One of the most common family room upgrades you can make these days is to connect your multimedia devices to a home theater system. And, increasingly, the modern home theater is going digital. This makes sense because many of the devices you connect to your home theater have digital output. The HDMI standard dominates because you get all of the high-definition video and surround sound digital goodness with just one connecting wire. (Or perhaps you can go wireless, if you have read our past Geek Gift Guide reviews.)

The Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver is a good example of a digital-friendly receiver, with a multitude of features and a moderate price that makes it a good choice for someone looking for a new receiver that can handle input from many devices.


  • Product: Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver
  • Company: Pioneer Electronics
  • Dimensions:
    • W x H x D (inches): 16.55 x 6.23 x 13.71
    • Weight: 22.25 pounds
  • Power:
    • Channels: 7.1
    • Power Output Per Channel (20Hz-20kHz, .08%THD@8ohm): 80
    • Power Output Per Channel (1kHz@8ohm): 110
    • Power Output Per Channel (1kHz@6ohm): 125
  • Connectivity:
    • HDMI Input / Output: 6 In / 1 Out
    • Bluetooth Adapter Port: Optional AS-BT200 or AS-BT100
    • Component Video Input / Output: 2 In (Assignable)
    • Composite A/V Input / Output: 5 In / 1 Out
    • iPod/ iPhone / iPad: Yes (USB+V)
    • Front USB Memory Input: Yes
    • Ethernet Input: Yes
    • Wireless LAN USB Input: No
    • SIRIUS Satellite Ready: Yes
    • Analog Audio Inputs / Output: 2 In / 1 Out
    • Digital Inputs / Output: 4 In
    • Pre-Amp Output: 0.1 ch (SW)
    • Headphone Output: Yes
    • Front A/V Inputs: USB / AV Inputs
    • AM/FM Presets: 63 Preset AM / FM Tuner
  • Cost: $549 on Amazon currently, but we purchased the receiver on sale a month ago for $349, so shop around for the best price.

What I like

  • Number of connections: In a typical modern family home, at least in the U.S., you are likely to have a computer, a gaming console, a Roku box, and a Blu-Ray player or devices similar to these, all vying for a connection to the big screen LCD television. With the Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver, you can connect all of those devices and a few more to a single receiver with video output to the television and a 7.1 surround speaker system.
  • HDMI upscaling: The VSX-1020-K will upscale lower resolution input to 1080p output automatically.
  • Listening modes: One of the most impressive things about the Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver is the number of listening modes. There are several Dolby Surround Sound modes, as well as Direct and Advanced listening modes. The audio processing required for a game is very different than the processing required for classical music.
  • iPhone / iPod certified: You can connect an iPhone or iPod to the Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver, and the receiver remote will switch to a mode that allows you to control the iPod as if you were holding it in your hand. A small LED panel on the receiver tells you what part of the iPod interface you are working with.

What I don’t like

  • Wires: One of our themes for this year’s Geek Gift Guide is the wireless living room, but we have come to the conclusion that the wireless ideal is still a couple of years away. You will have to use speaker wire to connect your components even if you are using “wireless” speakers systems like the Polk Audio F/X Wireless Surround speaker system.
  • Complicated setup: This is one of my pet peeves — I don’t understand why receiver manufacturers have not adopted a simplified instruction system for audio components. A consistent color-coded system for determining how the multitude of wires should connect would make these systems so much more accessible. As it stands now, you must have a lot of engineering aptitude to get all of the wires connected the way they are supposed to be.
  • Confusing remote: The remote that comes with the Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver works well enough, but the layout is very confusing. I found myself searching in vain several times for the right button to open the right menu that would eventually lead me to the right setting.

Bottom line

The Pioneer VSX-1020-K 7.1 Home Theater Receiver is relatively inexpensive, especially if you wait for a sale. This makes it a fine receiver for a family with a limited budget. With connections for up to six HDMI inputs, you will be hard-pressed to find a more capable inexpensive multimedia-driver for your total entertainment system.

However, keep in mind that this is not a receiver you can set up on Christmas morning before you head over to the family dinner party. The setup takes time and effort and more than a little frustration, so prepare to spend a weekend getting everything just the way you want it. But, after all, this is about gifts that geeks would enjoy, and a weekend project involving a sophisticated multimedia receiver would seem to easily meet that criteria.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: ***
  • Geek factor: *****
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ****

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For more reviews of tech gadgets, gizmos, games, and books, download the PDF of TechRepublic’s Geek Gift Guide 2011.