Budget home theater receivers typically don't offer as much "presence" as more expensive options (i.e., low frequency sound effects won't rattle the floorboards quite as fiercely), and most eschew advanced features to keep the price down. But low-cost receivers can still deliver a pretty big bang for relatively few bucks.
The best budget receiver we spotted is the Yamaha RX-V473's (covered under Best Home Theater Receivers) little brother, the 5.1-channel Yamaha RX-V373 (*Est. $250). The Yamaha RX-V373 omits streaming Internet functionality, but includes a front-side USB port for iPod/iPhone support and the ability to play music files from a flash drive. This sturdy 100 watt-per-channel system sounds solid, includes support for the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio high-definition (lossless) audio formats.
Though there are no built-in video processing features, it can pass video through unharmed up to 4K resolutions. An automated speaker setup option is a very nice feature for a receiver in this price range. Though the receiver has only four HDMI inputs, experts say the overall number of connections is impressive. If you're looking for a basic home theater receiver, it's hard to top the Yamaha RX-V373.
The Sony STR-DH520 (*Est. $250) is one of the cheapest ways to get 7.1-channel surround sound, and it can still output more than 100 watts per channel. The trade-off? The audio performance falls short of some other home theater receivers. PCWorld (Australia)'s Campbell Simpson, for example, says the audio performs well enough, but he labels the STR-DH520 as "competent." Setup can be frustrating; the STR-DH520 lacks any automatic speaker equalization, and its on-screen interface only works with certain Sony TVs.
The 5.1-channel Pioneer VSX-822-K (*Est. $380) is a little less beefy, pumping out 80 watts per channel, by comparison. Still, reviewers say it sounds great, with all the digital audio format support and HDMI-friendly features standard to mainstream receivers. The receiver also has a ton of connections, automated speaker calibration, Internet radio options galore and both USB and AirPlay support for iOS devices. On the downside, the Pioneer VSX-822-K is expensive for the budget category, is fairly large and -- like the other basic/budget home theater receivers covered here -- lacks any video processing features.