The Onkyo TX-NR709 builds on the company's years of network support in home theatre receivers (it was one of the first), and includes excellent home theatre connectivity with fine audio and video support.
As a pricey receiver, this one supports the legacy connection standard S-Video, but it also has plenty of HDMI inputs. Eight, in fact, one on the front panel, along with two HDMI outputs. The unit fully supports the 3D frame-packed format and the Audio Return Channel when connected to modern TV sets.
The receiver has a USB socket on the front panel and Ethernet on the back. A wireless LAN adapter is available as an option, but we'd be reluctant to recommend it. It plugs into the receiver's sole USB socket, so while it might add networking in some situations, it also takes away the use of USB for other functions.
A brochure refers to this as a 7.2 receiver and, yes, there are two subwoofer outputs. But they both carry the same signal, so it's really 7.1.
Onkyo uses the Audyssey MultEQ XT system for its speaker calibration. You are given a choice of a quick set-up with one place of measurement with the supplied microphone, or a more detailed one in which the microphone is set to occupy three different positions in turn. Both work well, with the latter providing a subtle improvement in sound balance, thanks to it having a slightly better sense of the listening room.
At the end of the process you can choose whether to use Audyssey's "Dynamic EQ" and "Dynamic Volume". We'd suggest that you have both off. They fiddle with the tonal balance according to the volume level on the mistaken assumption that adjustments should be made to counter differences in human ear sensitivity at different levels.
The receiver is certified "THX Select2 Plus". THX certification does not guarantee that a receiver is better than any other, but it does guarantee that it is not a dud.
With 110 high fidelity watts available from each channel, and with the frequency performance of the connected loudspeakers tweaked to work best in our room by the receiver's calibration routine and EQ, it sounded excellent. Or, rather, it did after we switched off the silly "All Channel Stereo" default sound mode for all two channel sources.
The unit has excellent video processing, which you can use to convert lower resolution stuff (including from HDMI inputs) into high-resolution HDMI output. Note, this won't typically improve the picture, but it does about as good a job as can be done.
Though powerful, the video processing is clumsily implemented. When you hit a key for the main menu, it switches off the video from whatever you're watching. Many display devices take seconds to re-sync themselves to the signal. Then if you want to see the effect of some setting on screen, you have to switch to a new mode where this can be applied. All this could simply overlay the video, as changes to the volume setting does.
The receiver has what appears at first glance to be a cool new feature: 4K upscaling. That is, the receiver can take your video and turn it into 3840x2160-pixel (ie, double that of Blu-ray in each dimension) super-high def to feed to your display. The problem is, there are few if any displays that will accept this signal. Indeed, so far there are few if any that have a physical resolution higher than standard Blu-ray. Even if there were, then the display may as well do the scaling for itself. At 4K to a projector, you will likely need a higher grade of HMDI cable, which can be quite expensive.
USB music support includes MP3 and WMA. It also has FLAC and WAV for higher quality (ie, non-lossy compression), and adds to that WMA Lossless. Your iPod/iPhone/iPad can be plugged into the front USB socket using a standard iPod cable. The receiver displays menus of the contents and when you select a song the album cover art is also displayed.
There are also apps for smartphones for controlling the unit. On an iPad it worked quite nicely, and the app accepted information fed back to it by the receiver, so it could show lists of songs on DLNA. But scrolling through such lists was better performed with the regular remote, since holding down an arrow for a few seconds makes the scrolling accelerate to jumps, which themselves would get bigger. This made it quite easy to get through those long lists.
The network provided tens of thousands of internet radio stations via vTuner, plus access to music served up by DLNA-compatible software on network devices. Also available over the network were Napster and Spotify, which are subscription content providers, and last.fm, which doesn't work in Australia.
Once again, scrolling through long lists was reasonably easy with this receiver thanks to an accelerator invoked just by holding down the arrow keys for a few seconds. This made the vTuner's thousands of stations practically, as well as technically, accessible.
A surprising omission was the lack of support for "push" network audio capability, such as Apple AirPlay.
We do wish Onkyo would come up with a less clumsy menu system. It looks pretty enough, but we found ourselves reluctant to use it because we knew the pause that would ensue due to the receiver switching video standards.
That aside, the Onkyo TX-NR7009 is a top-notch home theatre receiver, ready to do first-class duty in just about any system.