Even for savvy home theater enthusiasts, buying an AV receiver can be a chore, requiring hours hunched over spec sheets trying to figure out what each model offers. From a general perspective, the Sony STR-DH700 looks like it offers a good value, as a 7.1 AV receiver with three HDMI inputs, widely available for under $300. However, the details aren't as kind to Sony's receiver, as it lacks onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and an onscreen display--both of which are available on Pioneer's VSX-819H, which has a street price only slightly higher. We could have overlooked this if the STR-DH700 performed better than average for its price, but we were mostly underwhelmed by its sonics, although it's a decent choice for movies as long as you don't crank it too loud. While the STR-DH700 is a perfectly capable AV receiver at a budget price, we think most buyers will be better served by alternatives. Die-hard Sony fans, meanwhile, will need to spend more for one of the better-appointed receivers in the company's 2009 line-up.
AV receivers are typically the workhorses of home theaters and the STR-DH700 has an appropriately utilitarian look for the task. The front panel is all black, and about two-thirds of the way down it bevels out, which is more visually appealing than the sheer design of last year's STR-DG820. There are two small knobs on the left--tone control and input selector--and a larger volume knob on the far right. Between the knobs is the LCD display, which is of average size, although because the STR-DH700 lacks onscreen menus, it would be nice if it was a little larger.
The Sony STR-DGH700 is clearly a budget AV receiver, offering bare-bones functionality. As you can see from the logos, it does not offer onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which is included on the Pioneer VSX-819H, but it's worth pointing out that decoding for these formats is less important now that almost all new Blu-ray players offer onboard decoding.
The most important connections here are the three HDMI inputs, which is the same amount you get on the comparable Pioneer VSX-819H-K and Onkyo TX-SR307, but is more than the two available on the Yamaha RX-V365BL.
Surprisingly, there are three component video connections (many receivers only have two these days), but remember that there's no analog video upconversion, so you'll need to run the component video output to your HDTV. Like almost all receivers now, the STR-DH700 lacks S-Video inputs, offering composite video connections instead.
Unlike many step-up receivers, the STR-DH700 lacks any second-zone functionality. That means you're basically limited to using the STR-DH700 in a single room. It does, however, have "B" speaker connections, so you can add a second pair of speakers in another room that will play the same music as in the main room. Note that the "B" speaker connections double as the surround-back channels, so you're limited to a 5.1-speaker arrangement if you connect B speakers.
The STR-DH700 receiver features Sony's DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration), an automatic speaker calibration system that determines the size of each speaker, sets the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover frequency, adjusts the volume level of each speaker, and measures the distance between each speaker and the listening position. To start speaker calibration, simply plug in the (supplied) A.CAL microphone, then initiate DCAC by pressing the AUTO CAL button on the remote. All of the measurements are taken from just one mic position.
We were fans of the large remote included with last year's STR-DG920, so we were disappointed to see the STR-DH700 came packaged with the same style of remote usually included on the company's home-theater-in-a-box systems. It's not a bad clicker, but it has a cluttered look and important buttons like the volume rocker aren't as large as we'd like. The remote is capable of being programmed to control other Sony devices, but not devices made by other manufacturers.