Purchasing home theater components can be overwhelming...High definition video and audio have now become standards to look for, and interpreting all the acronyms can make you dizzy. HDCP-compliancy, HDTV, Dolby Digital True-HD, DTS-HD Master Audio, HDMI, and Blu-ray are all now part of the short-list of current requirements in the new HD standard, and today we look at the cheapest entry that offers all of these things.
This entry, of course, is the Sony STR-DG820, a product to market from Sony, owner/designers of Blu-Ray technology.
Can they live up to the standard they themselves created? Let's take a look at what it boasts: THE SPECS: I'll taken the liberty of pulling the specs direct from Sony's site, which you can find here(click!):
Weights and Measurements
Dimensions (Approx.) : 16 15/16 x 6 1/4 x 12 1/4" (430 x 157.5 x 310mm)
Weight (Approx.) : 17 lbs 10 oz (8Kg)
Speaker Terminal Type : Screw Binding Posts (A); Spring Lever (B)
AM/FM Memory Presets : 30 FM - 30 AM
XM® Connect and Play™ Compatible : Yes
XM® Memory Presets : 30
Digital Cinema Sound™ Technology : Yes
Dolby® Digital Decoding : Yes
Dolby® Digital EX Decoding : Yes
Dolby® Pro Logic® Decoding : Yes
Dolby® Pro Logic® II Decoding : Yes
Dolby® Pro Logic® IIX Decoding : Yes
dts® 96/24 Decoding : Yes
dts® Decoding : Yes
dts® NEO:6 Decoding : Yes
dts®-ES Decoding : Yes
Remote Control : Yes (Pre Programmed)
Power Consumption (in Operation) : TBD
Power Consumption (in Standby) : TBD
Power Requirements : AC120V, 60 Hz
A/B Speaker Switch : Yes (A / B)
Digital Cinema Auto Calibration : Yes (Mic- Mono)
HDMI™ Technology : Active Intelligence
Inputs and Outputs
AC Outlet : 1
Antenna Terminal (AM Loop) : 1 (Rear)
Antenna Terminal (FM 75 Ohm) : 1 (Rear)
Coaxial Audio Digital Input(s) : 1 (Rear)
Component Video (Y/Pb/Pr ) Input(s) : 3 (Rear)
Component Video (Y/Pb/Pr) Output(s) : 1 (Rear)
Composite Video Input(s) : 4 (1 Front/3 Rear)
Composite Video Output(s) : 1 (Rear)
DIGITAL MEDIA PORT : Yes
HD Component Video Input(s) : 3 (Rear)
HD Component Video Output(s) : 1 (Rear)
HDMI™ Connection Input(s) : 4 (Rear)
HDMI™ Connection Output(s) : 1 (Rear)
Headphone Output(s) : 1 (Front- Silver)
Optical Audio Input(s) : 2 (Rear)
RCA Audio Input(s) : 7 (3 Dedicated/4 Audio/Video)
RCA Audio Output(s) : 2 (1 A/V Output, 1 Output)
Subwoofer Output(s) : 1 (Rear)
Channel Power Rating : 7.1 Channel Power Rating: 110W x 7 Amp Power (8 ohms, THD 1.0%)
Impedance : 8 Ohms
Sound Fields : Cinema - 3; Music - 3; Auto Format Decoding - 11; 2 Channel - 1 Tuner Type : Auto Tuning, Direct Tuning, Station Name
Zones : Single
Things to note are HDMI 1.3a compliance, 110w x7 with A/B switching, and the required onboard Dolby Digital True-HD/DTS-HD Master Audio decode. Also uncommon for recievers at this price point is the inclusion of 4 HDMI inputs, and one output, giving this unit 1 more input than pretty much every other reciever in it's class, nevermind some that are higher priced.
Last edited by cadaveca; November 10, 2008 at 11:17 AM.
The first thing to note about the packaging is the use of easier-to-recycle packing materials, a definate plus for the environment. Also obvious is the new form-factor...rather than having units slightly shorter than other recievers, like previous generations, this unit boasts a new-for-2008 ground-up design, with a shorter chassis. If any compromises have been made to do so, we will find out shortly.
Inside the box we find the remote placed on top, the manual bag with remote batteries, seperate french/english manuals, AM loop antenna, FM wire antenna, and an odd, black round thing, which turns out to be the calibration mic. The inclusion of the mic should facilitate system set-up, or does it?
Pulling the unit out of the box, we are greated by a note attached to the top...and I must say, it was well placed so that prospective owners don't miss it before they install the unit in thier entertainment unit; a job well done.
Taking a look at the back, I was immediately disappointed...it's quite sparce. No discrete 5.1/7.1 inputs or outputs, no S-Video, and a single sub-out. There are, however, decent speaker connectors, allowing the use of bare wire, or banana plugs, as is expected for a unit in this class. The "B" channel, though, uses plain wire terminals, again a disappointment for users like myself, that make use of 4 front speakers.
Taking a look at the front we are greeted by a simple design, just a few knobs, a few more buttons, a hidden panel with front A/V connectors, and the input for the calibration mic. The front LCD display is minimalistic and simple, a definte plus for home theatre use.
The remote itself is long and slender, with a grooved, rounded bottom, and a divot in the back for positioning. It feels great...but at about a foot long, it's hard to manage until you become familiar with it. Although awkward at first, it's new-age styling won me over.
Setup and control via the remote is a tad painful; a lack of onscreen display means limited descriptions are available for what it is you are setting. Without video scaling, though, the menus were adequate and easy to manage, going only a few levels deep for each option.
