Let me pose to you a potentially leading question: is there any piece of home-theater equipment less sexy than a receiver? Useful, oh yes -- and it pays to get a good one -- but most of them are very, very unsexy. The Onkyo TX-NR636 isn't quite an eyesore, but as it turns out, its looks aren't what you're paying for anyway. With talk of 4K starting to filter into the market, this is one of the most up-to-date receivers available, with support for HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, and Dolby Atmos.
Despite an overloaded feature count, the designers of the NR636 haven't let the specification tick boxes overshadow outright performance. This is a capable performer with both movies and music and a smattering of useful music services sweetens the deal.
The reason the receiver doesn't get top marks isn't because of something Onkyo has done wrong necessarily, but what its competitors have done right: the Sony STR-DN1050 offers better performance and a better interface. Still for the money -- $599 in the US and £499 in the UK -- the Onkyo TX-NR636 is a very proficient and comprehensive package.
While the rest of the AV world opts for designs that are smaller and sleeker, Onkyo's 2014 receivers remain defiantly colossal. Onkyo has done little to change the design it's used in previous years for its NR636; the green LED display is still there, as is the very macho faceplate.
Onkyo is still the only mainstream receiver manufacturer to include individual buttons for each input on its front panel. I found them eminently more convenient than the dials its competitors use.
Following in the "if it ain't broke" mindset, the NR636's remote is also identical to last year's. Compared to more modern-looking, streamlined clickers, such as that of the Sony DN1050, it looks overstuffed with buttons and feels overly complicated to use.
If there's a single device that has routinely disappointed us with poor On Screen Displays (OSD), it's the AV receiver. However they are progressively improving, with Sony's latest crop of machines in the lead. So if the usual black-and-white receiver fare is the equivalent of DOS and Sony's interface is Windows Vista (slick in places but not in others), then the Onkyo NR636 is stuck in the middle, somewhere around Windows 3.1.
All information, bar the Home screen, is presented as long lists of white text on a black screen with a scroll bar. There also appears to be a problem with scaling the default font; it looked soft when we tested it on a 720p TV and a 55-inch 4K TV.
The Onkyo TX-NR636 is a 7.1-channel receiver rated at 115 watts per channel and features all the home-theater decoders -- Dolby, DTS, and so on -- that you'd expect. It's also very well equipped with cutting-edge features (and old features that are cutting-edge again), including support for 4K, Dolby Atmos (forthcoming), and even a phono pre-amp for connecting your (new) turntable.