Home theater receivers have always been intimidating products, especially for first time buyers. Four years ago though, picking the best device hinged solely on audio performance. The advent of HDMI and advances in video processing, however, have now changed the game. To serve as both the brains and brawn of home entertainment, modern receivers must handle video from a variety of sources and qualities, as well as sound.
Of course for several G’s, there are plenty units out there that fit the bill. Sadly, finding one for less than $500 is a different story. If you can believe it, Sony (of all companies) has acknowledge man’s plight for a modern home theater on a budget and delivered in full.
Available through some retailers for less than $400, the STR-DG920 packs an impressive set of future-proofing features. For starters, the receiver includes 4 HDMI inputs, 7.1 audio, and all the latest audio codecs, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD. This means that most basic home theater set ups with relatively modern components should connect with just one HDMI cable per device. Having the latest codecs on board also allows your home theater to process the full line of high definition audio tracks included on Blu-rays, adding in impressive sound to the already stunning picture quality.
Other cutting edge features included on board are the ability to pass both audio and video through HDMI and up scale video from both analog and digital sources to 1080p. Thanks to the receiver’s pass through capabilities, connecting our test unit to the TV took just one cable from the receiver. Friends, home theater wiring doesn’t get any simpler than that.
The quality of video up-conversion enabled through the systems on board Faroudja chip also surpassed our expectations. Unlike other mid range receivers touting this function, visible tell-tale signs of video strain such as picture noise introduction, flickering, moire, and jaggies were few and far between in our tests of upscaling a 480i cable signal to 1080p. DVDs yielded positive results as well, however we will note that the 920 did not match the quality shown by our Oppo DV-981HD DVD player.
Tipping the scales, though, is the device’s basic, yet amazingly helpful, on-screen graphical user interface (GUI). Despite being less flashy than others featured by receivers costing triple the price, this GUI is far more attractive than the basic block text version found on competing models such as the Onkyo SR606. From a setup standpoint, it also makes tweaking the system a whole lot easier. (Read: limiting the need to read through the instructions.)
We will note that lack of audio refinement is one area in which other reviewers have knocked the STR-DG920 when compared to competing models in this price range. Unfortunately, we were unable to conduct a side by side comparison of the Sony to the Onkyo TX-SR606 7.1 or Pioneer VSX-1018AH and thus cannot weigh in definitively on this debate.
However, we will say that our tests of both movies and music on our review unit were quite pleasing when played over our Aperion Audio Intimus 4T Hybrid SD speakers (which we’ll also have a full review on later), and should please the vast majority of buyers, overall. It is also our opinion that debates over precise audio refinement between models in this price range are somewhat superfluous, as none of these units can expect to meet audiophile expectations.
The bottom line is that the STR-DG920 is a versatile receiver with an impressive set of cutting edge features. We highly recommend that it be at the top of a short list of candidates for anyone with both video and audio needs looking to build an solid mid-range home theater at an affordable price. Especially, if it can be found for less than $400.
Editor’s Note: It should be mentioned that after concluding our testing on the receiver, Gear Patrol decided to acquire one for our lab to serve as a reference in future testing of mid-range receivers, so expect to see it mentioned again.
Also as we alluded in our review, any research conducted online of the STR-DG920 will unearth countless comparisons to the Onkyo SR606. While we are normally tremendous fans of Onkyo products, our main issues with the 606 revolve around its documented buzzing problem when connected to the PS3, and the generally poor quality of it’s video up scaling. Again though, we did not conduct a direct comparison.