News & Opinion

Why 2020-21 is a Terrible Time to Buy an AV Receiver

We all can agree that 2020 is a dumpster fire of a year. Next year isn’t looking much better. No matter your political leanings or understanding of basic statistics, you’d have to look pretty far back to find a year that might even compete. To add the cherry on top of this year, it is a terrible year to buy an AV receiver.

HDMI 2.1 Has Arrived…Poorly

If you shop for a receiver in 2020, you’ll find many touting the latest HDMI 2.1 connections. HDMI 2.1 promises more bandwidth supporting 8k60hz or 4k120hz resolution, dynamic HDR, eARC, VRR, and a bunch of other stuff. You can read it all here for yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the acronyms. Most of that stuff doesn’t work right now.

Want examples? How about the Sony TVs that are labeled “Ready for PS5” needing a firmware update to implement only SOME of the HDMI 2.1 features. How about passive certified HDMI 2.1 compatible cables topping out at 8 feet. And that is just for a start. It gets worse.

No Receiver on the Market Currently does HDMI 2.1 Right

Denon and Marantz have released receivers with a single HDMI 2.1 input. That’s right, one. So if you are a gamer and plan on buying both the PS5 and XBox Series X, you’ll have to choose which gets the “good” input. Yamaha has done better with their receivers including up to three inputs. But don’t worry about deciding which to buy, both are busted.

The bug affects the chips directly, and not the receiver brand specifically. It will deliver a black screen when the receiver tries to pass through the highest resolutions. The solution from the manufactures? Turn down the resolution.

Yeah…we don’t want to do that.

New Features are Causing… Problems

I mentioned the acronyms above and that you might not recognize all of them (or you might, it isn’t a competition, Chad). Don’t feel bad. Many of these features are brand new, and manufacturers are having a hard time figuring out how to implement them in a way that makes sense to the customer.

Take the Apple TV 4k for example. When setting up the device, if it detects that you have a Dolby Vision capable display, it will prompt you to agree that you want Dolby Vision turned on. Dolby Vision is the latest and greatest HDR (High Dynamic Range) feature. You might have bought the display simply because it has Dolby Vision. You would say yes. I would say yes. We would all say yes.

We would all be wrong.

If you say yes, the Apple TV 4k will put everything into Dolby Vision, even if it wasn’t encoded that way. No, the proper setting is to set it to the LOWEST setting. When it detects a Dolby Vision (or any other type of ) signal, it will switch into the proper format. This gives you the content as it was encoded. Clear as mud? My point exactly.

With all these new features being introduced, manufactures are most interested in getting them into their devices. The interface becomes an afterthought. In a few years, they’ll get it figured out. But for now, we are stuck with these weird options and implementations.

This is Nothing New

When new features come out, specifically a big change like HDMI 2.1, VRR, HDR, and others, expect the industry to both rush to get them into their devices and to do it poorly. It happens all the time. Usually, we just tell you not to worry about it and wait until next year. But with the recent fire at the AKM Factory, that is becoming more of an issue. Next year (and even the year after that), we may see increased prices and reduced inventory of many devices, including receivers.

HDMI 2.1 may have made this year a good year to skip buying a receiver, but the rest of it makes it a hard pass. We just hope that next year will be better—for receiver purchasers and everyone else.

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