How does each sound know where to go? That's the receiver's job. The receiver decodes signals from the inputs (DVD player, satellite dish, cable television) and routes them to the proper outputs (television and speakers). Although the differences between even disparately priced models can be subtle, there are a few important variables to consider.

Surround-sound formats. At a minimum, select a device that is Dolby Digital 5.1- compatible — that's the current standard for most DVDs. If you're thinking long-term, however, consider Dolby Digital Surround EX or Digital Theater System ES. Instead of six channels of audio, these formats divvy up the signal into seven or eight channels (for which you'll need seven or eight speakers), which promises to create an even more realistic listening experience. Instead of choosing between the competing formats, pick a receiver that can process both ($1,000-$5,000).

Amplifiers. While most receivers come bundled with a pre-amp to equalize the audio signal and a power amp to boost it, these components can also be purchased separately. Stand-alone pre- and power amps give you the ability to more easily fine-tune and upgrade individual speakers and will enable you to generate superior sound, especially at high volumes, but the extra cost can add up ($1,000-$10,000 per unit).

Power. Whether the amps are integrated or not, make sure you've got a receiver that supplies at least 100 continuous (rather than peak) watts per channel (the letters "RMS" should appear next to the wattage rating) and has enough outputs to connect all of your speakers.
Ask TOH users about Media Rooms

Contribute to This Story Below