Sony has two lines of home audio products. At the high end is the company's ES ("Elevated Standards") series, which includes such showpiece AV receivers as the STR-DA5200ES, the first receiver to bring a next-gen look to the graphical onscreen interface. But the company also offers a line of entry-level and midrange receivers. Toward the top of that line is the STR-DG810. The receiver retails for a very affordable $400 and is highlighted by its three HDMI inputs--in most cases, you'd need to spend double to get three HDMI inputs from other brands. On the other hand, the DG810's omissions are too numerous to ignore: no S-Video inputs, no multichannel analog input, no multizone functionality, no pre-outs, and a paltry selection of digital audio outputs. Perhaps if you just really want that third HDMI input and don't need other functionality, you can make a case for the STR-DG810's feature set. Otherwise, you're probably better off going with more fully featured models that cost just a bit more, such as the Yamaha RX-V661 or--especially--the Onkyo TX-SR605.
The STR-DG810 looks like a standard budget receiver. The entire unit is black, and the edges are rounded, which gives it a slightly friendlier look than boxy receivers. The front panel is distinguished by three average-size knobs for tone, tuning, and input selection and one large knob for volume. There are also several buttons littered all over the front panel, although we didn't find ourselves using them that frequently even when we were up close. In the center of the front panel is a nicely sized LCD screen, and we had no trouble reading on the input names from a viewing distance of about eight feet.
AV receivers have a lot of functionality and that means they have to pack a lot of buttons onto their remotes. The clicker for the STR-DG810 is no different, and it's about par for the course compared to the competition. We definitely have our quibbles--like the two identical-looking button rockers at the bottom, with only small labels indicating one was for volume and the other was for presets. We also disliked having to press the "receiver" button first every time we wanted to change an input. On the upside, the main navigation buttons are easy to use, and there's good separation between the separate sections, so it's mostly easy to find the button you want.
Before you go reaching for the big menu button to set up the STR-DG810, you should know that there are no onscreen menus on it. That's frustrating, but not abnormal for receivers in this price range. Instead, you'll need to navigate the setup menus using the LED screen, which is annoying even for setup vets like us. If you like to tweak your settings regularly, we'd recommend spending a little more for a receiver with onscreen display.
Auto speaker calibration is a popular feature on AV receivers because it simplifies setup chores, but Sony's latest implementation of its DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration) system does the opposite. Part of problem is because of the STR-DG10's lack of an onscreen display. That leaves you having to decode cryptic messages on the receiver's display that must be cross-referenced with the owner's manual throughout the process. For instance, we got an "ERROR SR 33" message on the display during the process, which--according to the manual--meant one of our surround speakers wasn't connected. We fixed that but were unable to get past the error message to rerun the DCAC. We didn't succeed, so in frustration we turned the receiver off, and that did the trick. Rerunning Auto Cal again successfully completed the measurement phase of the auto setup.
But then we got bogged down when we attempted to navigate the "Cal menu parameters" menu to check the measurements and accidentally reran the auto setup sequence tones. We eventually determined that we had, in fact, saved the calibrated data. Suffice it to say, Sony's latest revision of DCAC is by far the most confusing auto calibration system we've ever tested. Part of the blame is the poorly written owner's manual and the downright awful user interface of the system. Turns out the DCAC was reasonably accurate, except the subwoofer volume level was set much too loud (we turned the control on the sub down to adjust the volume to our liking). The STR-DG810's all-manual speaker setup options are only somewhat easier to implement.
Key features at a glance
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||3||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||3||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|AV inputs with S-Video||0 (3 rear, 1 front, but composite video only)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||No|
|Optical inputs||2||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||1||HDMI version||1.2a|
|Selectable HD sources||4||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||XM-Ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||No|
|Phono input||No||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||No|
|Analog multichannel input||No||Selectable output resolution||No|
The STR-DG810 is a 6.1-channel receiver that Sony claims can deliver 110 watts to each channel. It's equipped with the normal array of sound-processing modes, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, and DTS Neo:6. Note that it does not have onboard decoding for any of the new soundtrack formats available on HD DVD or Blu-ray--such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master--so you'll need to have a player with onboard decoding to take advantage of the superior sound quality offered by these new formats. Alternately, you can set your player to send uncompressed PCM audio, which the STR-DG810 can handle (see below).
Connectivity options on the STR-DG810 are a really mixed bag. On one hand, you get a pretty good bang for your buck. For instance, for video there are three HDMI inputs and three component video inputs--no other receiver in this price range offers three HDMI inputs. On the other hand, we were shocked when we noticed that the STR-DG810 didn't have any S-Video inputs at all. This means you'll need to use composite video connections for any standard definition components in your home theater--a significant step down.