Guide To Home Theater Receivers and Surround Sound

Sorting out the confusion about surround sound and home theater receivers

Onkyo TX-SR353 Home Theater Receiver and Speaker Setup Diagram

Onkyo and Harman Kardon

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 have assembled key Lifewire articles that will arm you with all the information you need in order to make your way through the surround sound and home theater receiver maze.

Surround Sound - History and Facts of Home Theater Audio

Dolby Atmos Soundfield Illustration
Image provided by Onkyo USA and Dolby Labs

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. 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

Surround Sound Format Logos

Dolby, DTS, and Auro Technologies

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 they work and how you can use them to enhance your home theater experience.

Home Theater Receiver vs Stereo Receiver - Which Is Best For You?

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

Onkyo and Yamaha

What is your primary goal - a great home theater movie experience, or a dedicated music listening experience? For movies, a home theater receiver definitely provides the most flexibility. However, if all you need is something that will serve as the centerpiece of a music-only listening experience, then a Stereo Receiver might be the better option for you. 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

Yamaha RX-V483 5.1 Channel Network 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 and provides most, if not all, the inputs and outputs that you connect everything, including your TV, into.

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

However, not all home theater receivers have the same capabilities, which means that the one you purchase has to 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?

Denon AVR-X4300H Home Theater Receiver - Inside View

 D&M Holdings

When considering the purchase of a home theater, one the first things you get hit with are amplifier power ratings, which is 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 and another. More is better right? Not necessarily. Although power output is important, there is more to the Watts-per-channel number than the salesperson or Ad is telling you. Also, power output isn't the only thing that tells you how good that receiver is.

What The .1 Means In Surround Sound

Image of Jamo J 112 Subwoofer

Klipsch Group, Inc.

One of the concepts that confuse 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 is in a home theater setup. Also, unlike power output specifications, the use of the term .1 isn't just an additional piece of jargon that is there to confuse you – it actually indicates something important for your home theater setup that makes sense - it refers to the subwoofer channel.

Home Theater Receiver Connections Explained

Onkyo TX-NR787 Home Theater Receiver – Speaker Connections

Are you confused by all connections you see on the back of your Home Theater, AV, or Surround Sound Receiver? 

Check out our close-up images of the connection options that you may find on a home theater receiver. Along with the images, we have included detailed explanations of what they do. Just keep in mind that the type, number, and placement of connections may vary by brand and/or model. Once you see how logical they are all are, you will feel a lot more comfortable shopping and setting up a home theater receiver.

5.1 vs 7.1 Channel Home Theater Receivers

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


Which is better, a 5.1 channel or a 7.1 channel home theater receiver? In turns out that both options have advantages and disadvantages, depending on what source components you are using and what your personal preferences are. Both types of surround sound setups provide an acceptable audio listening environment, but there are other factors to consider. Check out the details.

Home Theater Receivers and the Multi-Zone Feature

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

Onkyo/D&M Holdings/Marantz

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 iPods. 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 Receiver AV Connection Example


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

Yamaha RX-V683 7.2 Channel Network Home Theater Receiver
Images provided by Yamaha

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. However, before you get started, check out some great tips that will make sure the installation and setup process for your home theater receiver goes smoothly.

Top Home Theater Receivers 1,300 Dollars and Up

Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A3070 Home Theater Receiver
Images provided by Yamaha Electronics Corporation

If you have a large room, demand uncompromising power, want as much connection flexibility as possible, and great sound quality. Then a high-end home theater receiver might be for you – if you have the cash. Check out the possibilities!

Top Home Theater Receivers $400 to $1,299

Marantz SR5012 Network Home Theater Receiver

D&M Holdings

Although there are some that have the cash for the cream-of-crop, most of what you can often find in a high-end home theater receiver can also be found in the midrange home theater receiver price sweet spot. At the $400-$600 price point you can find solid basics, with some added frills such as internet streaming, while the 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 extremely high power output and lots 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 $399.00 or Less

The Denon AVR-S530BT Entry-Level 5.1 Channel Receiver


For those on a budget, or just want the basics, a home theater receiver in the $399 or less price range may be just the ticket. Most of the time, the receivers in this price range only offer up to 5.1 channels – but there are some that actually give you up to 7.1 channels. Bluetooth is usually included in addition to physical connectivity, but most do not offer built-in internet streaming.

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