It used to be that buying a receiver meant buying the central component of a home stereo system for listening to audio recordings on vinyl disks. Of course, back then a home entertainment system was a stereo hi-fi system as well. Times have changed and technology has had a lot to do with that change. Today, when one talks about a receiver, they are referring to a video signal receiver that is connected to cable television or a satellite dish.
In either case, in home stereo or an audio and video entertainment system, the receiver performs pretty much the same function. It receives the audio or video signal from a variety of sources and sends it to the appropriate electronic devices so that people can be entertained. With today’s receivers, that means sending it to a flat-screen HDTV and a speaker system.
Often, a simple receiver is included in the package when one signs up for cable television or buys a satellite antenna. However, they are not the best units around and may not provide the full range of connectivity and options wanted. Most of the time, they only provide interface and decoding of the signals received from the cable company or satellite without any recording capability. Therefore, it is often useful to buy a separate receiver. When looking for a receiver with a hard disk, buyers must consider various factors, such as compatibility, number of channels, and necessary connections, to purchase one to meet their needs.
The first consideration to take into account when choosing a receiver is the unit’s compatibility with the method for receiving video. Most of the units available on the market are compatible with satellite and all major cable systems. However, it is a good idea to check on compatibility with the system in use before buying.
High Definition or Standard
Another aspect of compatibility is the video format that is used. HDTV is gradually taking over from standard definition. While standard definition TV provides 480 vertical lines of resolution, HDTV provides either 720 or 1080 vertical lines of resolution; most units are 1080. At the same time, the aspect ratio has changed from 4:3 to 16:9. That means that HDTV is also wide-screen to match the format in which movies are recorded. There is no reason to buy a high resolution receiver to use with a standard resolution television unless the plan is to replace the television at some future date. Otherwise, it is merely an extra cost, without any benefit.
The Advantage of Having a Hard Disk
Not all receivers come with an internal hard disk, but the best do. This hard disk provides the ability to record programmes for viewing whenever. A special programme or sports event can be recorded so the viewer can watch it at their leisure, and they can also programme the receiver to record their favourite series and other programmes.
The size of the hard drive is of great importance as it determines how much can be recorded for later playback. The larger the hard drive, the more that can be recorded for viewing later.
Hard Drive Size
Hours of HD
Hours of Standard Definition
HDTV provides a much clearer and crisper image, by providing more pixels of image information. Not all television and movies are in HD. However, those that are provide a much better image, especially when enlarged onto our modern big-screen televisions. The drawback to this format is that it requires much more storage space to hold the data. As we can see from the table, HD requires about four times the storage space for the same length video.
Multi-Channel vs. Stereo
Both stereo and multi-channel receivers are available on the market although the trend is towards multi-channel receivers. However, not everyone needs a multi-channel receiver. Both provide the same video connectivity but not the same audio connectivity. The difference between the two is important for how the system is to be used.
Stereo is the traditional recording method for audio. Music lovers appreciate this for the realistic sound that it produces, providing two separate channels of audio. Even though multi-channel recording has been in use for a number of years for movies, most music is still recorded in stereo. So if the system is to be used mostly for music, stereo is an excellent choice.
Classic surround sound, or quadraphonic sound provides four channels of audio recording, much like stereo provides two channels. Most systems simulate the third and fourth channel when it is not provided by mixing the two stereo channels. Today’s systems do not use quadraphonic but rather 5.1 or 7.1 recording.
5.1 Surround Sound is the most common recording format used for movies today. The number stands for five full-frequency speakers with one subwoofer. The speaker locations are:
- Front right
- Front centre
- Front left
- Back right
- Back left
- Subwoofer below the TV
By using surround sound, movie producers are able to provide a much more realistic viewing experience than with stereo. The back speakers provide the ability to have sounds come from behind the viewer, putting them in the scene. This is useful for times such as when the camera angle is showing the view through the main character’s eyes, and somebody speaks behind them.
7.1 Surround Sound adds two more channels to what 5.1 provides. These two channels are added as mid-right and mid-left, putting them the same distance from the screen as the viewer, on either side of them. This is not very common but does provide a more complete surround sound experience.
Connectivity and Compatibility
Compatibility with a wide variety of inputs may be the most important consideration when choosing a receiver. If nothing else, it provides a go/no-go test for determining which units provide the necessary connectivity for use with the other equipment in one’s home entertainment system.
