A/V receivers have become so powerful and feature rich over the last few years that upgrade decisions have become increasingly difficult to justify. But if you have a large collection of DVDs or use services like Netflix or Vudu to stream movies from the cloud, the HQV Vida and Marvell Qdeo video processors alone make an upgrade to Onkyo’s TX-NR818 a worthwhile investment.
The THX Select2 Plus-certified TX-NR818 receiver does a fantastic job of upscaling standard-definition to not just 1080p, but all the way to 4K (that’s resolution of either 3840 by 2160 pixels or 4096 by 2160 pixels, depending on the display that’s attached). We weren’t able to test the 4K resolution—LG’s 84-inch 84LM9600 and Sony’s recently announced XBR-84×900 are the only TVs on the market that meet that spec right now, and they both cost upward of $22,000 —but upscaled video looked spectacular on the 55-inch Panasonic Viera TC-55LE54 in our home theater.
While Onkyo hasn’t bumped up the TX-NR818’s amplifier specs—the 7.1-channel receiver delivers 135 watts per channel, the same as last 2011’s TX-NR809—the company has added a number of other new features, including Audyssey’s MultiEQ XT32 room-correction technology. MultiEQ XT32 can compensate for a room’s acoustical shortcomings by analyzing its properties from eight listening positions and then applying high-resolution filters to all channels, including the subwoofer. Wired network support (or wireless, with the optional USB dongle) enables the receiver to deliver a host of Internet radio services, including paid services such as Rhapsody and Spotify. If you’d prefer to use a free Internet radio service, you can choose from Last.fm, Pandora, Slacker, and several others.
The amp can drive up to seven speakers simultaneously (augmented by either one or two powered subwoofers), or you can bi-amplify your front left and right channels and run a 5.1-channel array. You can set up a nine-speaker array by connecting an external stereo amp to a pair of the TX-NR818’s preamp outputs and driving a pair of speakers with it. Onkyo has dispensed with many of the DSP algorithms that most people never use—such as stadium, club, and basement—but they’ve retained the ones that expand the sound stage using front high, front wide, and surround back channels. These include Dolby Pro Logic IIz Height, DTS Neo X, and Audyssey DSX.
Inputs and outputs
The TX-NR818 can accommodate just about any digital device you’d want to connect to it, being outfitted with eight HDMI inputs (one on the front panel), three coaxial digital inputs, and three optical digital inputs (one on the front panel). Onkyo’s new InstaPrevue feature lets you monitor the audio and video from HDMI inputs one through four, plus Aux, simultaneously. The previews appear as live thumbnails on the display. There are two HDMI outputs, so you can support both a TV and a video projector. Vinyl lovers will appreciate the presence of a phono input and RIAA preamp, but Onkyo does leave some analog components behind: Few people will miss the presence of S-Video inputs and outputs, but some will be dismayed by the absence of tape-out for recording to an analog tape deck or a VCR.
You can send independent audio to two additional rooms, either by using the amp to drive speakers directly in zone two or zone three, or by sending line-level signals to dedicated amplifiers in those zones. The receiver is also equipped with infrared inputs and outputs and a 12-volt output trigger for each zone.
The IR input allows you to control the receiver if it’s installed inside a cabinet or from another room, while the IR output enables you to control other components from the receiver (you’ll need extra equipment in both cases). The 12-volt triggers enable you to switch on the power amps in zones two and three when you select them from the remote or the receiver’s front panel.
Onkyo has added a “whole house” mode that automatically sends the same audio output playing in the main room to zones two and three when activated. One feature that’s missing, however, is the ability to send any kind of video to zones two and three.
The TX-NR818 supports a wide array of digital music codecs, including Apple Lossless, FLAC (up to 24-bit resolution and 192kHz sampling rate), MP3, Ogg Vorbis, and even WMA Lossless. You can stream music, with album art, from any DLNA-compliant server. You can also control the receiver remotely from a PC running Windows Media 12. The receiver has front and rear USB ports, which can support a digital media player, a USB thumb or hard drive, or an iPod dock (you can control a docked iPod using the receiver’s remote). Onkyo also offers an optional Bluetooth dongle (model UBT-1, $50) that uses the Apt-X codec. Apt-X delivers far superior audio performance compared to other Bluetooth implementations, in our opinion.
We’ve come to expect great audio performances from Onkyo’s mid-range A/V receivers, and the TX-NR818 certainly did not disappoint. We connected the receiver to our Klipsch Reference Series speakers (RF-35 towers, RC-35 center, and RS-52 surrounds) augmented by a Boston Acoustics PV600 subwoofer. The first audio discs we threw at the receiver were two of our favorite DVDs: Blue Man Group’s The Complex and Frank Zappa’s Quadiophiliac. Both recordings are encoded in DTS 96/24 surround sound. The experience of listening to the percussion-heavy “Piano Smasher” on the former disc made us feel as though we were about to personally reenact the chest-burst scene from Alien; the kick drum and tom-toms pounded into our solar plexus. Calibrating the receiver to my home theater resulted in a meticulously balanced performance from all six speakers.
The epic James Bond thriller Quantum of Solace came next. We felt as though we were sitting right next to Daniel Craig as his Aston Martin roared down the mountain highway and then through the treacherous dirt road of the quarry. The TX-NR818 didn’t miss a trick, distinctly rendering the sounds of the clinking ammo belts, the squealing tires, and the visceral thud of the large-caliber machine guns going off as the villains vainly tried to take our hero out.
If you already own a late-model receiver with a video processor you’re happy with, such as the aforementioned Onkyo TX-NR809, there aren’t many compelling reasons to move up to the TX-NR818. Many of the features and specs are identical in both models. But if you’re looking for a receiver that supports all of the latest goodies—3D video, audio return channel, video upscaling, HDMI through, Ethernet, speaker calibration with room correction, and more — the TX-NR818 is an exceptional value.
- Excellent audio performance
- Exceptional video upscaling
- THX Select2 Plus certified
- Grey-on-black labels are very difficult to read
- No AirPlay support
- No digital outputs to support outboard DAC