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 quiet 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 5.1-channel Yamaha RX-V375 (Est. $250) is the best budget receiver we've spotted, and it's the successor to last year's pick, the Yamaha RX-V373. The RX-V375 omits Internet and networking features altogether, but includes a front-facing USB input for iPod/iPhone support and the ability to play music files from a flash drive. This 100 watt-per-channel system offers solid audio quality -- a bit more impressive than its price would suggest -- and includes support for 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/UltraHD resolutions. Experts and owners say that the automatic speaker calibration function works quite well, though advanced users will want to fine-tune speaker levels afterwards. While the receiver has only four HDMI inputs, the RX-V375 hosts an impressive range of connectivity overall. The RX-V375 makes an excellent -- and affordable -- starting point for any entry-level home theater setup.
The 5.1-channel Pioneer VSX-823-K (Est. $300) is another strong choice in this price category. Unlike the RX-V375, this receiver sports network connectivity via wired Ethernet, but there's no built-in Wi-Fi. If you need Wi-Fi connectivity, it's available via an optional Wi-Fi adapter (Est. $125) that CNET calls "unreasonably expensive." Ditto for Bluetooth. It's not built in but is available via a pricy adapter (Est. $115). Those who want to wirelessly stream from their mobile devices are not completely out of luck, however, as wireless streaming from some HTC smartphones is available via HTC Connect. There are also Apple and Android control apps that will turn your smartphone into a remote for your receiver. Those apps can also wirelessly push music stored on your mobile device to the VSX-823-K. Still, if wireless connectivity is a key concern, you're better off buying the Sony STR-DN840 (Est. $400) , which comes stocked with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and earns our nod as a terrific value among home theater receivers.
Otherwise, there's a bit to like in the Pioneer VSX-823-K. For starters, there's built-in AirPlay, which is useful if you'll be streaming music from iOS devices. There's also built-in support for web streaming from Pandora and Internet radio stations; DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compliance means you can also stream audio from a networked computer or other DLNA device. Connectivity is excellent at this price, with six HDMI inputs. CNET says that sound quality is above average for its class.