Sherwood R-904N A/V Receiver

Price: $600 At A Glance: Slim A/V receiver with energy-saving Class D amplification • Variety of streaming content via VuNow and PlayOn • Dolby Volume low-volume listening mode

Internet in a Boxx

As networked media features steadily infiltrate HDTVs, Blu-ray players, set-top boxes, and other audio/video products, streaming may be upstaging 3D as the must-have technology. The question is how to get streaming into your system. Do you want your choice of HDTV to hinge on streaming features—as opposed to, say, picture quality? While that may be the ideal solution for some, others will seek ways of smuggling streaming into their racks via smaller purchases such as Blu-ray players, set-top boxes—or A/V receivers, like the Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx. At $650, it delivers a huge array of networked media features for a nice price.

Pick the White One
The R-904N is available in either black or white. I received the snazzy white version and admired its sexy curved sides. In lieu of a volume knob, it has flat touch-sensitive backlit blue buttons on the front panel’s right side: two for volume, two to cycle among surround modes, and one to select stereo. Below them are mini-jacks for USB, line input, headphones, and a setup microphone.

On the other side of the front panel is a large power button that glows blue for on and orange for standby. While it can power the unit down entirely, you’ll get more use out of the separate on/standby control, located below in a row of four metal pinhead buttons. The other buttons include A/V or audio input select and a control that shuts down the speakers.

Inside a wide horizontal indentation, an extremely bright blue LED stripe shines down onto the pinhead buttons and illuminates them, a neat bit of showmanship. The stripe continues across the front panel to underscore the white fluorescent display. A Dimmer button on the remote cuts the blue stripe and reduces the display’s brightness to something minimal but readable in the dark.

The remote is not impressive. Sherwood has made some attempt to clear space around the up/down and left/right navigation keys. Some buttons are differentiated by color, although the distinction between black and dark gray is impossible to see in low-light conditions. There is no backlighting. The numeric keys are dual-purposed to act as source selectors, which is an odd and nonintuitive arrangement.

This product has Class D amplifiers using the TI Oasis chipset. Class D amps dissipate less energy in the form of heat than the Class AB type that’s more prevalent in AVRs, making them more energy efficient. The amps, nominally rated at 100 watts times seven, can support 4-ohm loads.

Connectivity includes a notable omission: 3D capability. The HDMI version is 1.3 (three in, one out). A firmware upgrade can bring the product into 3D territory, but it can be performed only by the company, not the home user. iPod compatibility comes via dock.

While the system doesn’t apply video processing to incoming signals, the VuNow networked media function supports four resolutions for its video content: 720p/60, 480p/60, 720p/50, and 576p/50.

To use the One Touch Automatic Speaker Setup, I had to keep a sharp eye on the front-panel display because the auto setup didn’t operate through the onscreen display. (The OSD did operate for network-related media playing functions.) The auto setup correctly detected my speakers as large, although I changed them to small and selected an 80-Hz crossover, per my standard procedure. Speaker distances were accurate within a few inches. Speaker levels were set as I’d expect across the front and a little lower in back, so I duly readjusted them.

Networked A/V functions arrive via the up-and-coming VuNow from Verismo Networks. At press time, Sherwood was the only A/V receiver maker to feature VuNow. Other products with VuNow include the Netgear EVA2000 media player. Verismo is also interested in partnering with TV makers, cable operators, Telcos, and Internet service providers, according to a press release dated around the time this review was written.

VuNow is DLNA compliant, but not certified, a process that would require testing and payment. The DLNA compatibility is to version 1.0, not the newer 1.5. The latter would allow Windows 7 “plays to” functionality and would allow content to be selected by both client and server, as opposed to just the client.

Associated gear included five Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.4 speakers, a Paradigm Seismic 110 sub (with its EQ shut off), and an OPPO BDP-83SE universal disc player.

Sherwood America
(800) 962-3203