Let's face it: what with Blu-ray, HD-DVD, Dolby Digital Plus, and HD Radio, the ongoing stampede of new media formats shows no signs of winding down. We're all for innovation, but the downside of the constant format flux is that your shiny, new receiver was probably out of date the second it rolled off the production line. Yes, some higher-end receivers offer the potential to stay current via software upgrades, but that approach won't be of much help with new technologies, such as built-in satellite radio receivers or new connectivity schemes that require updated jacks and ports. Stepping up to the challenge is Onkyo's new THX Ultra2 receiver, the TX-NR1000. Not only does the Onkyo have all of the latest bells and whistles, it's the first receiver that's designed to be hardware upgradable. For instance, its modular design will let you swap in the latest set of A/V jacks just as easily as you'd upgrade a video card on your PC. But the price tag for staying futureproof is steep: The TX-NR1000 will run you $5,000--and while it comes preconfigured with a full set of inputs and outputs, any future upgrades will cost you extra.
The imposing stature of the Onkyo TX-NR1000 leaves no doubt about its mission of delivering state-of-the-art performance. The bulked-up receiver's substantial, steel-reinforced chassis fills out at 17.2 inches wide, 8.7 inches tall, and nearly 19 inches deep. Ribbed side panels and a solid aluminum volume-control knob are further evidence of its top-tier build quality. Don't try shoehorning it into a cheap fiberboard rack system that's already crowded with gear, either: you'll need a substantial piece of A/V furniture to support the TX-NR1000's whopping 72.8-pound weight and provide sufficient ventilation for the palpable heat generated by its seven 150-watt channels of amplification. Our review sample was finished in ever-popular black, but Onkyo also offers the NR1000 in a gleaming silver hue. (The Integra DTR-10.5 is essentially the same model, but it ships at a lower price without all its expansion slots loaded.)
The 150-page, English-language instruction manual covers the TX-NR1000's numerous setup possibilities, and the multilayered menu options will keep experienced users busy for days on end. Geeks will be in heaven; novices will be searching out a knowledgeable friend, if not a full-fledged home installer for assistance. The metal remote is fully backlit and has a small LCD window and a scrollwheel, but it lacks direct buttons to select sources. This means it requires three button presses to get any sound from our DVD player, and the remote also doesn't offer direct access to the various Dolby or DTS surround modes. Ergonomically, the NR1000 isn't on a par with Onkyo's more affordable receivers, but we eventually got used to its mysterious ways.
As the world's first hardware-upgradable receiver, the Onkyo TX-NR1000 comes fully stuffed with audio- and video-processing circuits nestled on nine plug-in modules that resemble the PCI and AGP expansion boards in your PC. The capability of this receiver to stay current is without equal, and that has to be factored into its long-term value, as all of the other megareceivers on the market will likely become technical dinosaurs in a year or two. Of course, there's a big caveat: in order for the NR1000 to fulfill its potential, Onkyo has to live up to its part of the deal and design, build, and offer new boards at reasonable prices. Satellite radio, HD radio, and other boards that process the upcoming Dolby Digital Plus and DTS++ that will be part of the next generation, and Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats are in the works. Right now, Onkyo expects the combined XM and HD Radio module to be priced less than $300. More exciting, however, is that the company expects the modular design feature will trickle down to its more-affordable receivers over the next year or two. And yes, Onkyo will likely provide applicable software upgrades for the NR1000. Be aware, though, that the receiver doesn't employ a "universal bus" system that would allow you to plug a video card in the spot currently occupied by the AM/FM tuner card. Each of the nine slots has a dedicated audio, video, analog, and digital purpose, so there are some limits to the degree of customization.
Highlights of the NR1000's gargantuan connectivity suite include two sets of SACD/DVD Audio/7.1-channel analog inputs, plus two iLink all-digital audio connections to FireWire-compatible SACD/DVD-A players; 12 digital inputs and 4 digital outputs (half optical, half coaxial); and a complete second set of 7.1-channel preamp outputs, so you can run a second complete home theater in another room. That's great, but you can play only the same source--say, the DVD player--in both locations. Moreover, the NR1000's HDMI-switching functionality (2 inputs, 1 output) is severely hampered by the fact that the connections pass video only, not audio. The doublespeak in the manual states that while HDMI can transmit audio, the NR1000 can't play it, which means you'll need to make separate digital audio connections for your components. For $5,000, we'd expect this receiver to fully exploit HDMI's promise of single-cable A/V connectivity.