Receivers

Onkyo TX-SR806 THX Ultra2 Plus 7.1 A/V Receiver

ARTICLE INDEX

The Onkyo 806 Software

Besides amplifier power, this is what an AVR comes down to.

The Video Prcocessor

As mentioned Onkyo has stepped up their game with regards to the video processor. Since this is the most significant upgrade, we'll deal with it first.

Onkyo TX-SR806 Receiver

In terms of deinterlacing, it is functional, but not stellar.  Putting it through the relevant portions of our DVD Player Benchmark tests, it nails all the essentials but has a hard time keeping up on more challenging material such as our mixed content tests and it completely falls apart on AVIA Pro motion tests (both 24 and 30 fps source).  Stepping up to 1080 line source material it had no problem finding and correctly processing a clean 3-2 cadence, and it does do motion adaptive deinterlacing of video based material. Scaling of 480 line to 1080 line is also adequate.

A byproduct of the new processor is that you get a much updated looking onscreen display even over HDMI at 1080p.  Gone are the block-type text of yesteryear in favor of a smoother more eye pleasing information display.

Basic video adjustments (black level, white level, etc) are available and are independent for each and every source. This is excellent, but these adjustments are tedious to use as the setup menu blocks your video, so you have to hit enter to "view picture" and wait several seconds to see what your are doing. Even more tedious is the aspect ratio control: Though not comprehensive it is adequate in its choices but there is only one setting shared by all inputs and it is buried deep in a setup menu.

The bottom line is that if you have nothing else, the 806's video processor is nice, especially for something like HD Cable or Satellite boxes which at best turn out their native 1080i60 signal format.  For hard core DVD aficionados there is no question an Oppo 983 player is still your best bet, yet not "passed through" the Onkyo.  Why?  The 806 is NOT capable of unaltered HDMI repeating!  At the very least it drops below black (even if the source is component analogue video).

Ultimately you are better running source straight to display, but that is going to be a problem for Blu-Ray since you MUST run it through the Onkyo in order for it to strip the HD audio from the HDMI stream.  This could very well be a deal breaker for many users and we hope that Onkyo can repair this flaw via firmware in the future (although without knowing the root cause we cannot say whether that is even a possibility).

Moving on to audio...

The 806 carries on Onkyo's status as a benchmark in volume control features.  The overall granularity of all adjustments, including master volume level, are half-dB increments.  Power/On volume (Fixed or Last) and Max Volume (independent for Main and Zone2), separate headphone volume, choice of mute (-dB or cut): it's all here.

The 806 boasts 2-Zone operation with both line level stereo output as well as amplified speaker outputs for zones 2.  Sadly its utility is severely diminished by the fact that while you can monitor any source independent of the main zone, only analogue inputs are valid. In years past when analogue was still dominant and DSP was still expensive, this was the norm.  But in this day and age of digital i/o prevalence, it seems a shame to omit the secondary decoder and pair of DACs required to get a fully functional Zone2. Further, Zone2 "steals" the output devices from the surround back/rear channels so when Zone2 is on, 7.1 playback is not available in the main zone.

Everything Dolby has on the table right now, right up to Dolby Digital+ and TrueHD, is supported by the 806, and the implementation is as complete as can be hoped for.  The Pro Logic IIx Music non-mandatory adjustments are available to the user, although they are buried deep in the setup and thus discourage experimentation.  EX flags are recognized, but Surr.Encode flag in two-channel Dolby Digital is ignored.  Dynamic Range Control (DRC) takes a couple button presses to get at it and there is no indication on the front panel that it is engaged.

Lock-on time of digital bitstreams is good, and over HDMI it is much improved from the 805, but there are loud relays which seem to constantly engage/disengage as bitstreams start, stop, or change.  Depending on your disposition, it can get annoying.

At the start of a bitstream, the display will (briefly) show the difference in Dialnorm assertion with reference to the default -27. So for example, if you see "Dialnorm: +4 dB", that means the output of the decoder has been raised by 4 dB.

