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Thanks to the introduction of Blu-ray and HD-DVD players, 2006 has been a memorable year in the home-theater/consumer electronics market. The new high-def players all sport HDMI outputs, and the A/V receiver manufacturers are slowly introducing models equipped with HDMI switching. Many entry-level HDMI receivers we've tested route only video over the HDMI connection from the video player. In those cases, the promise of HDMI's single-wire video and audio connection between the source--be it a DVD, a Blu-ray, or an HD-DVD player, or an HD DVR--and the A/V receiver hasn't been fulfilled: a digital audio cable is still required to transmit Dolby and DTS multichannel audio from the player to the receiver. But Onkyo's TX-SR674 receiver delivers all of the HDMI features one can readily expect--at least until 2007. It can handle all manner of audio (Dolby Digital, DTS, CD and DVD-Audio, and uncompressed PCM soundtracks) and all HD video formats (including 720p, 1080i, and 1080p). Additionally, the TX-SR674 is capable of converting analog component, composite, and S-Video source signals to HDMI, which means you'll need to run only one cable from your video source to the receiver and another from the receiver to your TV. Best of all, the TX-SR674 is available in black or silver finishes for just $700--and is even cheaper at many online vendors. The Onkyo TX-SR674 nearly clones the styling of every Onkyo receiver we've tested this year; the biggest difference is the blue light encircling the volume control. The front panel is loaded with buttons and controls, but they're logically organized. The onscreen menus offer a healthy selection of setup options and are conveniently displayed over all video outputs--and at all resolutions, including the HDMI connection. For a receiver as well-endowed with features as the TX-SR674, the chassis is reasonably compact at 17.1 inches wide, 6.8 inches high, and just 14.8 inches deep. It weighs 25.1 pounds.
The smallish remote is only partially backlit, but it accomplishes a lot with minimum button clutter. It's not the best remote, but it does the job, although we still recommend picking up a universal remote.
The TX-SR674's Audyssey 2EQ automatic system setup feature is the most advanced system ever offered by Onkyo. Unlike Denon's implementation of the Audyssey system that requires the user to run the setup program six times from six different positions in the room, Onkyo's analyzes the room's acoustics from just three positions. The autosetup is easy--just plug in the supplied microphone, and respond to the onscreen prompts. When we ran the Audyssey system in our somewhat noisy Brooklyn home theater, the Onkyo refused to progress through the setup--it informed us via the onscreen display that the ambient noise level of our theater was too high. We closed all the windows to block the street sounds and that satisfied the Audyssey, which then went about its business. The program then took about 10 minutes to run. After the Audyssey finishes sending test tones over all the speakers, the receiver adjusts channel volume level and time-delay settings for each speaker. Other than setting the subwoofer volume too high (not uncommon in autosetup systems), the setup was accurate. The Audyssey 2EQ automatic equalization produced some small tonal balance improvement to the sound of our Dynaudio Contour speakers, but they're already very accurate speakers. Perhaps with more typical speakers, the Audyssey 2EQ might make a bigger difference. It's a decent autosetup system, but Pioneer receivers' MCACC (Multi Channel Acoustic Calibration) is more accurate overall and easier to use. The Onkyo TX-SR674 is a seven-times-95-watt receiver, with a full selection of Dolby and DTS surround modes. Including the front panel's connections you get a total of five A/V inputs, with three component and two HDMI ins. Analog-to-HDMI video conversion is provided for composite, S-Video, and component-video sources. Moreover, the incoming analog signals are automatically deinterlaced--converted from 480i to 480p--if the HDMI input on the connected TV can't handle 480i resolution, something very common in HDTVs sold before 2006. High-def video sources plugged into the component inputs, meanwhile, are passed along at their native resolution (720p or 1080i). Together, those HDMI features make it possible to run just a single HDMI cable from the TX-SR674 to your HDTV, and still view all of your video sources--and that's a huge benefit in terms of convenience.
Digital audio connections run to six inputs--four optical, two coaxial--and one optical output. Analog audio inputs include a stereo CD input as well as a stereo input/output recorder loop--all that's missing is a dedicated turntable input. The TX-SR674 does pass Dolby Digital, DTS, and linear PCM (LPCM) soundtracks via HDMI. LPCM compatibility means you can get the uncompressed HD-DVD or Blu-ray soundtracks. Likewise, the 7.1-channel analog inputs will accept decoded soundtracks from those same next-gen HD disc players, as well as from SACD and DVD-Audio players.
The TX-SR674 is XM-Ready, which means you can just hook up an XM Mini-Tuner or XM Connect-and-Play antenna and receive the satellite signal--with a subscription, of course. The receiver can also process XM's HD Surround encoded channels, although the owner's manual is a little vague about how to actually engage the HD Surround--you have to toggle through the surround Listening modes to get to Neural Surround and thus hear the HD Surround channels at their best. We found the front-to-back surround separation is excellent on XM's two HD Surround channels.