Sony STR-DA5200ES AV Receiver Page 2
The 5200ES upconverted analog component 480i signals from my Pioneer Elite DV-45A DVD player to 480p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p via the receiver's HDMI output. While the manual and the front panel indicate it will also transcode a 480i analog video signal to HDMI without scaling, I did not find that to be the case. At a bare minimum, the signal is apparently deinterlaced and transcoded to 480p HDMI.
Because of the above component-to-component upconversion limitations, and because the Sony does not upconvert HDMI at all, I could only test the quality of the video processing by using a 480i component source and transcoding and upconverting it to a higher resolution HDMI output. When I did this using the film test on the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark standard definition DVD, the result looked textbook bad at all output resolutions on my JVC projector. The racetrack bleachers in this test were full of moiré patterns, indicating 3/2 pulldown processing is nowhere to be found. Although both the Denon 4806CI and Sony STR-DA5200ES use Faroudja DCDi chipsets, something in Sony's implementation (perhaps related to how the transcoding from component to HDMI operates in conjunction with the Faroudja scaler) made the receiver's video processing clearly substandard when it comes to recognizing film content.
The Sony did sail through the jaggies tests. But with tests revealing of image detail, I often preferred a direct component feed to the display rather than the upconverted HDMI feed from the 5200ES.
If you're heavily into standard definition video, the three times more expensive Denon 4806CI will do a much better job than the Sony, but the Sony is certainly serviceable. And compared to the way the Pioneer Elite VSX-84TXSi converted analog inputs to its HDMI output, the Sony is leagues ahead.
It's a Setup
Sony should get some credit for coming up with a graphical user interface instead of the typical text base setup menu system found on most receivers- the setup menu is apparently based on Sony's "Cross Media Bar" interface, which is used in the PS3 and other current Sony components. But they're not going to get that credit from me. I found the only consistent method for getting to the setup screens to first press Receiver, then On Screen and then Menu. While Sony claims leaving the GUI engaged means you only need to press the Menu button, I found the process very inconsistent and frustrating.
As with most modern receivers, the 5200ES offers fully automated setup. The process is simple enough. Sony's Digital Cinema Auto Calibration-2 system uses a microphone (included—oddly, it's a two-channel job) together with frequency pulses to determine which channels are connected, the polarity, output levels, low frequency capabilities of the connected speakers (although all "small" speakers end must share a common crossover point), the angle of the rear speakers with respect to the listening area, and the distance of each speaker from the listening position.
The auto setup also includes EQ. Three EQ settings are available: Front Reference, Engineer and Full Flat. For me, Front Reference worked best. It EQs your surrounds and center to match the characteristics of your main front channel speakers and room as best it can. The Engineer setting attempts to match your system to the Sony listening room standard. And Full Flat tries to EQ your speakers and room to produce as flat a response as possible.
The auto calibration does allow you to opt out of some steps if, for example, you want to manually set the speaker distances so as to add a bit more delay to the surround channels. But even if you leave it all up to the Sony, the whole process takes less than five minutes.
Compared to the Denon 4806CI, which asked you to take measurements from at least six different listening locations in the room so it could build a composite EQ good for most listening positions, Sony lets you measure and assign three EQ memories for three different, specific listening locations. It's an uncompromised and, I feel, a more exacting approach. And chances are, if you're holding the remote, it's always going to be set to position one – yours – with no one else in the room the wiser.
Music and Movies
I dug out some of my sweetest, most mood inspiring vinyl one Sunday morning, including Rickie Lee Jones self-titled first album. The Sony's phono stage was nicely quiet and not plagued with any hum. The many delicate details of this recording were well preserved in Analog Direct mode. Inner resolution was top notch, ringing the final bit of detail from Jones' "Last Chance Texaco." And on "Danny's All-Star Joint" the seductress Rickie Lee Jones' face popped up before my very eyes. Illusion complete I'd say.
Switching to movies, I put on Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift which is a guilty pleasure for me. After spending a week in Japan last year, courtesy of JVC, watching it on HD DVD brings back many great memories as the drifters caroused by many of the same sites I might have visited. Fortunately, we never saw anyone driving even remotely like this while we were there. Before I got the HD DVD, I watched an HBO HD rendition of the 2.35:1 film (at 1.85:1 as I recall), and the picture on the HD DVD was much better. The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, though not lossless, was pretty amazing in its own right. Dialog, in particular, through the Sony was crystalline, and sound effects rendered with an ease that you wouldn't normally expect in such an affordable receiver.
I only own one Dolby TrueHD disc, Universal's End of Days on HD DVD. So I used that to see how well the Sony was able to reveal differences between the Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack and the lossless TrueHD track. Chapter 5 gives us city street sounds, helicopters and some Terminator 2 type thumping. Besides the fact that the True HD sounds a few db louder than the standard DD+ soundtrack, there's a greater level of detail. The sound of the helicopter, for instance, after Arnold says "Ve're esposed" is more contiguous, its undercurrent never completely retreating into the general morass of sound. Later, in chapter 13, the record of Nat King Cole playing softly in the background to the conversation between Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger) and Satan (Gabriel Byrne) illustrated the Sony's ability to reveal good soundstage depth.
In spite of the fact that the Sony was probably working hard to drive my Martin Logan speakers, it didn't sound compressed or bright, two of the tell-tale signs that all is not well in Oz. I deliberately cranked things up, and the amplification held together very well. The Sony should have absolutely no problem driving even the most difficult home theater speaker systems. Just give it some room to breathe because it does throw off some heat.
I enjoyed a lot of HD programming courtesy HDNet via my HD DVR, as well as the entire season 3 of Roswell, upconverted from standard DVD via the V, Inc. Bravo D2. The 5200ES rarely sounded strident nor stressed. In fact, sound quality was on par with what I'd have expected from receivers costing significantly more a few years ago. That means you won't confuse it with tube or Mosfet amplification, but it sounds reasonably accurate, if a bit dry at times. At the top of the frequency range, the sound was extended, adding to a heightened sense of harmonic complexity which worked very well in sustaining a soundstage in movies.
I've been a little harsh on the Sony in some areas, notably lackluster video processing of standard definition video, the lack of an OSD and a GUI that leaves me cold. But in every other area – and certainly these are the areas that really count – Sony should be justifiably proud. From the detailed, crisp and largely transparent phonostage, to its excellent surround sound processing and amplification, the Sony accomplishes miracles for its grand-and-a-half asking price. Throw in three HDMI (1.2a) inputs and a very un-stingy array of component and digital audio inputs, a coupla three zones (and an extra remote just for them), and the Sony is a great deal that should keep you in home theater for years.
Good sound, able to drive difficult speaker loads
My turntable and I thank you
Plenty of digital audio and HDMI inputs
GUI fine for setup, but inconsistent for normal operations
Analog to digital video conversion held back a year
USB connection "does not recognize" number one portable player in the marketplace!