Sony is best known for the being one of the lead developers of the Blu-ray format and for the PlayStation brand which faces tough competition and a changing game industry. While Sony still offers all sorts of compelling home and consumer electronics, the company continues to struggle in making profits. Sony must prove to customers that they can still innovate or at least add more value to their products while keeping the prices reasonable. Sony’s family of home theater receivers, for instance, need that kind of treatment because there are several other home theater receiver brands to consider if one really desires a great audio experience for any price point. The Sony STR-DH540 represents Sony’s latest effort in delivering a decent home theater experience for under $300.
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The STR-DH540 boasts a fresh new look and it doesn’t copy the other generic layouts that most other models have. The front panel has a brushed aluminum finish with a black bar on the near top where the display and buttons are situated. The buttons don’t really stand out but the labels are found above making the overall layout of the front panel refreshingly minimalistic. The other unique thing about the receiver is the positioning of the two knobs. The larger master volume knob is placed on the far right of the receiver while the smaller input selector knob is positioned just beside it. Being an entry-level receiver, there are no other front panel ports aside from the USB port, mic jack and phones jack.
The rear side of the receiver has a more typical look with the usual groupings of audio and video composite ports and a group of 4 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output. These HDMI inputs will serve as your only HD connections since there are no component inputs but these 4 inputs should be enough for a single gaming console and a media player along with 2 other home theater components or portable devices. Finally, the Sony STR-DH540 provides the necessary surround, center and front speaker connections for a 5.1-channel setup.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
Although the STR-DH540 looks like a successor of the STR-DH520, the specs of Sony STR-DH540 are different. It may even look like a downgrade since the Sony STR-DH520 was a 7.1-channel receiver but the STR-DH540 definitely has some improvements help make this entry-level receiver a bit more attractive. Like the older model, all 4 HDMI inputs come with 3D pass-through adding full compatibility with Sony’s 3D Blu-ray disc players and PlayStation systems along with other 3D Blu-ray players made by other companies. With the Sony STR-DH540, 4K pass-through support is added to each of the HDMI ports as well. It won’t be a huge deal right now since 4K displays are large and ridiculously expensive for the average consumer but it is nice to see an entry-level model that has this kind of compatibility. 4K TVs and home theater components that support 4K resolutions will become affordable one of these days and when they do, you won’t have to replace the STR-DH540 with a newer model.
The Sony STR-DH540 drives a total of 725 watts which sounds like good news for the audio quality. But the power specification isn’t the only thing that is responsible for good audio quality and that is why Sony added some other technologies to give the audio quality the boost it needs for this receiver to be competitive in the entry-level space.
With support for HD Digital Cinema Sound and Front High Speakers, the STR-DH540 is capable of improving your existing speaker setup by adding 3D effects and vocal height. This should make those action-packed movies and games sound a lot livelier. Advanced Blu-ray disc audio decoding also improves the audio quality of Blu-ray sources thanks to support for dts-HD master audio and Dolby TrueHD codecs.
Calibrating the speakers also helps bring out the best from the current speaker setup and the Digital Cinema Auto Calibration feature makes this process easy to accomplish. The Sony STR-DH540 comes with a separate microphone which you have to plug in on the front so the microphone can properly capture test sounds coming from the speakers when the calibration process starts. All you have to do is place the microphone on the spot where you will be seated so the receiver can gauge the speaker distances and delays. Speaker setting adjustments will then be made automatically.
The USB port on the front panel is useful if you have an iPod, iPhone or iPad with plenty of stored music. Connecting the Apple mobile device to the receiver charges the device and lets you play back any stored music.
Other nice features that the STR-DH540 offer include BRAVIA Sync support. If your connected Sony BRAVIA TV supports BRAVIA Sync as well, you can either use the BRAVIA TV remote control or Sony receiver remote control to operate both components. 24p True Cinema pass-through is also supported enabling you to watch Blu-ray movies at 24 frames per second which is the frame rate that is experienced in cinemas. The TV must support this frame rate as well in order for this feature to work.
You also don’t have to leave the receiver on if all you want to do is access the HDMI sources. For instance, you can still play games on your favorite gaming console while saving some electricity by turning off the receiver. The Sony STR-DH540 supports standby pass-through for both audio and video so HDMI connected devices can still be accessed.
The STR-DH540 is a pretty good effort by Sony and can serve as a great companion for any Sony BRAVIA TV since the BRAVIA Sync can add some convenience. Because the audio quality is pretty good, the Sony STR-DH540 can also be a good model to consider if networking features and multi-zone support aren’t needed. The STR-DH520 may have 7.1-channel support and more HD inputs but the STR-DH540 consumes less power making the newer receiver a more cost-effective option than past entry-level receivers.