One of the challenges of building a home theater system is getting all of the different components to work together. Even if you think you made the proper connections, you have to configure every component and conduct various tests just to see if everything is in order. To eliminate the setup frustrations, manufacturers are convincing customers to consider getting a complete set of home theater components all from the same manufacturer from the speaker system to the media player and television. HDMI is the interface that normally ties things together as you can do things like control multiple devices using the same remote control. But when choosing an AV receiver for your home theater setup, there are a few more options available. Although some of the options may look attractive, getting a Sony STR-DH720 is recommended if you have a lot of Sony components and you wish to complete the Sony-branded setup.
Sticking to one brand isn’t just about tight integration; you also get the aesthetics advantage. The STR-DH720 has a similar black finish to the rest of the Sony components. From the front, the Sony STR-DH720 isn’t exactly minimal but that could be a good thing if you prefer tinkering with the controls that way. Unlike many of today’s AV receivers, the STR-DH720 features three knobs on the front that control tuning, input selection and volume. There are various small buttons if you want to do things like change the tuning or mode or use the sound optimizer. A USB port along with the video composite inputs can be found on the lower right.
Because the Sony STR-DH720 is an entry-level model, you cannot hook up too many components on the back of this AV receiver. There are only 4 HDMI inputs and a single HDMI TV out which can actually be enough if you have a game console, cable box and media player and don’t plan on upgrading your home theater system any further. The component video inputs can still be used if you still use older HD components.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
The most interesting thing about this low-cost AV receiver is its support for 7.1-channel surround sound (105W). Sony makes some impressive 5.1-speaker systems that should work very well with the STR-DH720 and you can still have room to expand even if you decide to purchase another brand of speakers. No matter what speakers you hook up, the HD Digital Cinema Sound mode is always available to improve the acoustics of movies. Setting up these speakers is also simple thanks to the Digital Cinema Auto Calibration feature. It works like other calibration methods where you have to plug the included microphone into the front jack and place it on the spot where people will be watching TV or listening to music. After that, you can simply run the calibration and the Sony STR-DH720 automatically calculates parameters like the distance between the speakers and placement. No matter what the setup is, the audio quality should be maximized after the calibration is finished.
Another impressive feature is the 3D support which means that 3D Blu-ray players and 3D displays can work without issues. Even if the display isn’t a BRAVIA display, 3D Blu-ray titles should be watchable and look great. Don’t forget that Sony’s own PS3 gaming console is also 3D-enabled so it is possible to enjoy any 3D compatible games even if the system is hooked up to the STR-DH720.
Sony’s Blu-ray players are highly impressive and the Sony STR-DH720 contributes more to the experience with the Advanced Blu-ray Disc Audio Decoding which uses audio codecs including dts-HD, ProLogic IIz and Dolby TrueHD. It also lets you watch any Blu-ray disc titles in their standard 24p frame rate for an ideal cinematic experience. For non-Blu-ray content, the STR-DH720 can upscale older movies to 1080i. It isn’t as good as other AV receivers with full HD upscaling capabilities but it is certainly better than nothing and analog-connected devices look noticeably better with this upconverting feature.
Understandably, there are no Internet capabilities of any kind since there is no Ethernet port present. However, the built-in tuner can still access XM radio stations along with Sirius. The USB port on the front also adds to the usefulness of the Sony STR-DH720 outside movies if you have an iPod or iPhone. Connecting an iPhone or iPod lets you enjoy any music files or video files stored in the portable device. At the same time, the device will be charged as well.
While the STR-DH720 should work fine with just about any home theater configuration, it is best to connect a Sony BRAVIA display to the HDMI output so you can take advantage of the BRAVIA Widget Control feature. This basically gives the Sony STR-DH720 a graphical user interface so it is much easier to edit options. This type of connection also adds syncing capabilities where you can use the TV remote to control the STR-DH720
The Sony STR-DH720 is priced at a very attractive $329 and that is sure to bring up some heat in the entry-level competition as entry-level models are often filled with compromises. Sony surprisingly managed to hit some premium notes by offering some 7.1-channel power along with 3D features and a reasonable number of HD inputs. Of course, the real compromises that deserve mentioning are the lack of multi-room support and absence of networking features. Networking features are slowly making their way towards entry-level models so people in the living room can enjoy more content without the need of an HTPC so the STR-DH720 feels rather outdated in that respect. But remember that this is a Sony product so it has the brand recognition and it is very easy to setup. If your display or Blu-ray player already has networking features, it should be okay to consider a basic AV receiver like the Sony STR-DH720. What matters is that the STR-DH720 integrates nicely with the home theater system and it has the specs to deliver a nice audio and video experience.
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