Even for savvy home theater enthusiasts, buying an AV receiver can be a chore, requiring hours hunched over spec sheets trying to figure out what each model offers. From a general perspective, the Sony STR-DH700 looks to offer a good value, as a 7.1 AV receiver with three HDMI inputs, widely available for less than $300. However, the details aren't as kind to Sony's receiver, as it lacks onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio and an onscreen display--both of which are available on Pioneer's VSX-819H, which has a street price only slightly higher. We could have overlooked this if the STR-DH700 performed better than average for its price, but we were mostly underwhelmed by its sonics, although it's a decent choice for movies as long as you don't crank it too loud. While the STR-DH700 is a perfectly capable AV receiver at a budget price, we think most buyers will be better served by alternatives. Die-hard Sony fans, meanwhile, will need to spend more for one of the better-appointed receivers in the company's 2009 line-up.
AV receivers are typically the workhorses of home theaters and the STR-DH700 has an appropriately utilitarian look for the task. The front panel is all black, and about two-thirds of the way down it bevels out, which is more visually appealing than the sheer design of last year's STR-DG820. There are two small knobs on the left--tone control and input selector--and a larger volume knob on the far right. Between the knobs is the LCD screen, which is of average size, although because the STR-DH700 lacks onscreen menus, it would be nice if the screen was a little larger.
We were fans of the large remote control included with last year's STR-DG920, so we were disappointed to see the STR-DH700 came packaged with the same style of remote usually included on the company's home-theater-in-a-box systems. It's not a bad clicker, but it has a cluttered look and important buttons like the volume rocker aren't as large as we'd like. The remote is capable of being programmed to control other Sony devices, but not devices made by other manufacturers.
The STR-DH700 receiver features Sony's DCAC (Digital Cinema Auto Calibration), an automatic speaker calibration system that determines the size of each speaker, sets the subwoofer-to-speaker crossover frequency, adjusts the volume level of each speaker, and measures the distance between each speaker and the listening position. To start speaker calibration, simply plug in the (supplied) A.CAL microphone, then initiate DCAC by pressing the AUTO CAL button on the remote. All of the measurements are taken from just one mic position.
The setup process takes around three minutes, during which time the receiver sends test tones to all of the speakers, but the autocalibration doesn't set the subwoofer's volume. That's something you have to do for yourself. But since we usually have to reset the sub volume after autosetup anyway, we really didn't mind that the STR-DH700 omits that function.
After autosetup, we checked the results and noted that the DCAC misidentified the center and surround speakers of our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD system as "large" speakers. Since the 4C center speaker and 4B satellite have 4-inch woofers with limited deep bass we classify them as "small" speakers. When a receiver recognizes a speaker as small, it redirects some of the bass that would normally go to the speaker to the subwoofer. That's what bass management is all about.
Manual setup chores are somewhat complicated by the receiver's lack of an onscreen display; to correct the STR-DH700's bass management mistake we had to slog through the manual speaker setup menus. It's not that big a deal, but navigating the receiver's small display menus might be a hassle for home theater novices.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||No||Onscreen display||No|
|Analog upconversion||No||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||No||Satellite radio||Sirius|
The Sony STR-DGH700 is clearly a budget AV receiver, offering bare-bones functionality. It does not offer onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which is included on the Pioneer VSX-819H, but it's worth pointing out that decoding for these formats is less important now that almost all new Blu-ray players offer onboard decoding. There's also no onscreen display (also available on the Pioneer), so you'll have to change settings using the small LCD screen on the unit.