subwoofer

Klipsch Group, Inc.

Also, unlike power output specifications, the use of the term .1 isn't an additional piece of jargon that is there to confuse you. It indicates something important for your home theater setup that makes sense. It refers to the subwoofer channel.

Home Theater Receiver Connections Explained

Are you confused by all the connections you see on the back of your home theater, AV, or surround sound receiver?

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Speaker Connections

Check out our close-up images of the connection options that you may find on a home theater receiver. Along with the images, we included explanations of what each connection does. The type, number, and placement of connections may vary by brand and model. Once you see how logical these are, you'll feel more comfortable shopping and setting up a home theater receiver.

5.1 vs. 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receivers

Which is better, a 5.1 channel or a 7.1 channel home theater receiver? It turns out that both options have advantages and disadvantages, depending on what source components you are using and what your personal preferences are.

Onkyo TX-SR343 (5.1) vs TX-SR444 (7.1) Channel Receivers


Both types of surround sound setups provide an acceptable audio listening environment, but there are other factors to consider.

Home Theater Receivers and the Multi-Zone Feature

The home theater receiver is being called on to do more and more, from a simple connection to audio and video sources, to accessing satellite and internet radio, and to connecting mobile devices.

Multi-Zone Analog Powered, Preamp, and HDMI Output Example

Onkyo/D&M Holdings/Marantz

However, as the sophistication of home theater receivers increases, another feature that is being incorporated into many of them is what is referred to as multi-zone capability. Find out what you need to know about the multi-zone feature available on many home theater receivers.

Home Theater Receivers and Video Signal Routing

Home theater receivers are playing an increasing role as both a centralized audio/video connection hub and both an audio and video processor. Is it really that important to route video signals through your home theater receiver?

Home Theater Receiver AV Connection Example


Check out some useful tips on when routing video signals through your home theater receiver might be a good idea and when it might not.

How To Get A Home Theater Receiver Up and Running

You made your decision, you dug into your wallet, you got it home, and are now ready to unpack and set up your home theater receiver. Before you start, check out some great tips that will make sure the installation and setup process for your home theater receiver goes smoothly.

Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver


Top Home Theater Receivers $1,300 and Up

Suppose you have a large room, demand uncompromising power, need as much connection flexibility as possible, and want great sound quality. In that case, a high-end home theater receiver might be for you and if you have the cash. Check out the possibilities.

Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A3070 Home Theater Receiver

Yamaha Electronics Corporation

Top Home Theater Receivers $400 to $1,299

Although some may have the cash for the cream-of-crop, most of what you often find in a high-end home theater receiver can also be found in the midrange home theater receiver price sweet spot.

Marantz SR5012 Network Home Theater Receiver

D&M Holdings

You can find solid basics at the $400 to $600 price point, with some added frills such as internet streaming. Home theater receivers from the $700 to $1,299 price range offer much of what you might find on many high-end home theater receivers, minus some added perks, such as high power output and more connections. However, this is where most consumers will find what they need. Find out if that means you.

Top Home Theater Receivers Priced at $399 or Less

For those on a budget or those who want the basics, a home theater receiver in the $399 or less price range may be the ticket. Most of the time, the receivers in this price range offer up to 5.1 channels, but some give up to 7.1 channels. Bluetooth is usually included in addition to physical connectivity, but most don't offer built-in internet streaming.

The Denon AVR-S530BT Entry-Level 5.1 Channel Receiver


However, even home theater receivers in this price category provide features and quality that a couple of years ago would have only been available at prices of $400 and up.

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