While a receiver has a wide array of different connections available on its back panel, the most important is how many HDMI connections it has. HDMI is an audio/video interface, designed specifically for HDTV. It allows both the high quantity of video information and full audio information to be carried over one easy to connect cable. More and more devices are switching over to HDMI for ease and simplicity of use.
Some receivers are Wi-Fi compatible, allowing them to be used for streaming video from the Internet. This allows more fully integrating the home entertainment system with the Internet for a variety of tasks, not just watching video. With a Wi-Fi compatible receiver, one can use their television for surfing the Internet, making purchases, checking their e-mail, and of course watching movies.
A USB, universal serial bus, connection on the receiver allows connecting a flash drive or USB hard drive to the receiver for playing content that was recorded elsewhere. Some units also allow copying programmes that have been recorded on the receiver onto the USB drive for playing elsewhere.
Many people have huge quantities of music stored on their iPod or iPhone.. A receiver with an iPod dock would allow that media to be played through the entertainment system, taking advantage of the iPod as a media storage drive.
While HDMI is the wave of the future, there is still a lot of equipment that uses older connections, most notably composite video and S-video. Receivers have a variety of connections on the back, allowing the connection of these devices. It is necessary to check closely to see the number of channels which can be used, as often the same channel has several different connection types, such as HDMI, composite, and S-video. However, only one of those connections can be used on that channel. Using two different connections on the same channel causes problems with signal loss, interference, and static.
Other Features to Consider
While connectivity for inputs and sound output are the major considerations, receivers can have a number of other features and specifications to be considered. How important these are depends upon the individual’s preferences and discrimination. An audiophile may be more concerned about signal-to-noise ratios than a movie watcher.
Power refers to the audio output, measured in watts. This figure has to be combined with the speakers’ sensitivity to understand the actual sound volume produced. One watt of sound volume can be enough to be painful when run through sensitive speakers. On the other hand, the higher the power, the better the sound quality as the amplifier in the receiver runs at a lower percentage of its total power. As the volume reaches the power limit of the amplifier, distortion increases.
AirPlay is a system that allows wireless streaming from an iOS device, e.g., iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. To function, both the iOS device and the receiver must be AirPlay compatible.
Automatic Speaker Calibration
Just connecting a receiver can be a challenging task. Calibrating the sound is another step in that process; one that most people would rather avoid. Many receivers make the workload lighter by providing automated calibration of the speakers. To do this, music is played through the speakers and "heard" by the receiver through a microphone. The system analyses this sound and automatically adjusts the speaker volume and tone.
THX is used by the movie industry audio experts. THX certification verifies that the receiver meets a stringent set of qualifications in audio quality and performance, ensuring the best movie experience.
Dolby laboratories have developed the most commonly used noise reduction systems in use for both audio and video. For their systems to work, both the recorder and the player must have the necessary circuitry or programming. Pretty much all music and movies are recorded using Dolby; therefore, it is beneficial to have Dolby sound decoding in the receiver.
Buying a Receiver with Hard Disk on eBay
eBay is an excellent place to shop for receivers,, both with hard disks and without. You can be sure of finding a wide variety of units, with an extensive choice in features to choose from. The easiest way to find them is to use the search box at the top of all eBay pages to search for "television receiver&". If you just type "receiver" into the search box, you will see many other types of receivers, including stereo audio systems, radio systems, and remote signal receivers.
While there are some used units that are listed on eBay, the vast majority are new units. Sellers usually provide a detailed list of the unit's specifications, including the number of connections, number of programmable events, the hard disk size, and any special features. This allows the buyer to peruse the units and compare them before making a purchase. Not all receivers come with hard drives, so it is important to verify that any unit you are looking at has one, along with the size of the hard drive contained in the unit.
A good receiver can enhance any home theatre or home entertainment system. Although a receiver often comes as part of the contract with cable television or when buying a satellite dish, those receivers usually have limited capability. To be able to record one programme while watching another requires buying an upgraded receiver, and likewise, to be able to record programmes for later viewing.
Picking a receiver can be complicated, as there are a wide variety of models to choose from. It is best to start by determining what features are needed and desired, before looking at what is available. Important considerations include the number and type of inputs, along with the number of speaker connections. In addition, think through what features would actually be used. Some units offer more features than others, not all of which may be useful. Hard disk size is important, as it is on the hard disk that programmes are recorded for later viewing. A small hard drive can fill up quickly; therefore, 500 GB is a good size for a hard drive. That allows recording 70 hours of HD television or 250 hours of standard definition programming. Buyers interested in receivers with a hard disk can use eBay's search engine and useful filters to find one to suit all their needs.