Reasons why an AV receiver should support HDMI

If you're thinking about buying an AV receiver, sooner or later you'll inevitably ask yourself what it has to be able to do, and in particular which connections the device should provide. It is not uncommon to save at the wrong end and the receiver is downright neutered at the interfaces! We ask ourselves: Why are still so many AV receivers sold without HDMI interface?

AV Receiver: HDMI support a must

Sense and purpose of an AV receiver
As the name suggests, the purpose of an AV receiver is to receive audio and video data (= AV = picture and sound) from various sources, amplify them if necessary (sound) and then distribute them to different outputs.

A classic example: video data is sent from the AV receiver to the TV and audio data to a connected speaker system. This is the basis of home cinema.

This is how it often looks in practice
Unfortunately, the practice today looks rather like this: All hi-fi devices such as DVD & BluRay players, game consoles and satellite receivers hang directly via HDMI cable on the flat screen TV. Then at some point you get the idea that the sound from the flat TV sounds pretty modest and you buy high-quality THX products, which now have to be connected somehow. So what to do? Sure: AV receiver bought, speakers connected and then from each player a coaxial cable over to the new AV receiver. Often the whole thing looked like this:

AV receiver HDMI cabling (bad)

All devices are connected with at least two cables - cable tangle preprogrammed. Does it work? Sure! Technically everything works fine. So why change anything? For this, let's look at the alternative HDMI approach.

This is how it should look like: The HDMI approach
Modern, good AV receivers provide up to 6 HDMI inputs. This can be used to connect all kinds of HDMI devices to the AV receiver. From the AV receiver then goes a cable to the TV. Sound is output as usual via a speaker system connected to the AV receiver.

AV Receiver HDMI cabling (better)

What are the advantages of the HDMI approach?

1. less cables
As you can see, the second example eliminates all audio cabling. Everything is transmitted via HDMI. On the one hand, this is good for your wallet, because you don't need expensive audio cables. On the other hand, you have fewer dust traps lying around in the apartment and the setup looks much tidier.

In addition, HDMI cables are cheap. Sure, there are differences. But even though it makes sense not to buy the absolute cheapest cable, it doesn't have to be the most expensive one either. You can't hope for more brilliant colors or a higher quality sound. Good high-speed cables are perfectly adequate.

2. support for HD audio
HD Audio is a specification for audio chips that was introduced in 2004 to replace the current AC97 standard. What does it mean? Obviously: better sound. Stereo signals are transmitted in HD audio at 192 kHz in 32 bits, and up to eight channels can be realized at 96 kHz in 32 bits each. This then corresponds to 7.1 surround sound. For comparison: The old AC97 standard delivered a maximum of 5.1 sound at typically 44.1 kHz and 16 bits.

For HD audio, you inevitably need HDMI. Coaxial/optical cables transmit the standard sound at most. Native 7.1 sound is not feasible in the upper sketch, but it is in the lower illustration.

3. easier handling
What have we not struggled with the settings menus on DVD players etc.? In the example above, the external sound output must be activated individually for each device. This is annoying in the long run and often overwhelms beginners. And as you can see: It's totally unnecessary. If all devices are connected to the receiver via HDMI, the sound is automatically sent to the AV receiver and can be distributed from there.

4. CEC possible (theoretically)
This point should only be listed for the sake of completeness. CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) is part of the HDMI specification and is actually intended to allow all devices connected via HDMI to be controlled by a single remote control. You are welcome to test this in practice. Most of the time the results are frustrating. The manufacturers all cook their own soup.

5. distribution
The HDMI connection has undoubtedly become the standard in home cinema. Actually, not only in the home theater area, but in almost all areas in which image and sound are to be transmitted in a high quality, HDMI is the first choice. While in the beginning it was primarily only game consoles and Blu-Ray players, nowadays almost every electronic device has at least one HDMI connection. HDMI connections are no longer only found on home theater equipment; every modern computer and various tablets also have them. So it's clear that only an AV receiver with HDMI makes sense. There is not much to consider, but it should be HDMI 1.4. Depending on how many devices you want to connect, several HDMI ports are recommended.

Are there also disadvantages?
AV receivers with many HDMI inputs usually cost more than their non-HDMI counterparts. Whether the money is worth it for the above advantages is ultimately up to each person to decide. Good AV receivers with sufficient HDMI inputs are available from about 300 euros.

If all data must be "looped" through the AV receiver via HDMI, it can come in individual cases to problems with the "greeting" of the individual components (also called handshake): In addition to picture and sound, numerous other data are transmitted via HDMI, such as EDID resolution information or encryption data for the digital copy protection HDCP. However, once the devices have recognized each other, there is usually nothing to worry about.

Make sure that the AV receiver supports at least the current HDMI standard 1.4. Then 3D content is no problem. If you want to be prepared for the future, buy an AV receiver with HDMI 2.0 support. This will also allow 4K content to be looped through later.

By the way, transmission losses are not an issue thanks to digital technology. In terms of quality, it makes no difference whether the Bluray player is connected directly to the TV or to the AV receiver.

Buy an AV receiver with enough HDMI inputs (rule of thumb: at least 4). This way, connection, cabling and handling will be easier and your home theater will be ready for HD audio. Look for HDMI standard 1.4 as a minimum requirement, HDMI 2.0 is even better.

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