It seems like Onkyo's home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) have always offered a winning combination of value, features, build quality, and great sound. For 2007, the current top-of-the-line HT-SR800 improves on last year's HT-S790 by adding Sirius and XM satellite compatibility, as well as Onkyo's winning Audyssey automatic speaker-calibration system. As with its past HTIBs, this big Onkyo's sound handily trumps its pricier and more stylish competitors, but the one possible stumbling block for some buyers might be the HT-SR800's bulky size: with a full-size AV receiver, seven satellite speakers, and a hefty subwoofer, the HT-SR800 is no petite virtual surround system. The receiver offers two HDMI inputs but lacks the latest and greatest conveniences found on Onkyo's standalone TX-SR605 receiver. And, of course, you have to add your own DVD player--but these days, everybody already has one. Those caveats notwithstanding, the HT-SR800 represents among the best bang for your buck you can get in the home theater space for 2007.
The Onkyo HT-SR800 comes with an AV receiver and an eight-piece (7.1-channel) satellite/subwoofer system; the system is available in black or silver. Onkyo redesigned the cosmetics of the AV receivers and speakers for the 2007 models, and we think the receiver's new look is a little cleaner and better organized than that of last year's models. It's around 5.8 inches high by 17.1 inches wide by 14.75 inches deep--no different than the size of a standalone Onkyo receiver. It puts out a fair amount of heat, so it won't be happy placed in a confined cabinet. The partially backlit remote is pretty small, but it seems less crowded and intimidating than so many AV receiver remotes we see nowadays.
One design lapse we noted was that the receiver's setup menus don't appear on the screen; they're instead limited to the receiver's front-panel display. Then again, with an auto speaker setup and calibration system as capable as the Audyssey 2EQ/HTIB's, we weren't really all that put off by the lack of onscreen menus. The Audyssey 2EQ/HTIB requires the user to run the setup program with the included microphone placed in three different positions in the room. It's easy enough to do--just plug in the mic and respond to the display's prompts. The Audyssey 2EQ/HTIB sends test tones to the speakers and sub, then adjusts the speaker equalization, size setting, subwoofer crossover points, channel volume level, and time-delay settings for each speaker.
We've been skeptical of the claimed benefits of auto EQ systems because they can sound worse than no EQ or produce ambiguous results, but the Audyssey 2EQ/HTIB worked wonders for the sound of the HT-SR800's speakers and sub. After we ran the auto calibration, the sound grew sweeter and richer with markedly better satellite-subwoofer blend. The equalization also benefited the vocal and dialogue sound to a significant degree. There was one change we didn't care for--the bass seemed a little too full, so we manually turned down the sub's volume just a bit.
If you still don't like the sound after the Audyssey 2EQ/HTIB does its thing, you can manually adjust the five-band EQ for each set of speakers--main left/right, center, surrounds, and back surrounds. The receiver also has a three-band EQ for the subwoofer. If all of that sounds too complicated, you could tweak the sound with the HT-SR800 front panel bass and treble controls and/or adjust the volume level of individual speakers and subwoofer from the remote. You'll want to crank up the sub volume for action movies--it just takes a second, and you don't have to mess around with setup menus. Tailoring the sound to your taste is easy as can be, something that can't be said for the majority of HTIBs.
All of the speakers are fabricated from medium-density fiberboard, with vinyl veneers and metal keyhole slots for easy wall mounting. That's nice, but since the front three speakers are ported, wall mounting will slightly reduce the speakers' bass output. The front-left and -right speakers' measurements are 17.1 inches high by 6.2 inches wide by 7.6 inches deep; the center channel speaker is identical but designed for horizontal placement. Their knit fabric grilles are removable, and the molded plastic front baffles are attractive--well, attractive to anyone with audiophile aspirations. The four surround speakers are a good deal smaller: 10.5 inches high by 6.1 inches wide by 3.8 inches deep.
By HTIB standards, the subwoofer is pretty substantial, and its medium-density fiberboard cabinet feels nice and solid. Instead of the usual little rubber feet, this sub is supported by large plastic cone-shaped feet. The sub--20.1 inches high by 10.75 inches wide by 16.8 inches deep--is finished in vinyl and weighs 25.1 pounds.
Unlike many HTIBs, the Onkyo HT-SR800 doesn't include a DVD player. We're not knocking it--everybody either already has a DVD player, they can pick one up for cheap, or they can use their game console for movie duties. Just be aware that you won't find one in the box.
The 7.1-channel receiver delivers 110 watts per channel and supports the usual assortment of Dolby Digital, Dolby EX, Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, DTS 96/24, and Neural surround-processing modes. The HT-SR800 is somewhat limited when dealing with the soundtracks on HD DVD and Blu-ray players, however--if your player doesn't have built-in decoding and 5.1 or 7.1 analog outputs, you'll be stuck with the low-res DVD soundtracks listed above (see below for more detail).
When compared to the paltry jack packs of other HTIBs in this range, the HT-SR800's connectivity options are excellent: you get four AV (including the front panel's set), three component, and two HDMI inputs. But there is a catch: the HDMI jacks are video pass-through only--they support as high as 1080p resolution, but they won't carry the audio signals from your disc player, game system, or set-top box. Annoyingly, that means you'll need to connect a dedicated audio feed as well; stereo RCA or (for surround) optical or coaxial digital or analog multichannel. The latter option--running six or eight cables to the Onkyo's 7.1-channel analog inputs--is your only option for getting the best sound from HD DVD or Blu-ray players. Of course, you'll need to make sure your player has analog audio outputs, and can decode the Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD soundtracks found on HD movie discs--not all of them do.