Just as the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD race is about to kick into second gear with the imminent release of Sony's BDP-S1 player, Sony unveils its first A/V receiver "designed to optimize Blu-ray and other sources." It's not any more integrated with Blu-ray players than other midprice HDMI receivers, but the STR-DG1000 ($800) actually surpasses last year's flagship DA7100ES receiver ($2,000) feature set, and is up to the job of being a faithful, high-definition servant to any HD player--HD-DVD players included.
The STR-DG1000's HDMI cable transfers video resolutions up to 1080p, as well as Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and DVD and CD audio. And if you haven't yet made the move up to HDMI, the STR-DG1000's standard connectivity is also above par, with plenty of digital audio and component video inputs. Our big gripe with the receiver is something we've complained about with other Sony receivers--the quirky speaker setup and awkward menu navigation. There has been some improvement, but it's still not up to snuff. That said, the Sony STR-DG1000 is a strong candidate in the midrange receiver category, with an edge over Denon's competing AVR-2307CI due to its video conversion capabilities, but falling a bit short of the standard set by the excellent Onkyo TX-SR674.
Design of Sony STR-DG1000
The STR-DG1000's nicely organized front panel presents the user with a complete array of controls, including something we rarely see anymore: knobs. Yes, most receivers have volume and input selector knobs but everything else is usually relegated to buttons. In addition to the volume and input selector knobs, the STR-DG1000 has a knob for bass and treble control that you can use on individual sets of speakers--front, center, and surrounds--and another knob that tunes AM, FM, and XM radio stations. Sure, you can enter your favorite stations as presets, but the tuning knob is a more intuitive way to zip across the dial and look for new stations. The full-size receiver measures 17x7x17 inches (WHD) and weighs a bit over 33 pounds.
We like the remote overall, as the layout is fine, with well-labeled buttons. Our sole gripe is that the speed of the volume control was annoyingly slow.
Sony's auto speaker calibration program, Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC), is a snap to use; just plug in the supplied microphone, press a couple of buttons on the remote, and away you go. But Sony's system wasn't as accurate as Denon's or Pioneer's--the speaker levels were off by as much as 3 decibels. The Sony's test tones and whooshes were louder than we've heard with other brands' systems, but the whole thing is over in less than a minute. Menu navigation--never a strong suit for Sony receivers--requires a bit of patience to get through. And even if you use the DCAC, you'll still need to traverse the menus to assign digital and video inputs. We did note that the STR-DG1000 speaker distance settings can be manually dialed in to within an inch of the actual speaker-to-listener distance--most receivers' settings are in 1-foot increments. That means if you take the time to set it perfectly, you will hear more precise localization of surround sound image placement from your DVDs.
Features of Sony STR-DG1000
This 7x120-watt receiver comes with the latest surround processing modes--Dolby Pro Logic IIx & Dolby Digital EX; DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, 96/24 and XM Neural Surround. There's A/V switching for two HDMI and three component video sources, and another five A/V inputs (three with S-Video), including the front panel set. The receiver converts lower-resolution video (composite, S-Video, and component) up to 480p resolution over the receiver's HDMI or component video output. The HDMI connection eliminates the need to hook up a digital audio cable, but thanks to Sony's less- than-logical menus it took us a while to make it work. Both HDMI and component video inputs are capable of accepting a 1080p signal, but they must be output over the same connection type--for example, a 1080p component video signal can't be output over HDMI. It's also worth noting that we had no problems accessing the onscreen display over HDMI, an issue other receivers have struggled with.
Not every buyer will be using HDMI, and there are only two HDMI inputs, so we were pleased to note the STR-DG1000 might hold the record for the most digital inputs on an $800 receiver. You get eight digital inputs--five optical (one is on the front panel), three coaxial, plus one optical output. Blu-ray and HD-DVD players can either use the HDMI connection for Dolby Digital, DTS, and linear PCM (LPCM) audio or the analog 7.1 channel analog inputs. Analog audio connectivity covers all the essentials: a turntable input, two stereo inputs, two sets of in/out loops for CD-R or MiniDisc recorders, and 7.1 channel preamp connections to hook up a separate power amplifier. The one thing that's missing is any sort of iPod docking system.
If you're not using the receiver's 7.1 channel capabilities and are instead sticking with 5.1 channel operation, you can either bi-amplify compatible front speakers, or reassign the "Surround Back" channels to drive stereo speakers in Zone 2 (the STR-DG1000 can also send composite video to Zone 2). Curiously, the mid Sony lacks any other multiroom connectivity options such as IR, 12- volt trigger or RS-232C available on most other midprice receivers. On the upside, the receiver also offers "B" speaker connections to put stereo sound in another room.