Last year's TX-SR605 was essentially the only AV receiver in its price range to include decoding for the two, new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The TX-SR606 includes onboard decoding for both of those soundtrack formats, but it's somewhat less of an important feature as more manufacturers have begun to include this feature at lower price points. Additionally, more and more Blu-ray players (including the PS3) are including onboard decoding, which lessens the importance of having the decoders in the player. That being said, having onboard decoding is a nice way to future-proof your receiver in case other devices come out that output the soundtracks in bit stream (undecoded) format.
The TX-SR606's connectivity is highlighted by its four HDMI inputs, which can handle both high-resolution audio and HD video signals up to 1080p. Four HDMI inputs is generous at this price point, and should be enough for most setups--but if you need more you can always add an HDMI switcher. For analog video, we were disappointed that the TX-SR606 only has two component video connections--three is the usual--but, in fairness, component video-only devices are becoming rare. For standard-definition video, you get four S-Video/AV inputs--plus another AV input on the front--which is a step up over Sony receivers that have completely dropped S-Video inputs.
A lot of video connectivity is important, but every receiver is ultimately limited by how many input labels is has. In other words, just because the TX-SR606 has six total high-definition inputs (four HDMI, two component video inputs) doesn't necessarily mean you can use six high-definition components simultaneously. Luckily the TX-SR606 is pretty flexible, offering up seven different labels (DVD, VCR/DVR, CBL/SAT, GAME/TV, AUX, TAPE, and CD) to which HDMI and component video sources can be assigned. Those seven labels can also be assigned with standard-definition sources as well.
All those video inputs are great, but what really enhances their functionality--in theory, anyway--is the TX-SR606's HDMI upconversion. What this means is that analog video signals from the component, S-Video and composite video inputs can be converted to be output over the HDMI output, so you only need to make one HDMI connection from your receiver to your HDTV. Additionally, the TX-SR606 is capable of scaling these signals from their original 480i format up to 1080i. However, in the real world, we were pretty disappointed by the video quality of the TX-SR606's upconversion, making this feature significantly less useful--more on this in the performance section.
For audio, the HDMI inputs can deliver 7.1 channels of high resolution audio. Other digital audio connectivity is available by two optical digital audio inputs and two coaxial digital audio inputs, but note that they are, as always, limited to standard Dolby Digital/DTS audio resolution. Analog audio is supported by a set of 7.1 analog inputs, plus two dedicated stereo RCA inputs. Vinyl enthusiasts will bemoan the lack of a phono input, but you can still add a turntable with a separate preamp. For late night listening, there's also a headphone jack on the front panel.
The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by a Sirius jack, so you'll only need to connect the Sirius SCH1 Sirius Connect for Sirius service--with a subscription, of course. There's no equivalent XM jack, but if the two satellite services end up completing their merger, that should be a moot point. The TX-SR606 also has very basic multiroom functionality, allowing you sending line level audio signals to another room (where you'll need another amp). There's no built-in digital or network audio features, but those who are interested in that will be better served with a dedicated device anyway.
Compared with other receivers, the TX-SR606 is still a relatively good value, but it's definitely has more competition in this price range than last year's TX-SR605. Sony's budget receivers definitely compare favorably, with the STR-DG820 offering up four HDMI inputs for $400 (although with no upscaling), and the STR-DG920 adding 1080p upscaling at a reasonable $600 list price. Denon's AVR-1909 costs a little more at $650 and only includes three HDMI inputs, but it adds more multiroom options and Denon fans will argue the brands superior sound is worth the money.
First up, we spun the Master and Commander Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound of those early below decks scenes with the ship's creaking wood, wind and outside, the churning ocean were all exceptionally realistic. We also noted that our five speakers created an unusually seamless surround experience.
When the cannons fired, the ka-boom sounds were more abrupt and therefore more realistic. And when the cannon balls came crashing through the wood ships' sides, the impacts were terrifyingly violent. We could hear the spent balls rolling over the wooden planks.
We next tried the Black Crowes Freak 'N' Roll Blu-ray Disc, and even though the sound was only available in plain vanilla DTS, the TX-SR606 didn't let us down. As the band rolled through "Welcome to the Good Times," accompanied by a soulful brass section, the sound was clear. Live concert sound can sometimes be overblown, but here the sound felt like an above average stage mix. The TX-SR606 sounded powerful as we pushed the volume higher and higher.
We finished up with Mike Garson's Jazz Hat CD, a straight ahead piano jazz recording. Here the TX-SR606 sounded good, but not exceptionally so. We started in stereo and later opened things up with Dolby Pro Logic II surround, and that sounded better to us. All in all, we were happier with the TX-SR606's sound with movies more than music on CD.
The TX-SR606 is capable of upconverting analog signals up to 1080i, so we ran it through our suite of video tests. We hooked up an Oppo DV-983H via S-Video to the TX-SR606, and had the TX-SR606 upconvert to 1080i to a Sony KDL-46XBR4. The TX-SR606 also includes the capability to pass upconverted signal without scaling them--in other words, outputting a 480i signal--and we used this option to compare the receiver's processing with the processing the KDL-46XBR4 would do on its own.
We popped into Silicon Optix's HQV suite on DVD, and right off the bat we noticed some glaring flaws. First off, the TX-SR606's upconverted image didn't completely fill the screen, leaving about an inch of black space on the top, left and bottom of the screen. The actual image itself wasn't any better, as we could see comb-like artifacts and the image was very soft, indicating some lost resolution. When we switched the TX-SR606 into through mode, the errors disappeared as the KDL-46XBR4 did an excellent job with this test pattern. The TX-SR606 did a better job with the following jaggies tests, which consist of a rotating white line and three pivoting white lines. However, even on these tests, we could see the comb-like artifacts on tests and the logo, indicating something was seriously wrong with the processing. Possibly the most revealing test was the detail test, and where there should be easily identifiable marble steps was just a mass of white using the TX-SR606's processing, again showing the loss in resolution.
We switched over to actual program material to see if these same issues showed up in actual movies. We still had hope for the TX-SR606--as we've seen video processors treat the HQV disc strangely before--but unfortunately, we saw more of the same. We put in Star Trek: Insurrection and noticed that the black bars on the top, left and bottom where still there. We didn't notice any problems with 2:3 pull-down, but it really didn't matter as the loss in resolution caused way more jaggies than we're used to seeing on this disc. Again, we flipped it back to "through" mode and the softness disappeared. The same issues were visible on other discs.
We took a quick look at the other upscaling options offered by the TX-SR606 (480p and 720p) and although they didn't have the same issues filling the screen, we saw a similar loss in resolution in both modes, which resulted in program material. The bottom line is that the TX-SR606's video processing isn't up to snuff for videophiles, and is likely to bother even though that aren't image quality buffs. And while you can bypass the upscaling processing by using the "through" mode, you'll have to count on your HDTV accepted a 480i signal over HDMI--and many HDTVs won't. We also looked at some component video signals, and results were also poor, but not quite as bad as S-Video. We did notice, however, that the TX-SR606 negatively affected resolution even when in "through" mode, as image quality was sharper connected directly to the KDL-46XBR4.