Everything DTS has on the table right now is also supported by the 806, right up to HD Master.  Traditional DTS is attenuated by 4 dB inside the processor per THX's requirements, equating it with Dolby Digital material encoded with the default Dialnorm value of -27 (for more information on Dialogue Normalization, please see our article Dialogue Normalization: Friend or Foe).  There is no dynamic range control facility for DTS though.

You can select for each input a default playback mode for each of the various possible input formats. So for example, for a given input, you can have it default to "Stereo" on Analog/2 channel PCM material, "THX" on Dolby Digital 5.1, and "Pro Logic II" on 2 channel Dolby Digital.  You can also set each format to simply use the last mode used and that is likely where most people will leave it.

Each input can be delayed ("lip-synch" delay) up to 250 ms in 5 ms increments.  This is excellent.

When configured for a 7.1 speaker array, you unfortunately cannot choose to send the surround channels of a 5.1 source to the back surrounds (or both sides and back surrounds).

We confirmed that the 806 responsibly down-mixes 5.1 soundtracks to stereo for the sake of headphones, or, heaven forbid, if you find yourself with only two speakers, for some reason.  But, as mentioned before, this does NOT work for Zone2 as Zone2 can only monitor stereo analogue sources to begin with.

Mono soundtracks are adequately handled by the 806, giving the user control of both which channels to matrix in (left, right, or both) as well as the output configuration (left/right, or center).  Academy Filter, one of those virtual no-cost things, is conspicuously missing.

Regrettably there is no option to digitize the 5.1 analog input and thus it cannot inherit the receiver's bass management and time alignment.  Even though the source may provide for these adequately, it will never benefit from the Audyssey system or THX processes, including the new THX Loudness Plus.  Speaking of which...

THX

The 806 is our first look at an Ultra2 Plus unit, the main new feature of which is THX Loudness Plus.  This is a persistent setup choice and after experimenting with it I'm prepared to endorse its full time use.  The concept itself is not entirely new.  Soundtracks are crafted at industry standard Reference Level volume, a very loud level virtually never used in home theater settings.  In layman's terms, as we get into lower playback volumes the spectral response of our hearing changes, unequally so, as a function of direction.  As the volume drops we perceptually hear less extreme bass and treble in general, more so for sound sources behind us.  The net result is sound without the thrill of deep bass and surround sound which seems like it's just not there.  THX Loudness Plus is THX's take on an existing concept of correcting for this, bringing to the table their profound experience with soundtracks, including how we perceive them.  It applies their correction as a function of playback level: simply stated, the lower the volume, the more processing in terms of both spectral reshaping and relative channel level skewing to the surrounds.  The actual benefit: you hear a MUCH better low-volume facsimile of the full-volume multichannel soundtrack.

A legacy note: THX's Re-Eq can be turned off independently of the THX Cinema/THX Surround EX mode and to do so takes a few button presses.  We still would like to pressure both manufacturers and THX to allow this to be a persistent choice.  Right now, it's mandated that it reset to "On" whenever input or power is cycled.  In our article Cinema Sound and EQ Curves, we explain why the use of THX's Re-Eq depends, not on the media, but on the room's acoustics (meaning that using it or not should be a "Setup" choice).

Misc

The front panel display is dimmable. At the press of a button you can cycle through three brightness levels, but I must repeatedly make appeal: the lowest setting still is not low enough!

The front panel itself is still a frustrating mix of the useful and the useless. There are two lines of dot-matrix characters, plus a dedicated (though incredibly small) volume level indicator.  All status information, such as input format, post-process application etc., is carried by miniscule icons which, even at abnormally short distance, are all but indiscernible (and yes I have still have my 20-20 vision).  Their usefulness becomes a game of recognizing the position of the little blips (which is all they appear as, at any normal usage distance).