Is the era of the AV receiver coming to an end?

An industry colleague and I spent some time together the other day, and in kibbitzing about the state of the industry as we see it, he wondered aloud whether we’re now in the beginning of the end of the era of the AV receiver. Blu-ray players are now equipped with full decoding capabilities for both legacy lossy and full lossless Dolby and DTS audio. In addition to playing back Blu-ray Discs, these players are now full media hubs with hosts of streaming apps for both audio and video. Other set-top box media hub devices are entering the market as I write this, and some even integrate cable and satellite broadcast content into a unified interface that manages all of this content. It doesn’t seem a stretch to think these devices could evolve to include the base level audio decoding found in BD players, or that more with integrated BD drives will emerge. And full range wireless audio is something that’s been around the corner for some time, clearly a question of when not if. So, my colleague wondered, if you add powered loudspeaker systems with wireless capability into this equation is that a look at the future? The dazzling capabilities of the AV receiver are both its strength and weakness. AVRs are intimidating. How much of all that capability do people really bother to use? How many people could get by with a lot less capability in favor of usability? I don’t know the answers to these questions but found them provocative enough to bring to you, and get your opinion. Are these the end days of the AVR as we know it?

kelsci's picture

Actually I would prefer that a integrated type 5.1 home theater amplifier would be made and sold. I do not need FM or any other radio thingys. I would like a good virtual mode included in that amp plus distortion below .05%. It should include all the current high def audio codecs and always have DPL-2, music and movie, but I would like to see an adjustment to the movie mode as featured on the music mode. Of course a 6 or 7 channel unit could be made for those who want it but I wonder just how many people who buy receivers today hook up extra back channels or for that matter upper front channels(height channels). Of course the amps should feature an automatic setup with manual overide that is easy to access. It would nice if the units used quality digital amplifiers provided they had excellent audio quality. Nothing like a space saving unit to have. It seems the market is trying to sell all in one inclusive units which is home theaters in a box. I do not care for this. If one feature is lost it is worthless

Ian's picture

I believe it to be a very accurate prediction that the pre/pro section of AVRs will diminish or disappear. However, I think most will find it easier to allow a AVR to switch sources and amplify instead of finding an outlet for each of their 6 to 11+ speakers. In addition, I can only imagine the longing for a "intimidating" AVR when the user can't figure out why they have audio drops when someone starts using the microwave or starts streaming a movie in the other room, etc....the list of gremlins is growing faster than our home networks are.

Keith's picture

I think the need for an AVR might decline for some folks, but for the serious (or even semi-serious) home theater buff it will be hard to replace a good AVR just like streaming HD will have a hard time replacing physical Blu-ray discs.

Raymond's picture

I have an Arcam avr600 and Marantz ud9004 and the day I replace them I hope it will be for something better.

Chad's picture

I think the ultimate goal is "simplicity". Most people want to open a box, plug the device in and viola, it works. I, on the other hand, like to tinker with settings and features. But, the masses demand the simplistic approach. So, my vision is that someday soon the following will happen: One box, no wires (except for power), flat panel on a wall, flat speakers on wall. All devices communicate wireless on their own LAN. With that said, there will still be a demand for the AVR. The pre/pro and amps didn't go away when the AVRs rolled out. Also, keep in mind this: 8-tracks, tapes, and CDs still have yet to kill the vinyl record. So, a "simple" AVR with tranport ability coupled with storage and robust networking will be dubbed "the box". Hey, have you seen Bill's new "box"?!

Joel's picture

This smells more like a pre/pro and amp versus receiver discussion rather than one about the demise of a category. Most A/V professionals and enthusiasts see the benefits of investing in a quality multichannel amplifier or multiple amplifiers and replacing the preamp/processor from time to time. We have simply conceded too much ground to the inexpensive receiver category for too long. We sell from our wallets rather than from our passions. Of course, mass market retailers pretending to sell high performance gear out of in-store kiosks with inexperienced sales staff and lowering the average consumer's expectations in order to please shareholders with short term gains have done our industry no favors.

Ricky D's picture

Highly unlikely any time soon! Personally, I'm kinda starting to crave good AVR's from favorite brands of mine without all these crammed-in bells n whistles and ridiculous features they insist adding on in a non-stop pace these days. I just sit there and wonder if the demand for all those things really are all that big? It's almost as if priority on pure soundquality and ease-of-use comes second. I want it the other way round. It's sad.

Kelly Jenkins's picture

The AVR has a promising future- IMO!

