Onkyo TX-SR875 Surround Sound Receiver Page 3
Using the HD HQV Benchmark high-definition Blu-ray test disc, the processor properly deinterlaced a 1080i source to 1080p, but did not compensate for 3/2 pulldown.
As for resolution at the various upconversions listed above, I could present you here with the intimate details I've scribbled on 11 pages of notes covering these tests alone. But that might just inspire a pitchfork and torch parade. The bottom line, however, is this: The Onkyo's video processor upconverted at least as well as the video processors in the Sony and JVC projectors I used in my tests, or any upconverting player I have on hand. This was true on both test patterns and real program material.
In most cases you will have a choice of upconversion settings for two devices—player and receiver—and a display that can accept and scale, if necessary, a variety of input resolutions. So how should you set the video processors in the player and Onkyo? It's always a good idea to begin by setting the output of the Onkyo's video processor to the resolution of your display and the output of the player or other source to the native resolution of the program material.
But this will not always be convenient, particularly with an HD DVD or Blu-ray player that can play discs with various resolutions. Some such players do not offer a "native" option but require that you switch manually between, say, 480i and 1080p. With such a player you may have to experiment with different settings to find the combination of performance and convenience that suits you best. Also, many players do not offer 480i over HDMI. In that case, all bets are off and you will need to check other settings, though 480p from the player is a good place to start. With the Samsung BD-P1200 player and the Sony VPL-AW15 720p LCD projector, for example, 480p from the player and 720p from the Onkyo's processor produced a sharper image than any other combination I tried.
The Onkyo's video circuits will also pass 1080p/24 HD sources when set for either a 1080p output or in Through mode.
Video Cross Conversion
When I cross converted a 480i component input into a 1080p HDMI output from the Onkyo there was a slight but noticeable loss of resolution. The THX recommendation (printed in the owner's manual) is to avoid cross conversion if you want to prevent any degradation. It's a valid position, but for average quality component sources, it's worth trying if you need the convenience of a single connection to your display.
But keep in mind that a single connection from the receiver to the display eliminates the option to make separate video adjustments for each source—a feature now offered on many video displays. There are no video controls on the Onkyo.
I did virtually all of my listening using a manual setup, foregoing any equalization or tone controls, to get a handle on the basic sound quality of the receiver without any tweaks apart from simple level and distance settings. All of my movie sound listening was through an HDMI connection.
There was a lot to like and very little to complain about. The only characteristic of the Onkyo that really annoyed me was that its audio didn't come on until a few seconds after the image locked in. This could result in a startling blast of sound. If you're familiar with the MGM promo, you'll know what I mean when I say I jumped out of my chair a couple of times as the sound clicked on abruptly just as the promo reached its loudest point. The same thing occurred when I skipped chapters.
The Onkyo's sound did tend a bit to brightness, though perhaps it would be more correct to say that it did not suffer sources with exaggerated highs gracefully, particularly at high playback levels. The issue was more evident on soundtracks that were bright to begin with. The Re-EQ function helped here, though for me it tended to roll off the upper highs a bit more than I like.
On the other hand, it just might be that as I've become more accustomed to the new, higher resolution soundtracks I've grown less tolerant of all but the best examples of conventional Dolby Digital. In any event, the highs from Denon's just-discontinued AVR-4306 receiver were a bit smoother and sweeter than the Onkyo's, though the Denon's midbass proved a bit too rich for my current system. Richness through the midbass and lower midrange can affect how the highs are perceived.
When I used the Onkyo from its preamp outputs into an Anthem Statement P5 power amp, the sound was also smoother and more relaxed. But the P5 is an expensive add-on ($5,000) with more than twice the Onkyo's power, so that was no surprise.
But the more I listened to the Onkyo doing it all on its own, the more it impressed me. It did as fine a job as any front-end I've used in carving out a believable soundstage, with solid imaging, natural-sounding dialogue, a well-balanced treatment of music and effects and, where available, active surrounds.
The Last Samurai on HD DVD is an example of a soundtrack that sounds a little ragged on the Onkyo, with music that's zingy in the loud bits and gunfire that sounds a little too cutting. It did sound a little better when I added the Anthem amp, but even that amp couldn't turn this soundtrack into a jewel.
On the other hand, the uncompressed multichannel PCM track on Hellboy (Blu-ray) sounded spectacular on the Onkyo. Yes, it's a shade bright in the loudest bits, particularly in the early shoot-em-up as Rasputin (who knew he was a vacuum tube guy?) is opening a portal to somewhere or other. But it's hugely enveloping and dynamic on the Onkyo.
Hellboy also has some of the most amazing bass you'll hear on any soundtrack. It's almost too much, but also far to much fun to turn down! In fact, for reasons I'm still scratching my head over, the bass through the Onkyo with its own amps was more powerful than when I used the Anthem amp from the Onkyo's preamp outputs. Puzzling, because in both cases most of that bass was coming from the self-powered Revel subwoofer!
The Patriot has another terrific, uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Here, John Williams' music score (recorded by star music recording engineer Shawn Murphy) is a big part of the show, and it sounded outstanding through the Onkyo. On this soundtrack even the gun- and cannon-fire sounded clean and realistic without turning raw. Of course, none of us have ever been in the middle of musket and cannon battles, but at least they sounded convincingly real!
As I've noted many times before, animated films often have some of the best soundtracks around, and two of them are on recent, not particularly well-received Disney computer animated flicks: Chicken Little and The Wild. Neither film will keep the folks at Pixar awake nights, but they are fun and, more to the point here, have superbly clean, varied, and flat-out stunning uncompressed PCM soundtracks. Both make extensive use of pop song underscoring, and with the occasional exception the music sounds terrific. So do the effects; Chicken Little even turns into an alien invasion (!), with a raucous but clean sound mix that was an unexpected treat. The Wild throws in a little bit of everything, too, from a volcano exploding to the near collision of a tugboat with a huge cargo ship.
The Onkyo handled all of this in stride, making it easy for me to switch from audio critic mode movie fan. I could simply enjoy the films without being distracted by audio problems. And isn't that the whole point?
All of my music listening was done via a direct coaxial digital connection to the receiver. I did compare the two-channel Pure Audio and Stereo settings and found that the sound was perhaps a smidgen sweeter on the top end in Pure Audio. But I didn't feel that this advantage came close to compensating for the loss of bass extension that results from muting the subwoofer, which is not engaged in Pure Audio. All of the following observations about two-channel playback, therefore, were made in the Stereo mode.