Wanted: A basic home theater receiver?

Today's receivers are so jam-packed with features they can be a hassle to set up and use. Is there a receiver made your mom could use?

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read
Too many jacks?

Today's receivers are so jam-packed with features they can be a hassle to set up and use. Even entry-level models boast features that flagship models from even just five years ago never had.

Is that a good thing? No manufacturer offers a receiver that's dead simple to use, sounds great, and has adequate connectivity to hook up a cable box, Blu-ray player, and one or two other sources.

Do you base your buying decision on the features lineup? Does the one with the most features win? Does your receiver really need to be THX Ultra2 Plus-certified, with four or more 1080p HDMI compatible inputs, and have Internet radio streaming, Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius Internet Radio, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby PLIIz, Dolby Volume, DTS Master Audio, Audyssey DSX surround processing, Audyssey MultEQ, Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume, iPod-dock-ready--plus front and rear USB inputs?

Sure, it's tempting to go for more rather than less stuff, but at what point does the technology interfere with actually using the thing? And no matter how much stuff is in there, next year's models will have more. Have you used even half of the features your receiver has right now?

Can you slog through the hassles of "auto" setup, or even manual setup? Or do you even try? Today's receivers are incredibly sophisticated devices, so getting them to just do the basics--playing a CD or a movie--can be a trial. Or it worked yesterday, but now, even with the correct input selected, you're not getting what you wanted.

So would a receiver with fewer, but easier-to-use features be an attractive alternative? Or do I have this all wrong and you want even more stuff in your next receiver?

If you have any horror stories about receiver setup or just getting the damn thing to play, please share them in the Comments section below.