Do Video Signals Need to Be Routed Through a Receiver?

Integrating audio and video in home theater

The role of the home theater receiver has changed over the years. It used to be that the receiver only took care of audio input switching and processing, as well as providing power to the speakers. With the increased role of video, home theater receivers now provide video switching and, in many cases, video processing and upscaling.

Depending on the specific home theater receiver, video connection options may include HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, or Composite Video. However, does that mean that you are required to connect all your video source signals (such as VCR, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, and cable/satellite) to your home theater receiver?

The answer depends on the capabilities of your home theater receiver and how you want your home theater system to be organized. If you prefer, you can bypass the home theater receiver for routing video signals and instead connect the video signal source device directly to your TV or video projector. You can then make a second audio-only connection to your home theater receiver.

However, there are some practical reasons to route both your video and audio signals through a home theater receiver. Here are some of those reasons.

Home Theater Receiver AV Connection Example


Reduced Cable Clutter

One reason to route audio and video through a home theater receiver is to cut down on cable clutter.

HDMI carries audio and video signals. Using a single cable, you can connect the HDMI cable from your source component through your receiver for both audio and video using the one HDMI cable.

HDMI provides the desired access to both audio and video signals, and it reduces cable clutter between the source device, the receiver, and the TV. Instead of connecting a video cable from the source to the TV or video projector as well as a separate audio cable to the home theater receiver, all you need is one HDMI connection between the receiver and the TV or video projector.

Control Convenience

In a specific setup, it can be more convenient to send the video signal through the home theater receiver, as the receiver can control the source switching for audio and video.

In other words, instead of switching the TV to the proper video input that your video source component is connected to, and then also switching the receiver to the proper audio input, you can do it in one step if both video and audio can go through the home theater receiver.

Video Processing

If you have a home theater receiver with built-in video processing and upscaling for lower resolution analog video signals, routing your video sources through the receiver can provide some advantages. The processing and scaling features of many home theater receivers may provide a cleaner video signal to the TV than if you connected an analog video source directly to the TV.

The 3D Factor

If you own a 3D TV or video projector, many home theater receivers manufactured beginning in late 2010 going forward are 3D compatible. These receivers can pass 3D video signals from a 3D source device to a 3D TV or video projector using HDMI. If your home theater complies with that standard, you can route 3D video and audio signals via a single HDMI cable through your receiver to a 3D TV or 3D video projector.

On the other hand, if your home theater receiver doesn't provide a 3D pass-through, connect the video signal from your 3D source (such as a 3D Blu-ray Disc player ) to your TV or video projector. You will then also make a separate audio connection to your non-3D compliant home theater receiver.

The 4K Factor

Another thing to take into consideration is the 4K resolution video.

In mid-2009, HDMI version 1.4 was introduced, giving home theater receivers limited ability to pass-through 4K resolution video signals (up to 30 fps). The added introduction of HDMI version 2.0 in 2013 enabled 4K pass-through capability for 60 fps sources. But it didn't stop there. In 2015, the introduction of HDMI version 2.0a added the ability for home theater receivers to pass HDR and Wide Color Gamut video signals.

All of that means that most home theater receivers made beginning in 2016 incorporate HDMI version 2.0a (or higher). This means full compatibility for all aspects of the 4K video signal pass-through. However, if you purchased a home theater receiver between 2010 and 2015, some compatibility variations exist.

If you have a 4K Ultra HD TV and 4K source components (such as a Blu-ray Disc player with 4K upscaling, Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player, or a 4K-capable media streamer), consult the user manual for your TV, receiver, or source component for information on video capabilities.

If your 4K Ultra HD TV and source components are fully equipped with HDMI version 2.0a and your home theater receiver is not, check your source components to see if you can connect those components directly to your TV for video and make a separate connection to your home theater receiver for audio.

Making a separate video and audio connection may affect the audio formats your home theater receiver will have access to. For example, the Dolby TrueHD/Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio/DTS:X surround sound formats can only be passed through HDMI.

However, unlike 3D, even if your home theater receiver isn't compatible with all aspects of the latest 4K Ultra HD specifications, it will pass-through those aspects that it is compatible with. However, you will still see some benefit if you want to connect your 4K video sources to a home theater receiver that is equipped with HDMI version 1.4.

The Bottom Line

Whether you route audio and video signals through a home theater receiver depends on the capabilities of your TV, home theater receiver, Blu-ray Disc/DVD player, or other components, and what is most convenient for you.

Decide how you want to organize the audio and video signal flow in your home theater setup and, if needed, purchase a home theater receiver that best fits your setup preferences.

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