Must-have features for a new receiver

New models of AV receivers always roll out later in the year and we're in the midst of rounding up the best mid-range models of 2010.

(Credit: Denon)

AV receivers certainly don't change as quickly as other home theatre products, like flat panels and Blu-ray players, but every year there are a few new features that are important to be aware of when making a buying decision. Here's a quick look at some of the changes to look out for in mid-range models.

3D compatibility

Even though it's a completely new feature for 2010, 3D compatibility is already essentially an expected feature, with receivers as cheap as the AU$499 Pioneer VSX520 capable of passing a 3D video signal from a 3D source to a 3D TV. Though it's unlikely that most buyers will be upgrading to 3D this year (given the cost and lack of content), it's a good "future-proofing" feature to have since you'll probably want to hold onto your receiver for several years.

It's really not that difficult to run a separate audio cable back to your receiver, but it's still a nice bonus feature.


Audio return channel

Audio return channel (ARC) is one of the new features supported by HDMI 1.4, but just because a receiver has HDMI 1.4 doesn't mean it has audio return channel. That's because it's not a mandatory part of the HDMI 1.4 spec, and manufacturers can choose whether to include it.

Confusion aside, it's a worthwhile feature that allows TVs to send audio back to an AV receiver over the same HDMI cable that is carrying video from the receiver to the HDTV. That's useful if you're using your TV's Freeview tuner or perhaps one of its built-in streaming media services (such as BigPond Movies or iView), and want to listen with your surround sound system. It's not a revolutionary feature — it's only saving you the hassle of making an extra connection from the TV's digital audio output — and it only works with new TVs that support ARC, but it's still a nice bonus to simplify your home theatre set-up.

Standby pass-through

Standby pass-through is another HDMI-centric feature that enables the receiver to continue to pass audio and video signals over HDMI, even when the receiver is in standby (off) mode. This flexibility is nice for times when you may not want to fire up your full surround sound system (such as late at night), but still want to access your home theatre gadgets and use your TV's built-in speakers. Standby pass-through isn't available on every model, so you'll need to check the manufacturer's specs to find the right model.

Dolby Pro Logic IIz

Pro Logic IIz made its debut last year and it's become widely adopted this year, as it's included on every mid-range AV receiver we're reviewing. We can't say we were fans when we listened to the technology last year, but if you're into the idea of using "height" channels to expand your soundstage, you'll get it on virtually every mid-range AV receiver available this year.

iPod/iPhone via USB

Last year, the Pioneer VSX-1019AH was the only AV receiver in its price class that allowed you to connect an iPod/iPhone directly via USB, which is one of the reasons it received the Editors' Choice Award. This year, the feature is much more common, with the Pioneer VSX-1020, Denon AVR-1911 and Marantz NR1601 all supporting it. It's certainly better than the alternative of having to purchase a pricey, separate iPod dock.

Missing features: phono input, multichannel analog inputs, S-Video inputs

If you haven't been up-to-date with AV receivers in recent years, there are several features you might be expecting that manufacturers no longer include. S-Video inputs have been missing for quite some time, and this year manufacturers are also increasingly leaving out AV receiver staples like multichannel analog audio inputs and phono inputs.

For the most part, we're OK with these omissions, as nearly every home theatre product supports HDMI now. If you do have older products that use these connections, in most cases there's a workaround (such as a turntable with an on-board preamp) or you'll need to make sure you choose a receiver that has the right connections; for example, the Yamaha RX-V667 still offers multichannel analog inputs.


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MyNameIsMcSeana posted a comment   

It's a pity we've had to wait sooooo long for features like Audio Return Channel and Standby Pass Through but thank goodness it's finally here! Although, could this spark the beginning of the end for optical cables??? Eventually I imagine all AV equipment will be compatible with these formats, as it is it should be a standard feature accross all HDMI v1.4 complianced products!!!

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