While audio purists once scoffed at the idea of playing music from a paltry MP3 player on their $10,000 USD home theater systems, times have changed, and both digital audio and digital video are quickly becoming unavoidable standards for every home theater. Sony’s new Elevated Standard (ES) line of receivers are evidence of the inroads that both digital formats have made into the living room.
The new receivers, priced from $1700 USD down to $1,000 USD, all feature a digital media port that can be used for everything from streaming music over a Wi-Fi connection to hooking up an iPod with the right accessories. In addition, they have a full range of high-def video scaling options to accommodate for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players. Put away your turntables; these receivers aren’t in the same league as your father’s McIntosh.
The entry-level STR-DA3300ES features a 100-watt amp that can handle up to eight channels of PCM audio (for 7.1 channel sound), plus features a single HDMI output with x.v. Color and three inputs. Moving up a level to the STR-DA4300ES, users get the same basic hardware but with added compliance for a wide range of home theater standards, such as Dolby Digital +, Dolby TrueHD, dts High Resolution Audio and dts HD Master Audio. At the very top of the line, the STR-DA5300ES adds a more powerful 120-watt amp into the mix to give your system some additional kick.
The Sony STR-DA5300ES
On the video side of the equation, all models feature Faroudja’s DCDi Cinema upscaling video chip, which will automatically scale lower-quality signals to the sharper 1080p standard. That means you can skip buying a more expensive upscaling DVD player, since the Sony hardware can handle the task instead. Acknowledging that not every display connected to the receiver will be state of the art, Sony also built its newest models to down convert video. You might use this, for example, to turn component video input from a Blu-Ray disc player into ordinary S-video output for a CRT television that doesn’t support component video.
Although the nest of connectors on the back of the receiver will undoubtedly scare A/V novices, Sony has attempted to make the ES line’s features easy to access with a graphic interface that appears on a connected television’s screen. The Xross Media Bar interface uses icons and a intuitive tree system to keep different functions organized, and the main video signal will still play in the background while viewers fiddle with the amp via remote. All eight channels can even be synchronized with a simple calibration that uses a microphone to measure delay times to each speaker and automatically compensate.
A Screenshot of the menu system
Sony will make the 3300 ES available in August for $1,000 USD. The 5300 ES will follow in September for $1,700 USD, and the 4300 ES will come last in October for $1,300 USD.