AV receivers are the central hub of any home theatre system. They provide the brains to process surround-sound signals and the brawn to amplify them through the speakers. They allow you to retrieve sound from a variety of audio sources as well as routing video signals to your display from devices like DVD players.
Features are all-important and even today's low-cost models carry an assortment of functions that were once only reserved for more expensive models. At this level you can expect to find receivers offering up to seven channels of amplification, which can be used to support advanced speaker configurations using additional centre rear channels or to bi-wire the front channels to improve stereo performance.
Installing your receiver is no longer a daunting prospect with the widespread inclusion of automatic calibration systems that use a supplied microphone and a variety of test signals to accurately set up your system without any effort.
Connectivity is equally important, especially since the arrival of high definition. All of these receivers feature HDMI digital inputs and outputs that will support high-definition signals and allow video switching between compatible devices and your screen. This eases operation and cuts down cable clutter. Some models also offer video up-conversion, which will improve the picture performance of your standard analogue sources, usually up to component video quality.
High-definition audio is also on the horizon with the latest HD discs carrying enhanced formats such as Dolby Digital True HD and DTS Master Audio. Since there are very few currently available HD players that can send these signals in the required bitstream format, it's still a feature for the future.