Space Saver

Most home-theater geeks prefer to buy separate components in order to optimize the performance of each one and allow them to be swapped out independently for repair or upgrade. But what if you don't have enough space to accommodate all those separate devices? Denon's answer is the new S-5BD, which combines a full-featured Blu-ray player and AVR into one compact package.

The Blu-ray player supports Profile 2.0 (BD-Live) and can output 1080p/24 as well as upscale DVDs to 1080p via the unit's HDMI 1.4 output—that's right, 1.4. The S-5BD is one of the first products with that version of HDMI, including support for the Audio Return Channel, which allows audio to be sent "upstream" from the TV to the receiver. Of course, the unit can decode all the latest audio formats, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and its firmware can be updated online via the Ethernet connection, though according to Denon, an upgrade to 3D Blu-ray capability is not possible.

The 2-zone receiver provides five channels of amplification (75Wpc into 4Ω) with preouts for a subwoofer, two extra channels for 7.1, and two channels for a remote zone along with composite video for that zone, which can be sent the signal from a different source than the main zone. You can even use two amplifier channels for the second zone, leaving 3.1 channels in the main zone.

Speaking of sources, the S-5BD offers three HDMI 1.4 inputs (one on the front), one S-video input, two L/R analog-audio inputs, two optical digital-audio inputs, and one coax digital-audio input. Also available is a USB port for use with an iPod and an SD-card slot, both on the front panel behind cool curved doors at the corners.

The two extra preout channels for 7.1 operation can be configured as back surrounds or front-height channels using Dolby Pro Logic IIz. Also included is Audyssey MultEQ automatic room correction and Dynamic Volume/EQ, which evens out disruptive level changes and compensates for changes in tonal balance at different volumes. (Interestingly, Denon did not incorporate Audyssey DSX, opting for Dolby Pro Logic IIz to provide the front-height channels instead.) Finally, Denon's own AL24 processing is designed to restore the original audio waveform before it was digitized.

I've always appreciated the performance and build quality of Denon products, so I have little doubt that the S-5BD will provide excellent results when it's released in March for $1800. In fact, the company claims that the player has many of the same technologies and features as its $4500 DVD-A1UDCI Blu-ray player. Yes, the receiver section has fewer inputs than a standalone AVR, but it's very flexible and packed with useful features, and it saves considerable space in cramped quarters. If that describes your situation, I'd bet it's worth checking out.