Sony STR-DG910 A/V Receiver Page 2

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The Short Form

Price: $500 / sonystyle.com / 800-222-7669
Snapshot
First time setup can be a bit complicated, but 1080p HDMI source selection and XM, iPod, and Bluetooth expandability make for in impressive feature set in this affordable receiver.
Plus
•1080p-capable HDMI inputs •Transcodes component- and composite-video to HDMI •Affordable Bluetooth, iPod-dock, and XM expansion
Minus
•Cumbersome remote and on-screen menu/display •Unintuitive setup •Real-world power a bit short of price-range competition •No second-zone outputs
Key Features
•100 watts x 7 (per channel, 8 ohms, 1% THD) •3 HDMI inputs (up to 1080p) •Converts component- and composite-video to HDMI •XM satellite radio-ready •Digital Media Port accepts Sony Network Walkman, iPod dock, or Bluetooth adapter •Automatic setup, cal, and EQ via supplied microphone •17 x 6.3 x 13.9 in; 23.4 lb Full Lab Results

MUSIC & MOVIES Commencing as always with full-range stereo, I was pleased to find this fairly modest receiver capable of surprisingly fine listening, even under close scrutiny. Playing high-quality SACD recordings (stereo-mix) revealed no prominent sonic flaws, and the DG910 offered enough two-channel power for even serious listening. Cueing up a 5.1-channel DTS disc of the Allman Brothers' classic "At the Filmore East" sets from 1971(!) yielded satisfyingly live-like levels without audible strain, though forcing the issue still closer to actual concert SPL produced a fairly marked steely quality, followed quickly by audible distortion.

Movie-soundtrack reproduction followed a similar pattern, yielding quite impressive quality via my medium-sensitivity speaker suite plus subwoofer. There was plenty of oomph for most real-world domestic use. Playback at true cinema "reference" levels was there, but I did not sense the full dynamic freedom and impact of my everyday setup, which exploits six 200-watt amplifier channels.

Kingdom of Heaven has all the ingredients of a great movie - except for a coherent plot, a great script, and great (or even good) performances. (Picky, picky. In Ridley Scott's defense, we can hardly expect clarity: Even the factual history of the Crusades is ridiculously tangled, with every second self-styled nobleman married to another's sister or, occasionally, his own.) But for visual and sonic spectacle, this one's aces, and the Sony's performance was well up to the task. Even in the big battle scenes - such as the great siege, which the filmmakers manfully inflated despite history's thoughtless lack of gunpowder or explosives - the DG910 had power enough to deliver all the level I would typically ask for, with good clarity and dynamic punch. But, as with music, if I asked for much more, the sound got somewhat squished and, eventually, even a smidge harsh-sounding.

The STR-DG910 includes a trio of Sony's Digital Cinema Sound DSP settings for surround and three (Hall, Live, Jazz Club) for music. None of these was particularly offensive, but I still preferred Dolby Pro Logic IIx Music/Cinema for most two-channel and surround-encoded recordings. The DG910 allows selection of low, medium, or high effect level for the proprietary modes but provides no access to the parameter adjustments found in many other receivers for the DPL II Music and DTS Neo:6 Music modes, which lessens their usefulness somewhat.

Sony sent along its Bluetooth interface for the DG910's Digital Media Port, the TDM-BT1 (about $75). This worked flawlessly with an aftermarket Bluetooth transmitter from accessory-maker Jensen (WBT420, about $25 street). The two "paired" automatically and delivered sound from a CD player that, while well short of wired-quality, was adequate for casual listening.

ERGONOMICS I found Sony's eight-component master remote simple and for the most part easy to learn. Still, as with every such, there are ergonomic quirks. To command receiver functions beyond volume and muting you must first press the remote's "Receiver" key to invoke self-rule: normal enough. But atypically, the Sony remote automatically reverts to command of the last-selected source component, which means you have to remember to press Receiver again before attempting another adjustment. This seems logical enough on its face, but the way most others handle it - letting the remote stay in its native command mode while leaving the cursor keys able to command the last source - seems better to me.

XM satellite radio worked fine with no setup beyond plugging in my XM mini-tuner gizmo and aiming the antenna generally southerly. But ongoing use is not quite as straightforward as on some other such receivers. The Sony offers no antenna signal-strength display, so aiming is strictly by trial and error (a one-time operation, to be sure). And the valuable XM on-screen display - the only way to see channel, artist, album, and track data all at once without irksome scrolling of the front-panel display - requires a maddeningly slow trip through the menus just to turn the display on and then to select the single XM screen.

BOTTOM LINE Of course, none of these niggles amounts to much compared to the simple fact that the Sony STR-DG910 A/V receiver lets you plug in a 1080p source - or three - and view it right out of the $500 box, while providing the valuable convenience of single-cable HDMI hookups. It also delivers generally fine performance, enough real-world power for most systems in modestly sized rooms, and an impressive array of extras.

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