Frank's picture

I suppose the online download generation may be migrating to leaner technologies that may not include a receiver and are more "toaster"-like and have more features. Top of the line Denon from a few years back seems to be doing the trick for me, and it doesn't include all that many of the bells and whistles that seem to be popping up each time a new generation of hardware appears. (Good thing its HDMI (via hardware upgrade) can handle lossless audio via LPCM and 1080P, just barely lucked out with that.) Don't anticpate streaming or 3D in my future, but the former could end up being the only option if things keep on keeping on the way they have been. I'm just a disc kind of guy, don't feel the need to have everything all connected together.

Javan's picture

I just can't fathom that the receiver would ever disappear. You state that its functions are also its weakness, but each new generation gets more and more tech savvy. However, I think the receiver's role as a hub and switch for the source components is not something that can be easily replaced.

Jeff D's picture

I tend to agree with Javan, I have a Legacy receiver, that has audio outs. When I first bought the receiver, I used the internal amps, I have since upgraded to a multi channel amp. This is just one example,of how and why receivers will not go away. There several people still looking for a tuner/amp/switcher to run their systems, if you start with an MOR, middle of the road receiver. With good qualities, it can eventually become a pre/pro for the rest of the system.

Shane's picture

Keep in mind, I'm speaking here mostly of the mass market, not enthusiasts. When I said that the AVR's functionality was both its strength and its weakness, the more and more tech savvy receivers have gotten, the more complicated they are. Most people already struggle with using even their most rudimentary features. Look at what Ricky D says above. Even some enthusiasts would like these things to shed a few logos and get down to the essentials. I expect we'll also see more stripped down products like the Denon S-5BD. Since so many displays have built-in video processing, why not a cheaper AVR with only a few HDMI inputs, HDMI video pass through only, and very clean power without all the bells and whistles? I think there are a lot of potential options, but one way or the other, both Yamaha and Denon have taken stabs at something newer and simpler in the last year or two. There's already a transition occurring, the question is where it's going.

Doug Harrison's picture

Just read the Denon S-5BD review. I'm sure there are some savvy buyers who'll like the config and kudos to Denon for coming up with such an innovative design.I think affordable wireless would open up whole new market of customers."Digital" amps are really the way to go with a one-box deal. Small, cool and good sounding.The complexity of a modern HT is both a curse and a blessing. The coherent sound you can get in a good room with even moderate gear is astounding but I can tell you that once my system is working to my satisfaction, the last thing I want to do is futz with it.The software is at the level where it delivers on the performance side but at the expense of complexity and the possibility self-inflicted bugs from firmware updates.Anyone remember the days when it was 2 speakers, the cables, a turntable and\or CD player. The ins went to the outs, a couple of plug-ins and you had music. The cables in the back of my rack would strangle a rhino.

Scott Atkinson's picture

This isn't a mass market solution, but I'm intrigued by the prospect of mating my Oppo universal player with the Dared tube multi-channel. The Dared has no codecs itself, relying entirely on what it's hooked up to for decoding. What it specializes in is good sound, pure and simple. At a street price of $450, mated with an OppoBD980 at under $300 you have an interesting substitute for a conventional set up.Scott A.

John's picture

I used to have a Marantz A/V unit. After moving I set up my system with out it and don't miss it at all.

Varun Jagger's picture

I absolutely agree with Scott.We might see incredibly simple options for Amps where the user selects only the number of inputs he requires.So a "multi-tasker" has his turntable, BluRay, DVR, Mac etc, wired into it; A "Simpler" user only has his "Digital" Laptop or a BluRay player hooked up.Thereafter, the amp only acts as a place to decode LPCM or, easier still, multi-channel RCA and SIMPLY POWERS THE SPEAKER! Voila!

Javan's picture

Shane, you say you're speaking in terms of the mass market, but the mass market already forgoes the use of a receiver--they buy Bose Lifestyle systems. :) The option to get a system without a receiver has always been there, but the cost of simplicity has always been the trade-off of performance (the more separated your components are, the better they'll perform. Don't see that ever changing.) The people who have an ear that prevents them from even considering a system like Bose are usually a/v hobbyists and they, for the most part, not only favor receivers but enjoy hooking them up and using, or even tweaking, them. However, you do your have your technologically-disinclined home theater purchaser that wants something of quality, not expensive, but doesn't even want to think about hooking it up or toying with it. Well, he can still get a receiver-based system but have somebody else install it. Then, all he has to do is push a couple of buttons on his remote. Voila--home theater magic.

Fred Kaplan's picture

I look forward to the new 8.2.3b surround that will be out next Spring in Europe.

HiFiFun's picture

Shane,The pictured receiver has many legacy inputs (never to be used) which are apparently used to justify its exorbitant ($5,000+) price.The solution is to reduce clutter and gadget count by integration.Enter the all-in-one blu-ray based HTPC which streams to all sources on the Internet and also to other rooms in the house. Avoid proprietary solutions!I recommend the new all digital Samsung 700 receiver, which offers superior sound quality at beer budgets prices. So use a highly integrated HTPC combined with a HDMI 1.4 3D bit-streaming receiver.

