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Last year, Sony's STR-DG920 was our top midrange AV receiver pick. Its graphical user interface was a step above the text-based displays of competitors and its analog video upconversion featured solid image quality--a rarity among AV receivers. The STR-DN1000 is the STR-DG920's successor, featuring a new sleek design with a glossy black finish. Much of the functionality is the same, with four HDMI inputs, onboard decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and a GUI-based menu system.
On the other hand, the STR-DN1000 feels like a step backward in some regards. The STR-DG920's image quality (for upconverted analog video sources) was excellent for the price, but the STR-DN1000's image quality from analog to HDMI is barely acceptable; you're better off running a separate cable for non-HDMI sources to your TV. (If your system is completely HDMI-based, this isn't an issue.) You'll also note that it's missing some of the features included on competing receivers, such as analog multichannel inputs and multiroom functionality. At the time of this review, the STR-DN1000's main draw is its price; the STR-DN1000 is available online for just $340, which is a good deal less than competing receivers. If you can live with its shortcomings, the STR-DN1000 is a good value, but it doesn't offer as complete a feature set as last year's STR-DG920.
Editors' note: This review has been modified since its original publication to include more information about the STR-DN1000's S-Air functionality.
Sony is a company known for stylish products, but generally its AV receivers have a pedestrian, matte-black look. The STR-DN1000 is a break from tradition; its glossy black front panel is decidedly a glitzy turn for Sony's AV receiver line. Like many glossy black products, it tends to look a little better in photos than in person, and the finish is easily smudged with fingerprints, but it's definitely a step up from, say, the STR-DH700.
From the front, the STR-DN1000 is largely buttonless, with a small power button on the left, a smallish LCD display in the center, plus a volume knob and input selector buttons on the right. Flipping down the door toward the bottom reveals eight additional buttons, an AV input, and the autocalibration mic input.
The included remote is a little busier than we'd like it to be, but still good overall. Input buttons at the top are relatively large and the centrally located direction pad falls easily under your thumb. On the downside, the remote is larger than it needs to be and it's difficult to transition from selecting an input to adjusting the volume all the way at the bottom. The simpler, more compact Onkyo remotes do a better job at handling ergonomic issues.
Sony has always been a leader in integrating graphical user interfaces into AV receivers, from the very first STR-DA5200ES. The STR-DN1000 includes a relatively simple GUI, stripped down from the slicker menus found on the step-up ES line. We definitely prefer making tweaks on our TV versus the tiny display on the receiver, but we found some aspects of the GUI lacking. For example, when you try to reassign inputs, you have to know to go into the input section, then hit the "tools/option" button. It would be much more intuitive to have a menu farther to the right that listed options like "Reassign" and "Rename," instead of having to remember which button does what.
On the other hand, the GUI is a helpful guide when choosing a surround-sound configuration; it's easier to look at the picture and see what speakers you have than select "3/2.1." We also appreciated that the menu felt responsive, aside from the delay it takes to initially come up. However, unlike some other AV receiver GUIs, the STR-DN1000 cannot overlay its GUI over the video you're playing.
The STR-DN1000's automatic speaker calibration offers two key advantages over competing systems from Onkyo, Denon, Pioneer, and Yamaha. First, it's fast, needing just about a minute to run test tones through all the speakers and subwoofer; and second, it offers the ability, if you so choose, to optimize the sound for three distinct locations in the room. So if you sit in the center of the couch, but your son prefers to sit in a chair on the right side of the room, and your mother-in-law over on the left, they could each get a sound balance tailored to those positions. The catch is that this only applies when they watch movies individually; if you all watch together you'd probably stick with the center-of-the-couch setting.
The STR-DN1000's autosetup system determines each speaker's "size," volume level, distance from the listening positions, and optimal crossover frequency relative to the subwoofer. After we completed the setup we noticed a significant misstep: the STR-DN1000 misidentified the sizes of the center and surround speakers in our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference speaker system as "Large" when they should be "Small."
If we didn't make corrections in the manual speaker setup menu the STR-DN1000 wouldn't redirect bass frequencies (under 100 Hertz) from the center and surround channels to the subwoofer. The sound from those channels would be lacking in bass. That's why we advise STR-DN1000 owners to confirm that post-autosetup information is correct. The receiver otherwise accurately adjusted the speaker volume and speaker-to-measurement mic distance settings.
We had one other concern: the STR-DN1000's factory default setting for Dynamic Range Compression is "Standard." That is, our Blu-rays' and DVDs' dynamic range and impact were reduced, so we turned the Dynamic Range Compression "Off." Why Sony would opt to have compression turned on as the default baffles us, especially since many owners will never realize it's turned on, unless they read the STR-DN1000's owner's manual or explore the manual setup menus.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||Yes||Onscreen display||GUI|
|Analog upconversion||1080i||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||Yes||Satellite radio||Sirius|
The STR-DN1000 hits all the key features we like to see in this price range. The standout feature is the STR-DN1000's GUI; while the competing Pioneer VSX-1019AH has a GUI, most midrange receivers (including the Onkyo TX-SR607, the Yamaha RX-V665BL, and the Denon AVR-1910) only have basic text-based menus. On the other hand, although the STR-DN1000 can upconvert analog video sources to HDMI, we wouldn't put much stock in this feature; not only is it limited to 1080i (rather than 1080p), the Sony's performance is poor enough to make this feature barely worthwhile--more on this in the performance section.
