For the past six years I've been using a Sony DAV-S300 home theater system. At the time I bought it I needed a TV, too, so the system was affordable and it seemed reasonably priced for what I got (amp, DVD player, and a 5.1 speaker setup). The system also stood out from the crowd at the time by offering DTS decoding. For apartment living it had plenty of power—enough to make a hyper-sensitive past neighbor quite upset—and the sound was acceptable. I mainly used it to watch movies, as my music is stored on my computer which has a separate set of speakers.
Over the past six months or so the DVD player has become increasingly finicky, frequently erring out and refusing to play Netflix DVDs. Recalibrating the lens and cleaning it with a lens cleaning brush helped a little, but eventually it refused to play anything but the most pristine DVDs. This was quite frustrating, as it left me with the option of either watching movies on my laptop, or plugging my laptop into my TV for a little bigger picture. Neither option would let me use the 5.1 speaker setup on the S300, and watching movies at home really lacks a lot without the 5.1.
So, this past weekend I'd finally had enough frustration and decided it was time to fix the issue. I would have preferred to just get an inexpensive DVD player, but there weren't enough Toslink inputs on the Sony to allow for both my DIRECTV receiver and another DVD player to be connected at the same time. It looked like I'd need to completely replace the S300 with an A/V receiver and a separate DVD player.
I did a lot of research on mid-line A/V receivers, looking closely at the Yamaha RX-V1600, the Onkyo TX-SR803, and the Denon AVR-2807. (I also had a quick peek at the Harmon Kardon AVR-645.) Yamaha doesn't seem to have good retail distribution of its RX line, and Onkyo's website has a paucity of information (you can't even download the owner's manual yet). The Harmon Kardon looks nice, but it was just released and I haven't heard enough reviews to know if they got everything implemented correctly or not.
Compared with the rest, Denon's website has plenty of information (including downloadable owners manuals), the unit is available at my local home theater chain (Magnolia), and enough folks have been using them long enough to have discovered all the quirks. Additionally, Denon's DVD-1920 DVD/SACD player has been well received and with its support for HDMI output (just like the receiver) it'll grow with me once I'm compelled to upgrade to HD.
After a trip up to San Francisco to the closest store with both units in stock, a stop by the Palo Alto store to get the cables I needed that weren't in stock in San Francisco, and then a separate trip to the San Jose store to exchange them for longer cables (sigh!), I was all set to go. I re-used the speakers from the Sony setup, which meant I had to cut off the Sony proprietary speaker wire connectors to get the bare leads, and I labeled them for polarity and location.
Problem #1: The Sony subwoofer is an unpowered design, but the receiver assumes that the sub is powered and provides only a line level output for it. I decided to hook it up to the center channel and force the center channel to play at all times. This gives me a little bass, but it's pretty weak. I don't want to hook the sub up to just the left or right front channel as it won't get all the bass signal in stereo situations. I don't think I can hook the sub up to both L and R channels simultaneously, either, without bad things happening to the speaker and/or amp. I think I can adjust the equalization curve for individual speakers, plus I know I can adjust the cutoff frequency, so I'll dork with those settings for a while and see what kind of improvements I can get.
Problem #2: The owner's manual is atrocious! Of course, I knew that in advance since Denon has them as PDFs for downloading from their website, but goodness! I think I was better off ignoring the manual and doing things by trial and error. I think I've got all the settings where I want them now, but I'll probably continue to tweak and try things for a few weeks to come.
Once all the cable connections were done I used the included microphone to run through the audio setup program. Denon incorporated the Audyssey MultiEQ XT capability that listens to a series of test patterns from each speaker from six different locations throughout the room. From these measurements it develops an acoustical model and an equalization curve that corrects for both time and frequency response problems. This is pretty slick functionality that really helps to compensate for odd room acoustics.
Now for the good news: The system looks wonderful! I'm using component connections between the DVD, the receiver, and the TV. This is in contrast to the s-video connections I used with the previous system. Whether it is just the connections, the quality of the DVD processing, or (most likely) both, the picture is sharper, clearer, more saturated and more detailed than ever. Even the DIRECTV output (which is still s-video) seems sharper.
The audio while watching video, even with the minimal bass, is pretty good. It is a definite improvement when watching DTS-encoded DVDs—I was able to hear details in The Fellowship of the Ring that I wasn't able to hear with the previous system, and the dialog seems clearer as well. Music, because of the poor bass from the Sony speakers, is pretty mediocre. I'll have to continue to rely on my computer's speaker system until I get a proper sub.
In all, it was a lot of money to spend just to watch DVDs—and it looks like I'll need to buy a real sub sometime in the future to get the most out of the system. That disappointment aside, however, it looks like I have a good system that should last longer than the Sony one.