...or "Can I buy a receiver for $100?"
dialupinternetuser asked me to help choose a cheap receiver and/or amplifier for around $100. It's not the first time I've been asked to do this, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I decided to post my answer in more general thread. While it's possible to find a receiver at just a little over that price by looking on eBay (try this search for example), new receivers basically start at $200. I've don some digging around for dialup and come up with a few options in one of three broad classes:
Option 1. Next-gen, 5.1 surround receivers (bottom of the line)
1st choice: Yamaha HTR-6130 ($200 - $230)
2nd choice: Sony STR-DG520 ($200)
Wildcard: Onkyo TX-SRxx6 (???) - My spidey sense tells me that Onkyo might be coming out with a competitor at this price point some time this year. Coming in below the Onkyo TX-SR506 ($379). My guess is that it will be called the Onkyo TX-SR306 and will sell for $200.
This is probably the area that I would recommend buying a receiver. It'll cost you a firm $200, but you're getting quite a bit of future proofing and technology at this price point. These new 5.1 receivers have 2 x HDMI pass-through inputs (for Blu-ray and other new HD sources) and several component video inputs (Sony has 2, and Yamaha has 3) to support things like DVD players and game consoles. They also have 3 digital audio inputs. I would've like to have seen 4 digital audio inputs, and a 3rd component input on the Sony. They are rated for 100 W / channel, but I would have to seen them in action to believe it. FYI: You will not get transcoding of the component video inputs to the HDMI output on these models. You have to pay a little more for that feature.
Option 2. Previous-gen, 5.1 surround receivers
1st choice: Yamaha RX-V361 ($100 - $200) (aka Yamaha HTR-6030)
2nd choice: Onkyo TX-SR304 ($100 - $200)
Both of these receivers are previous generation 5.1 receivers with 3 x component video inputs and 3 x digital audio inputs (S/PDIF or co-axial) with around 5 analog stereo inputs. These are a good choice if you've a few sources with component video and digital like a DVD player, Xbox 360, and a cable box and you want a clean way to hook them up to your TV. These receivers have a $200 list price, or so but I'm sure you could find them for a little over a $100 refurbished, used, or on ebay/craig's list. The audio power in these receivers may leave some to be desired. They are rated for around 65 - 100 W per channel, but I doubt that they can deliver that.
Option 3. Analog, stereo integrated amplifiers
1st choice: Onkyo TX-8222 ($100 - $150)
2nd choice (but not really): Sony STR-DE197 ($100 - $200)
These are basically old school stereo integrated amplifiers (amp + AM/FM tuner = integrated amp) with analog RCA stereo inputs (you know, the red and white thingies) and hookup for 2 sets of stereo speakers. Simple. Clean. Obsolete. You don't get any digital goodness..or video for that matter. It's what used to be called a "stereo" before all this 1080p/HDTV/HDMI/Blu-ray/dts/dolby/surround sound mess began. The Onkyo is by far and away the better choice between these two receivers. Onkyo has a refurbished one in stock online for $120. I'd say consider Yamaha RX-397 (or other older Yamaha amps) as well if you can find one on the cheap.