In Italy, all roads may lead to Rome. In home theatre, they all lead to the AV receiver

The home theatre receiver, or AV receiver, is a vital part of a home entertainment system. It is not merely a glorified hi-fi amplifier. Of course it does that job as well – powering your loudspeakers so that they can produce sound – but it gives so much more.

Basically, you plug all the different ‘source’ devices – DVD player, Blu-ray player, HDTV receiver, even your old VCR! – into the receiver. Then you plug your TV and speakers into it. The receiver becomes the switchboard and control centre for your system; the maestro that makes everything work together for your convenience.

Connections, conversions and controls

Amongst all the capabilities of the home theatre receiver, it is also a linguist. It doesn’t really matter what kinds of connections your DVD player or VCR or what ever have, you can plug them all into your home theatre receiver. A VCR has analog video of the lowest quality, plus stereo analog audio. A Blu-ray player has digital video and audio of the highest quality. A high quality modern home theatre receiver takes the video from both of these, converts that from the VCR into digital video, and delivers it all to your TV using a single HDMI cable. Some home theatre receivers will even ‘upscale’ the picture, so that the low resolution standard definition VCR output is converted to 1080p resolution to match your TV’s display size.

This does make life easier for you. All you have to do is press the ‘VCR’ key on the receiver’s remote control, not fiddle around with the inputs on the TV.

Making things even easier are new innovations, such as HDMI CEC or Consumer Electronics Control, and older features such as ‘macros’ and learning remote controls. We talk about the remote control more on page 70, but note here that in many cases your home theatre receiver’s remote control can also be used to control your TV, DVD player and so on. ‘Macros’ are the ability of some remote controls to learn a series of commands: you press one key on the remote and it first switches on the TV, then the receiver, then the DVD player and starts the DVD player running.

CEC is a new feature that came with the new connection standard: HDMI 1.2a. This allows HDMI cables to carry – in addition to high quality video and sound – control communications between various devices. Initially these allowed you to point the remote control at the TV for, say, controlling the volume of your home theatre receiver. But more features are being added all the time.

One system recently released, for example, allows you to press the ‘pause’ key on your TV’s remote control, whereupon a connected Blu-ray recorder will start up and commence recording the TV show that you are pausing, and the TV will switch from its own TV tuner to the Blu-ray recorder connection.

The CEC commands are standardised, and are supposed to be compatible across all brands, but it is not guaranteed. So for best use of these features, it’s a good idea to choose a single brand for your system.