It’s the foundation of any serious entertainment set-up, so what are the must-haves in your next AV receiver?

When you’re assembling a home entertainment setup, there’s a lot of kit on your shopping list: display, Blu-ray player, HDD recorder, HDTV tuner, a set of surround speakers and a subwoofer. How on earth are you supposed to control all this stuff?

Fear not: there’s one more device you need, and it’s the most important one in your whole entertainment arsenal. It’s the audio-visual receiver.

Also known as a surround sound receiver, multichannel or home theatre amplifier, the AV receiver’s job is fairly easy to describe: it takes all your audio-video sources – DVD player, pay TV box, games console, PVR – and sends them out to your TV and your speakers. It’s a sort of super-adaptor: you plug everything into it, and the receiver sends the video out through a single cable to your TV, and the audio out through many cables to the speakers in your surround sound system.

When you introduce an AV receiver to your setup, your TV’s remote won’t get much of a workout: volume and source selection will be handled by the receiver’s remote, which also handles the selection of surround formats, audio processing, and video upsampling functionality.

Broadly speaking, the AV receiver’s job has two important aspects: video and audio. Let’s take a look at both in detail.

AV receiver – video must-haves

Most TVs have a limited number of video inputs, especially where HD is concerned. Remember, for HD you need to use HDMI or component cables. A good HDTV will have two or three HDMI inputs, and one or two component.

An AV receiver, on the other hand, will have at least three of each, and may offer even more. This gives you lots of flexibility when it comes to adding sources into your stack: Blu-ray player, PVR, games consoles, a media server, whatever!

Central switching

Selecting which one to use is simple: just hit a button on the AV receiver’s remote. The video signal from that source will be routed through the receiver to your TV.

Since the AV receiver can accept signals from all kinds of sources – both HD and SD – it’s important to connect it to your display using a cable that supports all possible resolutions. The best solution is HDMI. This is a single cable that runs from receiver to TV, and it supports full 1080p. What’s more, because HDMI is digital, you won’t lose any image quality between AV receiver and TV – important if you’ve spent big dollars on a good Blu-ray player!

Upconversion

When it comes to video, AV receivers have one more trick up their sleeves: upscaling. Unlike the automatic ‘stretching’ of a low resolution image to your display by the TV’s own circuitry, the AV receiver adds image information, turning a 576i image into a 1080p one.

It’s not as good as native 1080p from a Blu-ray player, but a good AV receiver will do an excellent job of upconverting, and results will impress.