Setting up an AV receiver isn't for the faint of heart. Stripping speaker wire, multitudes of cables, inputs and outputs, confusing configuration--even the most grizzled AV nerd is likely to make at least one mistake during a setup. And even after you get it set up, it can be a headache to operate unless you buy a fancy universal remote that makes you forget it's even there.
The Denon AVR-1909 looks like a great receiver from the spec sheet, matching up almost line for line with the Onkyo TX-SR606. We were even happier when it was in our home theater rack, as it bested the Onkyo in both sound and upconversion video quality. However, our biggest gripe was that--even for AV receiver standards--we found the AVR-1909 difficult to set up and even more difficult to use with the included remote. Some of that difficulty was due to the confusing menu system, some to the manual, and even more to the wonky remote. If you're a home theater veteran who craves the Denon sound, you'll get what you pay for on the AVR-1909, but neophytes should steer clear and enthusiasts should at least plan to buy a third-party universal remote.
The design of the AVR-1909 follows the new curved look first seen on last year's Denon AV receivers. We've seen some tacky "wavy" designs from electronics before, but the AVR-1909 manages to add in some subtle curves that deliver on a stylish design that stands out from the average component. In the center of the receiver is the LCD display, which was readable from a seating distance of about 7 feet. The LCD display is flanked by two large knobs: to the right is the volume knob and to the left is the source-selection knob. Under the LCD display are a few additional front panel buttons, but not so many that it will intimidate home audio novices. Overall, it's a great mix of style and substance.
The same can't be said for the included remote, though. AV receiver remotes are usually cumbersome in general because they need to include so much functionality, but the main clicker for the AVR-1909 is pretty awful even with the lower standards. It looks like no other AV receiver remotes we've used, with large buttons for play and stop, which have strange prominence for a receiver. There's a directional pad toward the bottom with four buttons surrounding it, but each button has two labels. We kept looking for a shift button to use the second button label, but that's not how it works--the secondary functions are only if you're controlling another device. The more AV receiver-centric buttons are actually located on the back of the remote, under a flip-down panel. We'd highly recommend ditching the included clicker for a quality universal remote. There's also a second, smaller remote included, which is less confusing but is too limited to be your main clicker.
We also had a tough time with the setup process in general, as both the manual and user interface were difficult to use. Denon's manuals have always been particularly hard to get through, and as AV receivers become even more complex, the confusion only gets multiplied. The user interface is limited to just white text on the black background and the methods of assigning inputs and making other adjustments just isn't straightforward, even if you're pretty tech savvy. If "easy to set up" is a primary concern, you should steer clear of the AVR-1909.
The AVR-1909 is a 7.1-channel AV receiver, and Denon rates its output at 90 watts per channel. Like essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of standard Dolby and DTS surround processing modes.
The AVR-1909 also includes onboard decoding for the two, new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. While this was a major step-up feature last year, it's more common in 2008 and less essential now that many Blu-ray players (including the PS3) also have onboard decoding for both formats. 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 bitstream (undecoded PCM) format.
There are also two audio processing features from Audyssey--Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ--on the AVR-1909. Dynamic Volume is an automatic volume leveling system, designed to adjust the volume on the fly so that commercials don't sound too loud or dialogue isn't too soft. Dynamic EQ is similar, but instead tries to compensate for the perceived loss of bass response at lower volume levels. We'll discuss how these features worked in the real world in the performance section.
The AVR-1909's connectivity is highlighted by its three HDMI inputs, which can handle both high-resolution audio and HD video signals up to 1080p. Three HDMI inputs may be enough for most home theaters, but it's worth noting that the cheaper Onkyo TX-SR606 and Sony STR-DG920 both offer four HDMI inputs. However, it is relatively easy to add more connectivity with an HDMI switcher.
Unlike some other receivers in this price range, analog video is still fully supported on the Denon AVR-1909. It includes three component video inputs, along with four AV inputs with S-Video (and one additional AV input on front that lacks S-Video). The Onkyo TX-SR606 only has two component video inputs, while the Sony STR-DG920 drops S-Video inputs completely. Devices that use analog video connections are becoming rarer, so how important these connections are depends on how much legacy equipment your home theater has.
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 AVR-1909 has six total high-definition inputs (three HDMI, three component video inputs) doesn't necessarily mean you can use six high-definition components simultaneously. The AVR-1909 has five labels (DVD, HDP, TV/CBL, VCR, V.Aux) to which HDMI and component video sources can be assigned, which means you're limited to five simultaneous video sources at a time. These are also the only inputs available for standard-definition video devices, so those with many components in their rack may feel constrained. There are also two audio-only labels: CD and CD-R/Tape.
The functionality of the standard-definition video inputs is enhanced by the AVR-1909'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 AVR-1909 is capable of scaling these signals from their original 480i format up to 1080p.