New Receiver Makes a Home Theater Awesome

PioneerElite_VSX-45Are you growing weary of having to constantly upgrade your technology? Me too, except for things I use all the time like my iPhone, computers, Wifi routers and items like those.

But upgrading home theater components is usually not top-of-mind when it comes to getting new gear. Even though we have a big Samsung TV, a phenomenal speaker system and devices like a TiVo, new AppleTV and Roku, my fairly expensive Yamaha receiver had not been upgraded for about five years. Still, it was good enough, or so I thought.

My head was turned by a hot price on the Pioneer Elite series VSX-90 receiver and I told my buddy Eric about it. Though it had a few more features than its little brother the VSX-45—and I know the Pioneer Elite series well since I used to work for the company in the early 90s—I didn’t need those additional features in the 90.

I’d told Eric since he also needed to upgrade two of his receivers. He did need some of those extra features, and he’d gone shopping at Best Buy. He purchased two of the VSX-45’s at a rock-bottom Best Buy sale price of $249 (now it is back up to $449.98) and had decided to take one of them back and get one VSX-90. So he called me and offered it to me at the same price so I bought the VSX-45 from him since the sale was off.

Why am I telling you this tale of receiver upgrading? Because your TV and movie watching experience—regardless of how good your TV is or your streaming box—will be A LOT better if your audio isn’t mediocre. If it is mediocre it will negatively impact your entire experience!

I’m telling this tale because installing this new receiver has been SO worth it and I wish I would have done this a year ago when we bought our ginormous new Samsung TV.

I actually believed I had a quality and powerful receiver in my Yamaha but lately, after 2-3 hours of it running it, the receiver would intermittently shut down (probably a heat issue). I knew I had to replace it at some point soon, so when Eric offered to sell me the one he was returning (for that great price) it motivated me to do it immediately.

The positives? There are many but here are the two things I cared about most:

1) Picture quality: When I installed the new AppleTV a month ago it stunned me with the picture quality. These Elite receivers are setup to manage 4K HDTV: “The VSX-45 features full-bandwidth HDMI Ultra HD Pass-through (with 4K/60p upscaling)” so the receiver is relatively “future proof” since HDTVs will most likely be 4K only within 1-2 years. These receivers “…ensure compatibility with current and upcoming 4K UltraHD sources and televisions” as well

HDCP 2.2: I’m no fan of HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection) since it impedes using devices in a home theater and, I believe, makes setting up gear a royal pain-in-the-arse, but the 2.2 standard does have higher bandwidth and it works very well

2) Audio quality: This was a surprise. Even with center-channel turned off, hearing subtle dialogue in movies and TV is MUCH better. Since my wife and I are fans of British TV—and frequently miss slang references to something as a character mutters something—we now hear it and it is crystal clear.

3) Wifi and Bluetooth: Though it also has “apps” in it like Pandora and Spotify, I use other means to stream audio and music. Still, the Bluetooth connectivity is great and I especially like the Apple Airplay capability, especially since we all have iPhones and iPads.

The negatives? There are several but here are the highlights:

  • Setup: Pioneer has smartphone apps that supposedly make it easy to setup. I’ve done dozens of complex setups and I’ll tell you this: Setting up this receiver was NOT straightforward! Plus, if you don’t use the included CD to use a computer to perform the setup, the PDF manual is not included in the box. Fortunately it is online and I put it in my “Manuals and Installers” Dropbox folder where I keep PDF manuals for all of my gear.
  • Remote Options: There are so many options on this remote that, without study and practice, it is very easy to inadvertently make a selection and then spend A LOT of time trying to figure out how to get a signal back.
  • Default settings: Out of the box the default speaker settings assume a center channel and surround sound speakers. If you don’t have a center channel speaker, or it isn’t connected like in my case, you’ll start to play a movie or TV show and there is no voice. Took too much time to figure that one out and is illustrative of the complexity with this receiver.

Still, the picture and audio quality more than make up for the negatives. So if you buy that new TV, upgrade your streaming device (e.g., AppleTV; Roku; Chromecast) don’t forget your receiver and, perhaps, your speakers. It makes such a huge difference in our overall TV and movie watching experience that I’m kicking myself I didn’t do it earlier.

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  1. Karen on December 11, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I’ll have to consult you when I have to upgrade my surround sound speaker system requires a mega receiver to power the speakers – but when the door bell rings in a show/movie people think it’s my doorbell and glass breaking etc. Sound has been dumbed down from what I like! Karen

  2. Steve Borsch on December 12, 2015 at 9:52 am

    One thing I didn’t mention was the included soundfield calibration microphone that you can set up and optimize the sound for your home theater…instead of just one that is generic for everyone.

    As mentioned, the setup is relatively technical so it always pays to, perhaps, use a home audio install company or Best Buy’s home theater geeks to help you set it up and optimize it.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.