Originally Posted by Simon Paterson
I cannot comment specifically about the 6400ES, but I believe it is the same as the 5400ES (except for ethernet connection), which I have had much experience with recently.
I installed the 5400ES with the 5000ES Blu-ray player. My senior citizen friend is very happy.
Firstly, Zone 2 does not support digital signals of any kind. None. This includes 5.1/7.1 surround sound. There is no way around this. You can still get HD video, however. The source signal must be analog, so any equipment hooked up via HDMI only cannot be viewed in Zone 2. This equipment must be hooked with analog cabling in addition to the HDMI to view them in Zone 2, and effectively the source input selection on the receiver is different. That is, the digital signal will be HDMI 1, for example, and the analog signal would be on Video 1. In this instance, Zone 2 would use Video 1 source and the Main Zone would use HDMI 1 source.
I used Component RGB output to Zone 2 through baluns for HD video. With Zone 2 you can watch a different source to the Main Zone. I had to output the Blu-ray through HDMI and
Component RGB. This setup is not ideal with the 5000ES Blu-ray player because it requires a change to the system setup on the Blu-ray player to switch between HDMI and Component RGB output. The difference is 1080i versus 1080p. The HDMI will output 1080p but the Component will only output 1080i.
As for the component baluns connecting to Zone 2, I didn't have total success. Even over small distances using cat5e cabling, there was some darkening of the image. Interestingly, the image looked clear, but I couldn't overcome the darkening with brightness and contrast adjustments on the television. It is not awful, but it is noticeable. The baluns I used were passive, so perhaps there may be some advantage to powered amplified signal extenders, but I have not had any experience with these myself. In the end I used cat6 cabling which extended over 100 feet, but this did not help with the darkening of the image.
The other thing I noted about the component baluns is that text (such as credits) had a kind of 'motion blur'. Like wet ink being smudged with a finger. The effect was directly horizontal. You couldn't seem to notice this in general images, but it became apparent whenever the Foxtel (HD cable) interface was shown, or the credits rolled at the end of a DVD.
Also, component baluns are designed to carry digital sound which, as noted, cannot be carried through to Zone 2. If you want to do component video plus stereo audio, you will actually need 2 balun connections at each end for Zone 2: one for component video and another for stereo audio. Or, of course, just split a mono signal. Cat5 has 4 lots of twisted pairs, and each pair carries a signal. For component plus stereo you need 5 signals and, as such, more than one set of baluns.
In the installation I did, I ended up resorting to composite connections over component baluns since the Zone 2 was just a small television in the kitchen. All of this experience did point out the issue of HD video and digital audio in Zone 2 using the 5400ES. From my research on other receivers, it appeared that many other brands had the same issue. My friend was very keen on Sony equipment, however, so I did not do the most exhaustive research.
As you noted, you can switch the main display HDMI output. You cannot have both of these running at the same time. Also, it is worth noting a minor, but important, detail regarding this second HDMI output. If you are going to use it as a connection to a second viewing area, then you will need a second receiver. There is a setting for sound output which is 'AMP' or 'TV+AMP'. If you use 'AMP', you will not get any sound through the second HDMI output. If you use 'TV+AMP', the decoding performed by the television connected to the second HDMI output will be used. In many cases the television will only decode a stereo signal. This means, when you flick back to the first HDMI output, instead of getting all that lovely sound decoding on the 5400ES receiver, it will downmix to stereo; no surround sound in your main viewing area. Of course, you could switch the setting back and forth when you switch the HDMI output, but this could get boring very quickly. From all my attempts to use the second HDMI output as a replacement for Zone 2, there were too many restrictions or expenses to make it work.
I also looked at HDMI signal splitters as a solution for doing Zone 2. The one thing I noted which turned me away is that the first (master) output on the splitter is used to negotiate HDCP and (in some cases) resolution. This means that the main television would have to be on and able to make that negotiation for the other HDMI connections on the splitter to work. You may be able to find a HDMI splitter that works differently; all the ones I researched, including the Gefen, had this limitation.
I also looked at HDMI switchers, briefly, but they are kind of expensive and it was hard to work out how to connect it all with the 5400ES receiver. My friend thought this was a waste since he had signal switching built-in to the receiver. He is not technically minded, so it was hard to explain. I also needed to keep the setup reasonably simple. More to the point, I had no real need for surround sound in Zone 2.
One thing I never determined was whether you could attach more than one speaker to the binding posts on the 5400ES. There is a Zone 3 on the receiver which outputs stereo audio only, and you need a separate power amp, but you can use Speakers A+B together and Zone 3 can be set to 'source', which outputs the same audio as the A+B speakers. I know you can get speaker switching equipment which you can attach several speakers sets and allows you to turn on/off different speakers. Some can even be hooked up to RF remote controls or to hard-wired controls such as volume control knobs. Also note that on the 5400ES there are speaker bindings for Zone 2 but I believe these are also used in the 7.1 surround setup. I'll have to check that detail.
In the end I couldn't find a way to have more than 1 HD video/audio output successfully using the 5400ES. In this installation, I didn't really need it, although I did go through lots of research to investigate the possibility.
Perhaps somebody can offer some advice on using HDMI switchers and repeaters with multiple receivers?
The Sony 5400ES is a great piece of kit if your secondary output is just a television and you have no need for digital audio. It appears to be designed for this purpose. In this instance it may take some insight into which balun\\extender to use to ensure the video signal does not degrade too much, as it did with the passive baluns I used. I also did not try Cat6a or Cat5e Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) cabling, so I'm not sure if that will help. I also did not try long component cable runs, but these appear to be possible. I used very small lengths of Cat5e cabling to test, and it did not matter about the length of the cable; the result was always the same.
One thing I do really like about the 5400ES is the Faroudja upscaling engine. This works with analog signals passed through to the main HDMI output as well as Zone 2 component output. The upscaling is lovely on a LCD display, such as the 52" Bravia my friend was using. I tried 'Fargo' and from the right distance it tricked my friend into thinking he was watching a Blu-ray disc! Although, it becomes very obvious when you put in a real BD that there is a difference, but the result is impressive nonetheless. A lot of DVD machines have HDMI output now and do their own upscaling. I actually avoided this deliberately and used component output without any upscaling by the DVD, just so the 5400ES receiver would be doing the upscaling, and the result was fantastic.
I hope some of this helps, SonyHome, and I'm happy to answer any more specific questions you may have. This is all very fresh in my mind right now.