It's getting to the point where choosing a good A/V receiver is like choosing the least attractive Victoria's Secret model. The task is difficult because there are so many wonderful options and making a disappointing choice is a virtual impossibility. (That, and they all look good in black.)
Seriously, though, as feature sets constantly expand and prices consistently fall, there is tremendous value to be found in the under $1000 A/V receiver market. A shining example of this is Denon's newest beauty, the AVR-2803.
Like most receivers produced today, the 2803 boasts Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES 6.1 extended-surround decoding. Though the volume of titles offering 6.1 sound is still depressingly small, it's better to be ready for what can only be considered the next inevitable step in home theater evolution. In addition to 6.1, you also get Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS Neo:6 decoding and Denon's popular 7-channel stereo mode. In short, there is no software currently available that the 2803 cannot handle.
Unique Features - For those of you looking at Denon's '03 receiver lineup like a kid fogging up a candy store window, here are some tidbits that might make a decision a little easier. The 2803 offers an 8-channel analog input for SACD/DVD-Audio sources, high-bandwidth component video switching for progressive DVD and HDTV signals and, most notably, seven channels of amplification (90 watts per channel) for true extended-surround playback. Conversely, the 1803 offers a 6-channel analog input, its component video inputs will not accept high-band-width signals and it only provides amplification for six speakers, at 80 watts per channel.
If you have an extra $400 burning a hole in your pocket, the more expensive 3803 adds 20 watts per channel (110 x 7) and better Digital-Analog Converters (DACs). While the 2803 offers 24-bit/96-kHz DACs from Analog Devices, the 3803 does one better, sporting superior 24-bit /192-kHz Burr-Brown DACs. It's up to you, of course, but these shortcomings don't add up to $400 in my book. $400 buys a lot of DVDs (or diapers, as my wife is quick to remind me).
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use - Lifting the 2803 out of its box, I found it surprisingly light. Having recently reviewed the Harman/Kardon AVR325, which weighed in at a hefty 40 lbs, the Denon's 28 lbs seemed downright dainty in comparison. Unlike portable MP3 players, thinner and lighter is not often the goal when it comes to developing a winning receiver. As a rule of thumb, a heftier box generally indicates a more substantial power supply, which typically translates to better overall sound. Thankfully, the Denon's slim figure did not in the least detract from its excellent performance.
As receivers get more complex, an intuitive setup and on-screen display system is imperative. This area represents my biggest gripe with the 2803 (and most Denons in my experience). While the 2803 will do just about everything you can think of, it's not always immediately evident how you need to do it. Like most men, asking for directions does not always come easy; I like to figure things out for myself. I'm a computer guy, too, and I don't think I've ever opened a single "ReadMe file" before using a new program. One piece of advice: before you pop in your favorite DVD and crank up the 2803, read the manual.
Adjusting things like crossover frequency, speaker size and speaker levels are all feasible on the 2803, but it was often aggravating. Frequently, I found myself dropping back to the Main Menu when I simply wanted to go back one screen, or I'd go back one screen when I wanted to highlight or engage a feature. To save others from some of the stress that I encountered, remember, it is possible to adjust speaker levels without using the built-in test tones. You need to use the "Ch. Select" button, which can only be found on the remote control.
The remote control was my only other problem with the 2803. I found the remote to be too long, it wasn't backlit, and I didn't care for the placement or design of the five-key cursor control. Though it can learn commands and does offer one-button access to surround modes like Dolby Pro Logic II, I just can't recommend this remote as your primary control device. There are many third-party universal remotes out there. My suggestion is to purchase a more intuitively designed learning model, and teach it the direct-access commands that Denon has offered with this machine.
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