Sony has three new receivers in their Elevated Standard "ES" line. The 7.1-channel STRA-DA3300ES (the least expensive of the three) certainly lives up to the ES moniker. What's garnering all the buzz is the amount of receiver goodness you get for the money. While $1,000 isn't necessarily cheap, considering the amount of features on the receiver, it's a pretty good deal. One of the best features is the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which makes it relatively easy for anyone, whether a novice or pro, to set up the system. The GUI is obviously designed with the end user, not a custom installer, in mind. PlayStation 3 owners will recognize the GUI immediately.
Sony has taken extra care with this receiver to make sure that every square inch of real estate on the back panel is utilized. For example, they've included a Digital Media Port for digital music from a source such as an iPod and, as an added bonus, the menu of such a device will appear on your TV screen, letting you access your digital music with ease. You will also find three HDMI inputs and one output, plus four component video inputs, giving you plenty of connections for your high-def sources. Speaking of high-def, this little go-getter has Faroudja DCDi video deinterlacing and video processing, and will upscale non-HD content up to 1080p. This is great if you have a large DVD collection. Up-converted standard-definition DVDs consistently look sharp, and native HD material looks absolutely stunning, including Blu-ray movies and high-def broadcasts.
The STR-DA3300ES lacks S-video connections on the back panel, which is a minor issue, since there are plenty of composite inputs (five) for non-HD sources. If you are buying this new receiver, most likely it is to mate it with your high-definition components, such as a high-def gaming console, high-def TiVo, Blu-ray player and HDTV.
You will also notice that this receiver does not have Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. However, if your Blu-ray player will convert these tracks to PCM, you can still take advantage of these high-resolution audio formats. Some comparably-priced receivers, however, such as the Yamaha RX-V863, do support these formats, so take a look at those receivers before you take the plunge. The audio is pleasant and straightforward. It sounds warm and powerful on movie soundtracks and is accurate on music. The Digital Cinema Auto Calibration tunes the receiver based on room factors for even more accurate, fine-tuned sound.
Read The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion on Page 2
• The STR-DA3300ES has an excellent, easy-to-use graphical user interface, which puts it a notch above many other feature-laden HDMI receivers in the market.
• There are plenty of connections for HD sources, which is nice, considering the needs of today's Blu-ray, HD DVR and game-based home theaters.
• Faroudja upscaling to 1080p for non-HD source material provides consistently clean video on upscaled material. Legacy material looks good.
• The Digital Cinema Auto Calibration feature tunes the receiver, based on room factors, for optimal sound. This compares favorably with Audyssey room correction.
• Sony includes two remotes. One is more complex and will control your entire system, while the other is simple and easy to use.
• A five-year extended warranty covers the receiver for half a decade to come, where other receiver companies go light in the warranty department, thinking dealers will love the idea of selling you the protection.
• There are no S-video ports on the rear of the receiver, which some will cheer about. One S-video input would have been nice for legacy source players.
• The front-panel display is crowded with information and can be a little hard to read at times.
• The receiver can't decode Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio, while some other receivers at this price point can. Blu-ray users will be forced to have their players decode these formats and send the signal via analog connection to the receiver.
Overall, this is a great receiver, packed with plenty of great features, that offers excellent video and pleasing, lively audio. The GUI is incredibly user-friendly and the receiver is simple for even the newbie to operate and install. For $1,000, it's hard to go wrong with the Sony STR-DA3300ES.