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Sony STR-DA5200ES: PlayStation interface comes to home theater

Sony STR-DA5200ES: PlayStation interface comes to home theater

Sony is set to release a new A/V receiver that utilizes a graphical user interface similar to the Cross Media Bar found on the PSP and the PlayStation 3. The interface--which marks the first major cross-pollination between Sony's games and its consumer electronics division--will be found on the company's new STR-DA5200ES A/V receiver, due to be officially announced for the U.S. market next week at the CEDIA show in Denver. Sony has provided CNET with an exclusive sneak peek at the onscreen graphics found on the DA5200ES, which can be seen here.

Sony has already unveiled the Asia-Pacific version of the STR-DA5200ES--you can find full specs at its SonyStyle Australia site, and it's been covered by CNET Australia--but we're awaiting confirmation as to what feature differences may exist on the North American version. What Sony has confirmed is that it will be the premier receiver in the company's elite ES home audio line and will retail for leass than $2,000 when it becomes available for sale later this year. It offers all of the features one would expect on a high-end A/V receiver, including HDMI inputs with analog-to-digital video conversion (including deinterlacing and upconversion to HD resolutions), discrete 7.1-channel audio via HDMI, multisource/multizone options, automatic speaker calibration, and compatibility with XM Connect-and-Play antennas. But the big news is undoubtedly the receiver's onscreen interface: it's been lifted directly from Sony's PSP and forthcoming PlayStation 3, and it offers the potential for better ease of use and a much more user-friendly experience than we've seen on A/V receivers to date.

Anyone who's used the PSP user interface (which is also being adapted for the PlayStation 3) will be instantly familiar with that of the STR-DA5200ES. Users will be able to use the icon-based hierarchical menus to configure, customize, and tweak the receiver's myriad settings and options. And the improvements aren't just cosmetic--the receiver should be markedly easier than its predecessors to set up and use, thanks to graphically assignable inputs, customized input naming, and onscreen contextual explanations for obtuse technical terms and jargon. Sony has indicated that the see-through interface is optimized for high-def resolutions, so it can be overlaid on incoming HD video from component and HDMI sources. That means you'll be able to access and configure the receiver's settings no matter what you're watching. (Few existing receivers, by comparison, can display background video when showing an onscreen display at HD resolutions, and many can't be seen over all resolutions and video outputs, such as HDMI.) Moreover, the STR-DA5200ES even allows you to create a picture-in-picture mode, so you can window a standard-def video source on top of a high-def background. It's the first time we've seen an A/V receiver with any sort of integrated PiP functionality.

Why is all of this such a big deal? Despite the addition of an impressive laundry list of features over the past few years, the very basics of receiver operation--setup, usability, and intuitive design--never seem to be high on the list of upgrades. As a result, a "state of the art" A/V receiver still features an onscreen interface full of cryptic terminology ("digital output: bitstream/PCM/auto?") that requires nongeeks to delve into the murky depths of the instruction manual. And even when you do get an onscreen interface on current receivers (it's rare until you hit the $400-to-$500 range, if not more), it's usually composed of blocky white text that could easily be ripped straight from a 1988-era VCR. The STR-DA5200ES offers the potential to buck the "more convoluted equals better" trend that we've seen in A/V receivers to date.

The initial user interface screenshots are enticing, but--as always--we'll reserve judgment on the STR-DA5200ES until we get a chance to audition it first-hand. We'll have complete details on the receiver on September 13 when it's officially unveiled at the CEDIA show in Denver. Senior Editor David Katzmaier will be delivering his hands-on impressions of the receiver and its PlayStation-inspired interface at that time.

Is the PSP-style interface of the STR-DA5200ES a worthwhile addition to the world of A/V receivers? Hit the TalkBack link below to let us know what you think.