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A home theater receiver has two main jobs: to provide sound and power to connected speakers, and to send video to your TV or projector. It also allows you to switch between connected sources like a cable or satellite box, Apple TV® or Roku, or a Blu-ray player.
You need one channel of power for each speaker in your home theater. For example, a 5.1-channel surround sound system gets five channels of amplification from the receiver. (The ".1" is your subwoofer, which has its own amp.) It's okay to have unused amp channels since they let you grow your system down the road. Some receivers even let you use extra channels to power speakers in another room.
A good rule of thumb is to stay within the power range of your speakers. Generally speaking, more power is better — it gives you stronger bass and clearer, louder sound, especially in larger rooms. It's okay for your receiver to have a little more power than your speakers are rated for.
If you're using high-end speakers, budget for a high-quality receiver to get the most out of them.
Absolutely! All home theater receivers can play music through your front left and right speakers. Some receivers even have additional modes for playing music through all the speakers in your surround sound system. Love playing vinyl? Look for models with a dedicated phono input for connecting a turntable.
Most home theater receivers have Bluetooth®, which lets you play music from your phone wirelessly. Some models also have Wi-Fi, which gives you better sound and range using services like Apple AirPlay® or Chromecast built-in.
Music streaming services like Spotify® and Pandora® are also built into many receivers, allowing you to play songs directly from the internet using your phone as a remote.