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Sony STR-DG810 review: Sony STR-DG810

Sony STR-DG810

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Matthew Moskovciak
Steve Guttenberg
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Matthew Moskovciak

Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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8 min read

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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.

5.7

Sony STR-DG810

The Good

6.1-channel receiver with three HDMI inputs; XM Satellite Radio-ready with XM Neural Surround; automatic speaker calibration.

The Bad

Confusing autosetup routine; no onscreen interface; generally poor connectivity options--no S-Video jacks, no multichannel audio inputs, and the proprietary Digital Media Port input, which is limited to only four proprietary accessories; sound lacks detail and focus; no multizone features.

The Bottom Line

The Sony STR-DG810 delivers three HDMI inputs at a fairly low price, but connectivity, features, and sound quality shortfalls spoil the deal.

Design
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.


The remote control is pretty standard.

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.


The DCAC system uses a microphone to automatically calibrate the speakers--but the process is unnecessarily complex.

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.

Features
Key features at a glance

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.


While the three HDMI inputs is a big plus for a receiver in this price range, the connectivity options are otherwise disappointing.

Audio connections are lacking as well. There are three total digital audio inputs--two optical and one coaxial. Similarly priced receivers such as the Onkyo TX-SR605 and the Yamaha RX-V661 offer five and six digital audio inputs, respectively. Not only that, but a quick glance at the back panel will reveal that there are no analog multichannel inputs. So while you can use the three HDMI inputs for audio as well, anyone expecting to connect a lot of components with varying connections can be seriously disappointed by what STR-DG810 has to offer.

As is common for this price range, the STR-DG810 lacks the ability to upconvert analog sources to the HDMI output. The benefit of receivers with analog-to-digital conversion is that they allow for a simple, single cable connection to your TV; connect all your gear to the receiver's inputs, and then connect a single cable from the HDMI output to the TV. The STR-DG810 also doesn't upconvert composite video sources to component video, so you'll need to make a separate composite video connection to your TV if you use any standard-definition gear.

You may notice that the STR-DG810 only has four selectable HD sources, which is less than some competitors. What this means is that although there are six total HD inputs (three HDMI, three component), there are only four corresponding input labels that these sources can be assigned to. Interestingly, because the STR-DG810 does not offer upconversion, this isn't much of a problem. For example, if you connect an HD DVD player to the HDMI "DVD" input and a DVD recorder to the component video "DVD" input, they will both be simultaneously active via their respective outputs. This isn't possible on an upconverting AV receiver, because you'd usually only use one video output (HDMI), and the receiver wouldn't know which device you wanted when you selected the "DVD" source. The bottom line is that you can connect six separate HD sources with the STR-DG810, as long as you don't mind (and can keep track of) having multiple sources attached to a single source name, and can toggle your TV feed to the respective input (HDMI or component) accordingly.

The STR-DG810 is also equipped with Sony's Digital Media Port, a proprietary connection that allows you to connect one of four Sony accessories, which range in price from $80 to $200: the TDM-NC1 (a Wi-Fi music streamer), the TDM-BT1 (a Bluetooth adapter), the TDM-NW1 (a dock for certain Sony Walkman MP3 models), and the TDM-IP1 (an iPod dock). The two we auditioned worked well enough with the STR-DG810, but nonproprietary alternatives will function just as well and be able to connect to other, non-Sony devices--but they'll use one of the STR-DG810's audio inputs. Conversely, if you have another device that already handles one of those functions (a music streamer, iPod dock, or Bluetooth interface), you won't be able to use the DM Port input. In other words, we much would've preferred that the DM Port jacks had been replaced by standard analog or digital jacks instead.

Other niceties available on the STR-DG810 include "Bravia Theatre Sync," which is Sony's version of the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) spec. When connected via HDMI, compatible Sony DVD players and TVs will be able to power up and switch to the correct inputs automatically--without the need for separate remote commands. Like virtually all other AV receivers, the DG810 is also XM-ready, so you only need an XM Mini-Tuner and Home Dock to get reception, with a subscription, of course. There's onboard XM Neural processing, so it can decode XM's surround-sound channels.

For $100 more, the step-up STR-DG910 offers an onscreen display, 7.1 channels, and a bit more power (110 watts per channel versus the DG810's 105).

Performance
The STR-DG810 was richly balanced, sounding warmer and less detailed than recent Yamaha and Onkyo receivers we've tested. Lady in the Water is a soggy fantasy flick where many key scenes are set in a swimming pool, but STR-DG810 dried up the sound so it was less immersive and seemed to be flattened to the plane of the speakers. Dynamic punch was adequate, though lacking a bit of impact.

Turning to music, we popped in Wilco's new Sky Blue Sky CD. On the STR-DG810, it was lacking in crispness, and imaging felt a little defocused, but it was otherwise enjoyable. The STR-DG810 isn't bad, just a bit more vague than other receivers in its price class. On the bright side, however, the Sony never sounded harsh or grating.

We had no problems with the video performance of the STR-DG810. Since it doesn't do any upconversion, we really only checked to make sure that the signals were not negatively affected. Introducing the STR-DG810 into the signal chain did not introduce any distortions on digital or analog signals in any of our testing.

5.7

Sony STR-DG810

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 5Performance 6