The capability to upconvert analog video sources has become standard on midrange receivers, but the feature is rarely well-implemented, with poor image quality being the norm. Denon's latest midrange model, the AVR-1910, is a standout in this regard, offering up the best upconverted image quality out of all the receivers we've tested in 2009. It also delivers a solid midrange AV receiver feature set with four HDMI inputs, second zone functionality, 7.1 analog inputs, and onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
Our disappointments were mostly on the design side, with the AVR-1910 having a difficult double-sided remote, annoying back-panel design, and a text-based onscreen display (vs. a graphical user interface). Also, its $550 price is on the high end for a midrange receiver and we thought that the sound quality was only average next to competitors. The Denon is a solid choice if you expect to integrate a lot of analog video sources into your home theater or need some less common connectivity options, like switched-AC outlets or full 7.1 analog inputs. On the other hand, competing receivers offer more features for less money--often with better sound quality--and will be a better option for most buyers.
Denon's line of AV receivers all feature the same slightly curved front panel. The editors at CNET are divided over the style; some like it, some don't, but most agree that it's nicer than the rugged-looking Onkyo TX-SR607. The two main knobs (input select and volume) are appropriately large and are on opposite sides of the front panel. The center is dominated by a large glossy display, and underneath are few additional buttons. Just to irk obsessive home theater nerds who hate extra light sources, there's an illuminated ring (green when on, red when off) around the power button in the lower-left-hand corner.
The AVR-1910 hits nearly all the key features you expect to see in a midrange AV receiver. Most notable is the AVR-1910's capability to upconvert analog video signals to 1080p. Many receivers can do this, but the AVR-1910 is the only midrange receiver we've tested this year that can do it well. The only misstep, as we mentioned before, is the lack of a graphical user interface.
While we generally appreciated the AVR-1910's connectivity, we were less enthusiastic about the back-panel layout. Like last year's Yamaha RX-V663, audio inputs and video inputs are separated into separate sections, instead of being grouped by input. If you're using a cable that bundles cables together (like a standard composite AV cable or a Wii component video cable), you'll have to stretch cables across the back panel--it can create a real mess. If you're mostly using HDMI connectivity, however, this won't be an issue.
The AVR-1910 has solid multiroom functionality, offering both line-level and speaker-level second zone outputs. Note that like many systems, the second zone, speaker-level outputs are shared with the surround-back outputs, meaning you can't have both a 7.1 system and a second, powered zone at the same time.
We've complained about Denon's baffling remote design previously, but it's worth mentioning again. The included clicker has a series of small buttons up top to select inputs, and below is a series of important buttons that seem to be nearly randomly placed. Yes, button differentiation is a good thing, but there's not much method to this madness so you're going to have to stare at this remote to do to anything other than adjust the volume (which isn't labeled as volume, by the way.) The number of buttons is actually pretty sparse; that's because the rest of the functions are located on the back of the remote under a flip-open panel. Perhaps we're being too harsh, but it's really worth considering a quality universal remote if you go with the AVR-1910 to make up for some of its shortcomings.