The Home Cinema Receiver is the central video and audio processing, switching and amplification device in your system. This is where all your source data is routed and sent to your projector and speakers.
The key here as with all the individual elements is to select a home cinema receiver within the budget you have allocated taking into account there are many options form entry level up to high end.
“You Get What You Pay For”
There is so much detail that we could go into here but it’s best to keep it to the high level elements. We could do a whole series on the Home Cinema Receiver alone given all there is that can be covered. So taking this high level view, how do you go about making a selection? Here’s some things to consider;
Integrated Vs Separate
You can go one of two ways,
1. Integrated Audio & Video processing and amplification which is very popular, or
2. Separate Audio & Video processing and amplification which is considered the best for cinema.
No. 2 is generally the more expensive route but ensures you get only the best audio and video performance. If you have a big budget for your cinema room then option 2 is for you. With a dedicated surround amplifier you get better handling of audio signals and greater integrity of audio reproduction. Likewise when using a separate video processor.
If you are spending €20k or €30k then option No. 1 may the one to choose although you can get reasonably priced separate surround amplifier and video processor to fit your budget from some suppliers. If your budget allows it and you are going high end then you quite possibly will not require the surround amplifier as your speakers will probably be “active” type and not need a separate amplification.
You can spend big or you can spend small. This will depend on how deep your pockets are, and how serious you are about your cinema room installation. If you are going for a dedicated cinema room and going all out, then you most probably have allocated a sizable budget. Somewhere between €£$100-€£$500k is what I would consider to be top end budget, but the sky is the limit really. This is distinct from “Top Drawer” as “Top Drawer” in my book refers to how well the job is done and not how much is being spent.
If you want complete top end then Steinway Lyngdorf is something you should consider. There’s not many will go this road but if you want the complete best and budget is not a restriction then this is the way to go. If you have to ask the price you can not afford it. I witnessed a demonstration of their Cinema Surround and Stereo Channel solutions at ISE earlier this year and it is just incredible full stop.
Coming back to earth a wee bit, your home cinema receiver price can range from €£$500.00 to €20,000.00 or more. In my opinion you shouldn’t even be looking at spending anything under minimum €£$2000.00 for this piece of kit as anything less will not come up to scratch at all. Remember we are talking Cinema Room here, not living room surround sound.
You get what you pay for. Higher priced equipment is not priced higher for no good reason (most of the time) so when you pay a little extra from well known brands such as Anthem, Marantz, Denon and Harmon Kardon you are getting higher quality integral components with better video and audio processing capabilities. You are getting higher specification and features that lesser priced models don’t give you.
Manufacturers have different terminology for audio and video processing features so do your research. Look out for these features amongst others to form your short list;
- Multi Channel Surround Modes; THX, DTS, Dolby Digital, DPL II, Compressed Audio Enhancer MDAX/MDAX2, HT Equaliser.
- Current Topology circuitry sound enhancement.
- Network-able; DLNA and UPnP certified, WiFi, IP control,
- Multiple analogue and digital audio inputs
- Multiple video inputs such as component, S Video & composite
- iTunes Air Play
- Audio File Type Playback; WMA, AAC, WAV, FLAC. (The more here the better)
- Video up-scaling and conversion. (This is a given at this level)
- Zone 2 and zone 3 video and audio output capable.
- 5 0r 6 HDMI inputs
- 2 HDMI outputs. 1 HDMI output is obvious but a second can do another room display.
- USB input for media player or external storage.
- RS232 control for integration with home control system.
- DC trigger to allow doorbell interruption or operation of other equipment for example.
- A bundle of the various analogue and digital Audio & Video Inputs and Outputs. (See below)
Inputs & Outputs
- Dual Phono or Dual RCA (Stereo Channel). These are coloured red and white usually and allow connection to your cinema receiver of audio sources with analogue outputs such as turntables or CD Player.
- Digital Coaxial. This is a digital input/output and is a better connection as it can accepts multi channel audio unlike the phono stereo connection above. Use this when connecting a DVD or Blue-ray player audio where audio is not available on HDMI.
- Digital Optical.Similar to Digital Coaxial, This is a digital input/output and is a better connection as it can accepts multi channel audio unlike the phono stereo connection above. Use this when connecting a DVD or Blue-ray player audio where audio is not available on HDMI.
- Multi Channel Pre Outs. These are 7.1 channel outputs for use where connecting to a separate surround amplifier.
- Sub Woofer Output. This speaks for its self. Use this to connect to your Passive Sub Woofer amplifier or Active Sub Woofer.
- Speaker connections. These will be 7.1 usually for cinema room and have the option of using the surround back speaker connections as a Zone 2 in your system. The better quality Cinema Receivers will have 7.1 surround and zone 2 connections so you will have choice of using zone 2 without compromise. The better quality cinema receivers will also have gold plated connections for better signal transfer through the connection.
- Composite. This is a bog standard connection. Don’t use it unless you have an old piece of kit you want to connect and have no other choice. Your receiver should upscale the image as close to HD 1080p as possible.
- S Video. Like the one above this connection is crap.
- Component. This is a HD picture connection and can be scaled up to 1080p usually delivering a good quality image. If you use this video input type then you will obviously need a separate audio input to your receiver from your source. Use digital optical audio for this.
- HDMI. You are probably very familiar with this connection unless you have been living under a stone. Be sure your cinema receiver can upscale and convert the other video images mentioned to output on the HDMI output to your display. If you are designing your system from scratch then don’t use any other video source inputs other than HDMI if you can help it.
The best way to get to know this stuff is to do. You can spend your whole life reading about putting together a system and really know very little about it. Reading about what an apple tastes like will never bring you the realisation of the taste of an apple, if you want to know what a an apple tastes like then go and eat an apple.
I may well take the whole subject of the surround receiver and do a series of posts on it as there is a lot to cover, too much to cover here so for the moment consider the above and do lots of research before you commit.