Onkyo has always been the home theater receiver manufacturer to make some surprises in the entry-level front. Last year, the Onkyo TX-NR626 made its splash boasting built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and video upscaling in an affordable package. This 2014, the TX-NR535 gets that wireless treatment making it now more affordable than ever to get a home theater receiver with wireless streaming capabilities. This makes the launch of the Onkyo TX-NR636 more interesting because it gives Onkyo the opportunity to do even more things to make the TX-NR636 feel like a huge leap over its predecessor and possibly a recommended consideration over the TX-NR535 which was announced alongside this receiver. Judging from the features of this home theater receiver, Onkyo has definitely taken that opportunity.
The Onkyo TX-NR636 and the other 2014 models kept the spirit of the TX series intact for the most part. Onkyo continues to believe that having lots of buttons along the middle of the receiver is the way to go when it comes to input selection. This arrangement is fine as each of these buttons are appropriately labeled and all you have to do is connect the components to their corresponding labels on the back. The only large knob is used to adjust the master volume. Like the TX-NR535 being compared to its predecessor, the TX-NR636 surprisingly weighs a couple of pounds less than the TX-NR626. But perhaps the most impressive thing can be noticed on the bottom of the receiver where the aux inputs are absent with only the USB port and setup mic remaining. These ports are missing because there is now an HDMI port on the bottom left side of the receiver right next to the phones jack. This HDMI port also supports MHL which makes perfect sense since many of the modern Android-powered smartphones and tablets can now take advantage of this port by outputting 1080p video with 7.1-channel surround sound while keeping the device charged.
The arrangement of ports on the back of the Onkyo TX-NR636 has been altered slightly compared to the TX-NR626 but the ports themselves haven’t changed all that much and remain sufficient for a standard 7.1-channel home theater setup. There are fewer assignable composite video inputs which is fine and there is still 6 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output. But this time around, there are small 4K labels pointing out which HDMI ports support 4K. The 5th and 6th HDMI ports do not support 4K. Upon closer inspection, you will also notice that the third HDMI input and HDMI output support HDCP 2.2 as well.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
Previous Onkyo home theater receivers supported 4K displays and even video upscaling but the TX-NR636 goes full on out with the 4K features. With some of the HDMI ports being 2.0, the Onkyo TX-NR636 can 4K at a full 60Hz allowing all the latest Blu-ray components to integrate with the home theater system with their full capabilities intact. Exclusive to the TX-NR636 and higher-end 2014 models, HDCP or High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection 2.2 is also supported which is crucial if you want to enjoy all the future 4K content that will be released by studios, Internet Service Providers and satellite broadcasts. Without this support, the content will be converted to standard definition.
The built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is no longer a new feature since it was featured in the previous model but it is still worth mentioning for people that may not have other components with wireless networking features. You won’t be able to enjoy popular video streaming services like Netflix purely with the receiver but there are a number of decent audio streaming services that are supported including Spotify, Pandora Radio, TuneIn, SiriusXM and a couple of others. Since the networking capabilities are built into the Onkyo TX-NR636, you won’t have to purchase dongles separately and the USB port will remain open for connecting a flash drive.
Android and iOS devices can still interact with the receiver using the Onkyo Remote app. If you are upgrading your older receiver, you may have to update the app as well. The interface remains the same for the most part offering a very intuitive way to change different settings of the receiver and manage your multi-room setup. One of the better features is the ability to stream high resolution audio to a computer or NAS through DLNA. Non-smartphone devices can still use Bluetooth to stream but it uses a dated version (2.1 + EDR) so you have limited range and the quality is less impressive compared to a Wi-Fi solution.
The TX-NR636 is significantly heavier than the TX-NR535 and part of the reason is the Three-stage inverted Darlington Circuitry which is basically an audio enhancer that expands the soundstage and dramatically boosts the audio quality. Combined with the WRAT (Wide Range Amplifier Technology), the low-end sound isn’t left out. Other features in this jam-packed 7.2-channel receiver include a dedicated phono input to allow turntables to be connected along with powered Zone 2 terminals to allow for a multi-room audio configuration. The surround back channels can take advantage of the Dolby Pro Logic IIz technology to bi-amp the front speakers.
Qdeo’s upscaling technology is once again present in this successor and it helps even the dated DVDs to look their finest on a massive 1080p or 4K display. Ultra HD content performs smoothly at 60 frames per second too.
Onkyo also made a sweeping change to their room calibration system. It now uses a proprietary technology called AccuEQ rather than Audyssey’s known system. The technical aspects of this system are different but in the end, the calibration process still focuses on taking the speaker size, distance and type into account when calibrating the speakers. Even the wall and floor reflections are considered so you may get better results with the Onkyo TX-NR636.
Those that are looking to give their home theater system an extra oomph will certainly enjoy the features that the TX-NR636 provides. It is also the home theater receiver to get for future-proof as you get all those 4K goodies for a price under $500. Flagship receivers have finally reached that point where they are only meant for audiophiles and those that want more than 7 channels. The Onkyo TX-NR636 shouldn’t disappoint the average consumer.
Update: There is a newer model > Onkyo TX-NR676