Shane's picture

I think there's definitely a future for simpler AVRs and surround processors stripped down to HDMI switching. I don't see HTPCs making any kind of inroads. People want smart widget apps, not full blown HTPCs. Myself included.

Jarod's picture

I don't think the AVR is going any where any time soon. I could see other products coming out that could give people other options in their setup but I just can't see them becoming obsolete. I also believe that todays AVRs have more features than most people will ever use or need to use. It seems like AVR companies are at a race to see who can jam the most features in a single box and convince joe enthusiast that they are needing all of those features. Thats the name of the game tho.

Justin's picture

I think if we are talking "mass market" the AVR is already a thing of the past. The "mass market" buy expensive TVs and all-in-one blu-ray packages right now and are quite happy with them. The progression of the ZVOX and the slim soundbars are just making it even easier for consumers to go away from big black boxes that take up to much space and take knowledge to hook up.Take into account energy star consciousness and easy to consume HD streaming video and within the next couple of years, the only people with AVRs will be us enthusiasts. I'm not trying to be pessimistic just realistic. As all-in one TVs become more affordable and streaming video becomes increasingly better and affordable, the component structure of home theatre dies.

Steve Smith's picture

Shane I think the AVR is going nowhere anytime soon. For me though? I personally am leaning toward the ZVOX or another slim soundbar and thats only because my home theater is setup in my bedroom so I find no reason to have an AVR. Heck I am even thinking of going with a Bose sound system. But if I had my own home or an apartment I would go the AVR route. Again I dont thin the AVR is going anywhere anytime soon.

Spada's picture

I recently upgraded my entire home theater. (TV, Speakers and AV receiver) The old Kenwood I had was 12+ years old and to my dismay... Nothing has really changed in that time. Yes there are new audio types and new cable connections but why does my receive need to be almost 7x18x15??? The Denon I first purchased I sent back because it wouldn't fit on my tv shelf! I think the future is in sleeker, robust, wireless plug and play devices. Why is my volume knob 4 inches round?! Why is my receiver a giant black brick and not some work of art that makes my friends go "OOOOHHHHHOOO". Why do I have 11 remotes? Technology is catching up and allowing for wonderful things, but I don't think the designers are making use of any of it. Nor are they working together to make cross platform/brand use easier.It's just the marketing spin and some E-Peen that dictate that tv shelf be 9 inches tall and wide enough for the black brick.

Mike Malia's picture

Considering that I would now have to buy a brand new TV (no DVI/HDMI) and receiver to fully enjoy the audio-video benefits of Blu-ray the idea of an all-in-one is certainly intriguing to me as a "legacy guy."

Erick Von Schweber's picture

Reframe this question in terms of where the AVR *function* is headed. For some time I've been intrigued with what happens when digital active speakers (e.g., Meridian) become mainstream along with a wireless streaming protocol from "source" to digital speaker where the protocol supports both content and control; Apple's Airplay may be headed in this direction. It's not much of a stretch to see both PCs/Macs as well as dedicated boxes (Apple TV becoming Apple Theater) running the AVR function in a combination of software and special integrated hardware. The full richness of a modern GUI can then address flexibility vs. simplicity trade-offs. I'm looking forward to it - I suspect the new receiver I'll shortly purchase will be the last dedicated hardware AVR I buy.

Matt Fleeman's picture

Maybe I missed it and someone already commented, but I don't think the average person going to have outlets in the right places in the room for the powered speaker solution. Instead of worrying about how to get the speaker cable to the right spot... Now you need to call an electrician or string the power cord from high on the wall to a low outlet.

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dlaloum's picture

An AVR or prepro remains an essential hub, even for someone who primarily uses their media centre PC as a source.
BUT - current AVR's have a number of issues - in terms of sound quality, their Jitter performance is usually abysmal, and if one wishes to use the Room EQ - a key functionality - then one is almost always limited internally to 48kHz.... so higher resolution material is downsampled internally to 48kHz.... so much for high res. Audio!
Most people that I know of have not used the radio functionality of their receiver in years... the tuner seems to be redundant. Where one wants to listen to Radio it is more commonly received via internet streaming.
If the receiver's capabilities can extend to running Video files directly off the network, in addition to audio files, and if a wide enough range of formats is supported, then it may even replace many of today's media center / HTPC's.
Primarily I would like to see the next generation improve their audio quality (especially DAC's & Jitter) - and the Room EQ both improving it, and extending it to 96kHz (or higher!).
Also would love to see Logic7 make a comeback - I sorely miss my old Lexicon prepro... although the need for new formats and capabilities forced a move to Onkyo, Harman get your act together!