Real World Receivers

The "trickle-down" economics theory didn't work, but it sure seems to describe what's happening in the world of home theater electronics. Take one of the latest multichannel refinements, those 6.1- and 7.1-channel surround modes that require adding one (or two) back surround speakers to the standard five-speaker-plus-subwoofer array. A few short months ago, a powered back surround output was something you'd find only on high-end receivers costing well north of $1,000. Thanks to technological trickle-down, however, all three receivers in this comparison, none selling for more than a kilobuck, have one.

Denon's AVR-2802 ($799), Pioneer's VSX-D850S ($685), and Sony's STR-DB1070 ($1,000) all seem clearly targeted toward real-world home theater shoppers, not those A/V fanatics, God love 'em, who'd rather upgrade their gear than eat. These are receivers for people who are serious about surround sound but also care about other things, like video quality - or the well-being of their cars, homes, and children. Still, it's a good thing the fanatics exist, because refinements only they could imagine paying big bucks for last year have become available at more reasonable prices this year, and if past trends hold, they'll appear in still more basic, entry-level gear next year.

All three receivers have many features and functions in common, including similar power ratings, component-video switching, preprogrammed/learning system remote controls, basic multiroom capabilities, and more. Most of those commonalties are left to the "Features and Specs" table on page 52, but a few points are worth highlighting.

It's interesting to note that all three receivers provide officially sanctioned DTS-ES 6.1-channel decoding for matrixed DTS-ES soundtracks on DVDs - the Denon even decodes DTS-ES Discrete, in which the mono back surround channel is encoded as a discrete signal (as well as being matrixed onto the left/right surround channels for compatibility with DTS-ES Matrix decoders). All three also decode Dolby Digital Surround EX 6.1-channel recordings, but none offers the luxury of an official Dolby/THX license. Instead, they use generic matrix-decoding techniques. While each receiver amplifies only a single back surround output, all three have dual preamp outputs for this channel so you can, if you prefer, drive two speakers with an outboard power amp.

Features & Specs In The Lab