When it comes to building your very own home theater system, thinking about what AV receiver to get might be the last thing that comes in mind because AV receivers are not exactly necessary in completing a basic home theater setup. Your money is best spent on essential home theater equipment like an HDTV, Blu-ray player and speaker system. If you are lucky, you might find a nice package deal where you can buy these components all at once and set everything up without a problem assuming that all of the components are the same brand. But one of the main bottlenecks of a basic home theater setup is the audio quality and an AV receiver can be the difference maker. If you don’t have a very large room and don’t have any plans to make any big upgrades to any of your home theater components, you can settle for an inexpensive AV receiver like the Sony STR-DH520. Sony may sound like the most sensible choice if you have a Sony BRAVIA display and other Sony-branded components but it can bring value to other setups too.
The front of the STR-DH520 is pretty simple with the usual row of buttons of operating the standard functions of an AV receiver. There is a small input selector knob on the left and a larger master volume knob on the right side. The large info screen on the center shows things like the current input source. The black design allows the Sony STR-DH520 to blend in with the other Sony home theater components including popular Sony hardware like the PS3. The only downside of this minimal setup is the lack of connection ports. The only port you can make use of on the front is the phones jack for plugging in headphones.
If you want to plug in other components to the STR-DH520 like any HD-enabled devices small or large, you have to hook them up on the back where you can find 4 HDMI inputs and a pair of component video inputs. Although these inputs have labels, they are fully assignable so you can hook up a pair of gaming consoles for instance if you don’t need to plug in a media player. Don’t forget that the component video inputs are HD as well although any 3D capabilities that your device may have won’t be utilized unless you hook it up to any of the HDMI inputs.
Below is the back panel layout. Click on image to enlarge for a clearer view.
Adding 3D pass-through to a $250 AV receiver is actually a nice thing for Sony to do because Sony sells affordable 3D Blu-ray players and the PS3 gaming console already counts as a 3D Blu-ray player that can play 3D games. Combine that with the fact that 3D technologies are heading towards the smaller and more affordable TVs and the Sony STR-DH520 can be a decent futureproof investment.
The Sony STR-DH520 is also a 7.1-channel AV receiver so you can add surround speakers along with another pair of front high or surround back speakers. Although 7.1-channel speaker setups can make a difference especially if you watch Blu-ray movies, you can still get that cinematic sound if you have a simpler speaker setup. Sony equipped the STR-DH520 with a HD Digital Cinema Sound mode to add immersion to the sound experience. Advanced audio decoding features can also be applied specifically to Blu-ray discs so the sound effects can be heard as originally intended. The Sony STR-DH520 offers full support of the usual dts-HD master and Dolby TrueHD audio codecs along with ProLogic IIz which is often left out of entry-level models. With the 24p True Cinema mode, these movies can also be enjoyed at their native frame rates providing that you hook up the Blu-ray player or PS3 to an HDMI port.
Connecting the Sony STR-DH520 to other Sony components lets you take full advantage of the other features including Sony BRAVIA Sync and BRAVIA Widget Control. The BRAVIA Widget Control offers a more pleasing graphical user interface on the display. The Sony BRAVIA TV remote control can be used to operate this interface thanks to the BRAVIA Sync capability. That same remote can be used to control other BRAVIA Sync devices like Cyber-shot digital cameras and Handycam camcorders. Only certain Sony 2011 TV displays and newer can utilize the BRAVIA Widget Control feature.
Although the STR-DH520 sips far less power than some of the more feature-rich AV receivers, 100 watts per channel can still affect the electric bill. Fortunately, there is a standby pass-through feature so you don’t have to switch the Sony STR-DH520 on just to access any HDMI connected components.
The fairly powerful specs of the STR-DH520 make the $250 price tag a highly attractive deal. Before considering the purchase, you must take note of the missing networking features and multi-zone support. This means that 7.1-channel speaker system is exclusively for one room and you won’t be able to stream music from computers and mobile devices unless you have an HDMI cable that is long enough. With no HDMI port on the front, it might be a bit inconvenient to hook up those devices too. It is also disappointing that there is no USB port ruling out the possibility of iPod and iPhone support. You have to consider the STR-DH720 (priced at $330) if need that kind of support. You should also consider the STR-DH720 if you want the convenience of calibrating the speaker setup automatically or if you want analog sources to upscale to larger HD displays. As long as you know and accept the limitations of the Sony STR-DH520, there are hardly any decent AV receivers that can compete with the STR-DH520 at that low price point. If you have a home theater system that already consists of some Sony components, buying something like the STR-DH520 is a nobrainer if all you care about is basic sound amplification features and 3D support. There is no need upgrade the AV receiver anytime soon either if you don’t plan to go multi-room or go beyond 6 HD devices.
Discontinued by Manufacturer
Update: There is a newer model > Sony STR-DH590