|HDMI inputs||4||Optical audio inputs||3|
|Component video inputs||3||Coaxial audio inputs||1|
|Max connected HD devices||7||Stereo analog audio inputs||2|
|Composite AV inputs||4||Analog multichannel inputs||No|
|Max connected video devices||10||Phono input||No|
Video connectivity is a strong point on the STR-DN1000. There are four HDMI inputs, which is standard, and three component video inputs, which is one more than competitors have. Additionally, the Sony is very flexible with its ability to assign inputs; there are enough input slots to connect 10 total video devices, including seven HD video devices. It is worth pointing out that the STR-DN1000 lacks multichannel analog inputs. There's becoming less of a need for multichannel analog inputs in the HDMI age, but many competing receivers (Denon AVR-1910, Pioneer VSX-1019AH, Yamaha RX-V665BL) still include them.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||No*||Line level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Speaker-level 2nd zone outputs||No||Speaker-level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|2nd zone video output||No||2nd zone remote||No|
*While the STR-DN1000 does not have traditional second-zone functionality, its S-Air compatibility enables multiroom use.
Unlike every other receiver we tested in this price range, the STR-DN1000 lacks traditional, second-zone functionality via either an analog line out or speaker-level outputs. Instead, offers up compatibility with its proprietary wireless audio system, S-Air, which can be used with products like the AIR-SA10 and recently announced Altus line of products (sold separately.) While the wireless functionality is a unique addition at the midrange price level, it does limit your multiroom options to Sony S-Air products; in other words, you can't use an extra pair of bookshelf speakers or an old receiver you have lying around.
The STR-DN1000 proved it had the right stuff as soon as we watched "The International" DVD. It's a sleek and sophisticated ride, and when Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) fires his weapon in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, things got interesting. The heavy firepower blasts between the good and bad guys, and the screams of the panicked civilians reverberating through the huge museum space sounded frighteningly realistic. Later, when Salinger shoots out the cables supporting a glass sculpture hanging from the museum's roof to smash onto the bad guys on street level, the sounds of shattering glass came through loud and clear. The STR-DN1000's home theater skills are above average for a midprice receiver.
We were so impressed with the Sony that we pitted it against the more expensive Denon AVR-1910 receiver with the "Master and Commander" Blu-ray. The Sony had greater dynamic life than the Denon, and the Sony was more alive and vivid.
Tony Bennett's "An American Classic" Blu-ray amply demonstrated the STR-DN1000's finesse. Our favorite tune, "Steppin' Out With My Baby," a duet with Christina Aguilera, was perfectly captured. The juicy bassline and crisp snare drum that start the tune were stunning in their immediacy and authenticity, and the presence of the two singers made us feel like they were in the CNET listening room.
We finished up with the Drive-By Truckers new "Live From Austin Tx" CD. The acoustic guitars were gorgeous, and when they plug in electric guitars the Truckers rocked the house. Listening in stereo, the soundstage was wide and deep, and the STR-DN1000's power reserves were never overtaxed by the Truckers' freewheeling exploits.
The STR-DN1000 is capable of upconverting video analog signals to its HDMI output, so we put it through our video-testing suite. We connected the Oppo BDP-83 via component video to the STR-DN1000, with the BDP-83 set to 480i output. The STR-DN1000 was set to output at 1080p over its HDMI out, connected to the Samsung PN50B650.
We started off with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite on DVD, and the initial resolution pattern wasn't promising. The STR-DN1000 was clearly not passing the full resolution of DVDs, with parts of the test pattern looking like a mass of color instead of individual lines. We thought that maybe the Sony would do better in another resolution but switching to 480i, 480p and 720p, but those resolutions actually looked much worse.
The lack of resolution was only the most noticeable defect in 1080i. Looking closer, we notice that the image was actually squashed, with small black bars on the top and bottom of the image and a strange, thin, green line running across the very bottom of the picture. (We've seen similar behavior once before with the LG BH200.) We even tried setting the Oppo BDP-83 to 480p mode--so the STR-DN1000 didn't have to do 480i deinterlacing--and we ran into the same performance issues. That's disappointing, because you'll still have to deal with the lackluster performance from the standard-def Nintendo Wii, even if you have the component video cables needed to use 480p mode.
We ran through the rest of the test patterns, but the problems were the same on every pattern: soft image quality with noticeable "tear" lines, black bars on the top and bottom, and a thin green line on the bottom of the picture. While the STR-DN1000 may have technically passed some of the test patterns, the other issues were overwhelming enough to merit a fail. Program material suffered from the same issue; we saw it on both "Seabiscuit" and "Star Trek: Insurrection." It's annoying enough to really spoil the movie experience.
To be clear, the problems we saw were only on analog video signals upconverted to the other resolutions listed above over the HDMI output. If you're only planning on using the STR-DN1000 for HDMI sources, you won't run into these issues at all.
The bottom line is that unless you really don't care about image quality, the upconversion feature on the STR-DN1000 isn't worthwhile. You'll almost definitely get better image quality running a separate cable to your TV from analog video sources, although you'll have to fumble with an extra remote or two.