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Sony's new budget AV receivers packed with features

Sony rolled out four new AV receivers--the STR-DG520, STR-DG720, STR-DG820 and STR-DG920--and from our initial glance at the spec sheet, they seem to offer up a pretty decent bang for your buck.

When Onkyo released the budget TX-SR605 AV receiver last year, it rocked the industry with its low price and high-end features such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-Master Audio decoding. Other manufacturers pretty much had to stay on the sidelines as TX-SR605s flew off the shelf, but it looks as if Sony is ready to fight back with its new line of budget AV receivers. The company's 2008 line of AV receivers includes four new affordably priced models--the STR-DG520, STR-DG720, STR-DG820 and STR-DG920--and they look pretty good from the spec sheet. Here are the details:

The STR-DG520

The STR-DG520 has two HDMI inputs for $200.

Key features of the Sony STR-DG520:

  • 5.1 channels, 100 watts of power
  • Two HDMI inputs
  • Supports 1080p pass-through at 60 and 24 frames per second
  • Available in March for about $200

The STR-DG720

The STR-DG720 ups the HDMI ante with three inputs.

Step-up features on the STR-DG720:

  • 7.1 channels, 105 watts of power
  • Three HDMI inputs
  • Can handle eight channels of LPCM audio
  • XM-ready
  • Available in March for about $300

The STR-DG820

The Sony STR-DG820 looks like the sweet spot in the line, with four HDMI inputs and high resolution audio decoding.

Step-up features on the STR-DG820:

  • 7.1 channels, 110 watts of power
  • Four HDMI inputs
  • Onboard decoding for Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-High Resolution Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Supports x.v.Color
  • XM-ready with Neural Surround Sound
  • Includes a Sony Digital Media Port
  • Available in May for about $400

The STR-DG920

The Sony STR-DG920 offers the most functionality, including HDMI upconversion, but costs $600.

Step-up features on the STR-DG920:

  • Upscales analog signals up to 1080p over its HDMI output
  • Features icon-driven menu system, possibly similar to what we've seen on the STR-DA5300ES
  • Supports x.v.Color and Deep Color
  • Available in June for about $600

First things first--don't put too much stock in the x.v.Color and Deep Color features. To take advantage of x.v.Color and Deep Color, everything in the signal chain needs to be compliant, including your video player and HDTV, and many components aren't compliant. Then, you also need the program material to be authored using x.v.Color and Deep Color. Considering that no Blu-ray discs are currently out or scheduled to be released with x.v.Color or Deep color, it's just not a very practical feature.

What about the rest of it? While it's nice to see a dual HDMI receiver fall into the $200 range, it looks like the sweet spot is STR-DG820, with its four HDMI inputs, high resolution audio support, and $400 price tag. That's competitive with the aforementioned budget receiver champ, the TX-SR605--that identically priced Onkyo model offers only two HDMI inputs, but it also includes the key convenience of converting its analog video inputs to 480p HDMI digital output. The STR-GD920 offers more advanced upconversion features and a graphical user interface, but with a higher price tag of $600. These receivers certainly look like contenders compared with last year's Onkyo AV receiver line, but buyers might want to wait and see if Onkyo offers even more for less with its 2008 line of receivers.

If you're looking to spend a little more, Sony's ES line of AV receivers remains current, including the Sony STR-DA5300ES, which is currently our highest rated AV receiver.