Sony STR-DA3300ES AV Receiver Page 2
When you turn on the virtual speakers in Cinema Studio EX C, for example, the 12 floating virtual surround speakers spread out around the sides and back of the home theater displayed on the screen, and light up to indicate that they are active. They'll go dark when the parameter is turned off. There's a similar visual for the four floating speakers represented when adjusting the "screen depth" setting. Similar screens are used for setting the basic speaker configuration (3/2.1 ch, 2/0.1 ch, etc.) under the "Speaker Pattern" menu.
As far as I'm concerned, this is the standard that all other receiver makers should aspire to.
Sony packs two remote controls with the STR-DA3300ES. One is the traditional button-laden, intimidating preprogrammed/learning remote that will cause the average technophobe to lose bowel integrity at first sight. The other remote, with its smaller, more right-brain friendly design, can do almost everything it's larger sibling can do – except control the other components in your system.
As you'd hope for $1,000, STR-DA3300ES is quite up to the task of filling a large home theater with excellent quality sound using either a 7.1- or 5.1-channel setup. (You can use two of the seven amplifier channels to power a second zone, or you can choose to bi-amp your main speakers with the extra two channels in the 5.1-channel system configuration.)
I'm not sure I've ever run across a Sony receiver (ES or not) that's ever truly impressed me with subtle warmth and depth, and the STR-DA3300ES doesn't give me any new reason to change that perception. I'd describe the character of the sound from this receiver as precise and clinical, but lacking any edginess or harshness that sometimes goes along with that kind of sound. Listening to the Blu-ray Disc of 300 was a definite treat. Equal clarity was given to the voice of the narrator, the music, as well as the larger special effects regardless of volume level or specific instantaneous demand.
There's certainly no shortage of surround sound decoding or soundfield processing modes here, but one thing you might say that's missing from the STR-DA3300ES is the ability to decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio inside the AVR. But many Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD players can convert TrueHD to PCM, so you'll still be able to enjoy these hi-res tracks through the HDMI connections since the Sony accepts and decodes up to 7.1-channels of PCM [DTS-HD MA decoding or even transcoding PCM is non-existent in HD disc players at the moment, at least at full resolution. It's common that players can decode and/or transmit the backward compatible 1.5Mbps DTS "core" tracks- Ed.] Seeing how there are currently few (if any) Blu-ray or HD DVD players capable of outputting the native Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA bitstreams, it's not a big issue at the moment. Quite frankly, even after such players are available, you still won't be suffering from an audio performance standpoint, anyway. (There are those bragging rights issues, however. . .)
The auto speaker calibration routine is fast with results that are, for the most part, pretty accurate. In addition to its speed, the set up process gives you a choice of calibration types, including "Full Flat", "Engineer", and "Front Reference". Interestingly, you can choose different types for each of the three seating positions. I wound up using Front Reference as my preferred setting, but as with the other settings, I felt the need to turn the bass down just a bit.
The STR-DA3300ES has about all the upconversion and downconversion capabilities you'll ever need, including the ability to take component HD video and downconvert it for output from the Monitor Video Out jack in case you haven't upgraded to an HDTV yet. If you set the AVR to do this, however, all of the video outputs will be fed 480i video – including the component and HDMI outputs.
Video from HDMI sources is not downconverted, it is simply passed through at native resolution. If you do have an HDTV, you can upconvert all incoming video up to 1080i for output via component or as up to 1080p via the HDMI connection. But it's an either/or proposition. When connected to an HDMI-equipped HDTV, the STR-DA3300ES will only send upconverted signals using the HDMI connection regardless of whether you have component running from the receiver to your HDTV or not.
Some of the promotional material might leave you with the impression that you can use the STR-DA3300ES to distribute downconverted HD video to the second zone. Alas, this is not the case. The AVR only passes 480i composite video inputs to the Zone 2 Video Out, which means, if you have a satellite dish, for example, you'll need to connect the composite video out as well as the HD component or HDMI output. That's typical of most two-zone AVRs, but it sure would have been cool and convenient to have it the other way.
The STR-DA3300ES's upconversion performance is very good for a receiver in this price range. Upconverted DVDs look sharp, but the processor has some weakness when it comes jaggies.
There's one additional thing to note about the STR-DA3300ES when it comes to video: there are no S-video inputs. You'll have to connect your non-HD, non-component pieces of gear using their composite outputs. S-VHS fans are out of luck!
No AVR (at least that I've seen and heard) is perfect, and the STR-DA3300ES is no exception. Something I would like to have seen here is the ability to eliminate unused inputs so you don't have to toggle through them when using the simple remote or the input knob on the front of the receiver. Although you have the option of turning off the GUI and painfully going through the menus one heading at a time using the single line display on the front of the receiver, there's no way to do it all from the front of the unit. You have to use the remote for at least part of the menu navigation.
While we're on the subject, although the vast expanse of the STR-DA3300ES's front panel is void of buttons or lights, the display window is torturously crammed with information, much of it in very tiny text. Fortunately, you have the option of dimming or totally turning off the display.
Had Sony come out with an AVR sporting the same performance, inputs, and functionality of the STR-DA3300ES without the GUI, it would have been a good, solid piece of home theater gear for $1,000. It wouldn't have been anything to write home about, but it would have still had some merit. The excellent GUI, however, is so compelling that it can't be ignored when comparing the STR-DA300ES to other receivers on the market. Combined with the great performance and the extensive flexibility, it makes this receiver one of the hot picks in the $1,000 category.
While not being in the bargain category strictly by price, this Sony AVR brings a heckuva lot to the table for the money. Excellent connectivity and features, including what you'll need to get the most out of Blu-ray and HD DVD. But the show stealer is the GUI, which makes all this goodness simple to use. A hot pick in an AVR for sure!