How to set up an A/V receiver

Home Theater

With a back panel riddled with connections, a front panel speckled in all manner of buttons, and an array of different wires needed to get everything all hooked up, a receiver can be an intimidating piece of equipment. Contrary to that feeling in your gut when you open the box, however, setting up your receiver doesn’t have to be palm-sweat inducing. In fact, it’s really not as complex as it seems, especially with all the handy features on modern receivers. Here’s how to get an A/V receiver up and running in no time, without headaches.

Make sure to check out our picks for the best A/V receivers before you start setting up.

Find the right spot

Receivers can get very hot. When they get too hot, most will shut off automatically to avoid serious damage, which at the very least makes for a truly annoying movie-watching experience. That means you need to put your receiver in a well-ventilated space. Most furniture designed for audio and video will have some sort of ventilation system in place so you won’t have to worry about it. If you are installing your home theater receiver in your own furniture, however, you’ll need to make sure there is adequate air getting to the receiver. Don’t ever put a component (like a Blu-ray player) on top of your receiver—especially on the vents.

Additionally, position your equipment near a spot with adequate power outlets. You don’t want to run extension cords around the room, especially considering the amount of sources you’ll need to plug in to a power outlet. In fact, we suggest plugging your sources, TV, and receiver into a surge protector to safeguard equipment in the case of a power outage.

The graphic user interface (GUI)

The GUI on your receiver can make all the difference in the world when you actually begin to set up your system. It’s much easier to set up your receiver from the couch via your TV screen than having to look at a tiny display screen on your receiver’s front panel.

Denon Receiver GUI

“The ability to visually show each area of the unit that can be changed gives the customer a clear idea of how they can set up the product and make changes as they live with the product,” says Rob Rodriguez, product manager, home audio, Sony Electronics. “No longer do they need to dig out the 100-plus page manual.” For speaker set up, a good GUI is a godsend, clearly showing speaker configuration and even height in some cases.

Consider your sources and use the right inputs

“The most important thing is to consider is what your sources are (and will be),” says Rodriguez. Take the time to make sure your prospective receiver has enough inputs for all your devices.

When you get your receiver home, it’s also important to know your connections. “It’s always better to use HDMI than other video inputs, or — for audio — using a digital coax/optical input rather than using RCA-type plugs,” says Rodriguez. “Also consider, if you’ll be integrating a gaming system or a new camcorder in the future? If so, having extra, available inputs for the system to grow will allow for easy additions to your home theater.”

These days, there are plenty of HDMI connections on receivers to accommodate all your sources. For example, the Onkyo TX-NR5008 receiver shown here has no less than seven assignable inputs for a Blu-ray player, a DVR, a cable or satellite box, one or more game systems, and a PC player. Most receivers will already have suggested uses for your inputs, and have prelabeled them as such. For example, HDMI input one on this receiver is suggested for a Blu-ray or DVD player. Following the manufacturer’s lead will make it easy to switch between your sources when you want to go from, say, watching a movie to playing a PlayStation game without getting confused.

TX NR5008 connections

If you are considering a projector, Integra recommends considering dual HDMI outputs as a key feature so you can use a smaller monitor when you don’t want to bother with the projector. Another increasingly important connector is a Made-for-iPod/iPhone USB port, which is usually located on the front panel. This allows you to listen to your tunes from these devices through your home-entertainment system without using an analog audio connection.

Receivers should also have some component video inputs (the three pronged red, blue, and green cable) for your older pre-HDMI components, which will also pass high-def, but don’t pass audio. If you use these connections, you need to make sure to connect the corresponding audio cables or you’ll later wonder why you can see a picture but not hear anything.

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