Set-up using the included calibration mic is as easy as pie...set all speaker volumes(including your subs) to medium levels, three button presses and a few chirps from each speaker later, and it's all done.
Last edited by cadaveca; November 7, 2008 at 11:51 AM.
The testing system consisted of Both a PS3 and a Sony BDP-S350, the STR-DG820, and a Viewsonic N4280P display.
The Audio sub-system consists of 6x Athena Technologies AS-B2's(1-inch tweeter, 6.5-inch mid), Athena Technologies AS-C1 center channel, and 2x Athena Technologies P4100 subwoofers, a set-up that several years ago won numerous industry awards, as well as winning "System of the Year" from the audio rag, "Sound and Vision", who compared the Athena Technologies set-up to every other speaker released that year, including a few sets costing over $20,000. It then defended it's title the next year, successfully. Total cost of $2200 for the speakers. Hopefully enough to meet our testing needs.
Because this reciever does not offer video scaling, video testing does not hold alot of importance in this review. The STR-DG820 is merely an HDMI repeater, so any video content offered is merely passed through, with the audio stream extracted. This also means that if HDMI audio is used, the audio is not passed through to your tv, a definate down-side to this reciever. Also of great importance is that component and composite video signals are NOT passed through the HDMI cable; you must connect these cables from the reciever to your TV, making it nessecary to switch inputs on your TV based on what video is passed through it.
The lack of video scaling is something that will turn alot of people off...the beauty of HDMI is needing only a single cable to connect devices, and this ease of use has been passed over by this product.
I did contact Sony directly for comments on this design choice, but my queries have gone unanswered as this article has been posted. I did take the liberty of visiting a few of the Sony stores here in town to see if the sales guys had an answer, and they did.
The STR-DG820 meets all audio requirements for HD-audio, and bare HD video functionality, in order to keep costs down. This allows a cheaper alternative for HD-audio compliancy, but also provides a contrast to what other recievers of in the same price range offer...they offer the video scaling, but not HD-audio. If video scaling is something you need as well, then the STR-DG920 offers all of these, as well as the same audio processing that the DG820 has.
In testing, this means the STR-DG820 does not affect video sources in any way. No brightness control, and no resolution scaling, means that the image from the disc is the image you get onscreen. The disc-player and display are the only devices that have an effect on video in this set-up.
The three titles shown above offer different HD-audio sources, with the "StarGate" title offering SD 6.1 Dolby Digital EX as well as DTS HD-Master Audio. "Ironman" offers Dolby True HD, while "Doomsday" has DTS HD-Master Audio.
At this point I must add here that all testing is purely subjective, without concrete numbers. This choice was made because of a lack of a suitable testing regime, other than SPL testing, due to the lack of video scaling, and the strict guidelines for HD-Audio...an amp is either capable, or not!
I did manage to test the power capabilites of the reciever, and was shocked...rated @ 110w/channel, this reciever was only capable of 93w in stereo, and 66w in 7.1 mode, before audio artifacts were noticed. IN this regard I am impressed...previous models from Sony were "overspec'd" by a far greater margin, and 7.1 power seems limited only by the choice of power supply the unit has been designed with.
The unit is capable of decoding 24/192khz stereo audio, tested both using Blu-Ray audio, and using the album "The Slip", from Nine Inch Nails, encoded in FLAC format.
7.1 audio in 24/96khz is part of the DTS-HD Master Audio standard, so of course the reciever is capable of handling such an audio stream.
HD-audio can be handled either in Bitstream or PCM format. Bitstream will have the reciever decode HD-audio sources into the provided channels, while PCM will have the reciever merely playing the already-decoded audio, and there was little-to-no discernable difference in using either method.
THe difference in audio from DTS/Dolby SD formats, to HD-audio formats, was astounding...even the Stereo HD audio passed through from a Blu-Ray provided more depth and sonic goodness than a 6.1 SD audio stream...something that completely shocked me...I was not prepared for better stereo audio than surround!
SD audio provided by the reciever is light and airy...crisp and well balanced. Use of the included calibration mic had my speakers all set to "Large", with only signals below 80hz passed through to the subs...exactly as these speakers were designed to be set up, and there was no lack of bass or mids in any of the audio tested, from hard rock, all the way to classical jazz and flamenco. Setting the unit to duplicate stereo sources over all 7.1 channels led to a balanced presence from front to rear, without any bias to any of the channels.
This is far better than some other recievers I 've had the joy of playing with..each and every one that had a calibration mic(a standard it seems, in mid-to-high-end receivers these days) set my bookshelfs to "large", but most other receivers left a bit of "boom" in the bass range, as they set subwoofer volume a tad too high for my liking, while this Sony unit set the subs to the lowest possible volume setting. It also picked out the distance of the speakers accurately, although I have only ever seen varations of 1 foot maximum, but the Sony unit was dead-on...even when moving the speakers around, and trying a recalibration...which is enough to ensure that the set-up of this unit in any setting will be a breeze.
In the end, given a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, this unit gets an 8; it amazed me how well it handles HD-audio, but the lack of video scaling and lower-than-rated power each make the unit lose a point.
Sony stepped up to the plate, and hit an in-field home run with the STR-DG820, priced @ $499 from FUTURESHOP , and for those looking for that little bit extra, the STR-DG920 would be that grand slam hit...it looks like Sony may be headed in a new direction, one I hope continues in the years to come!
Last edited by cadaveca; November 10, 2008 at 11:23 AM.