Pros: Inexpensive 7.1 Receiver with 3D and Arc support. Plenty of connections. Easy set-up.
Cons: No up-conversion and no component to HDMI support. No room correction in US Versions.
The world of the $200 AVR has several options...though sorting through it seems to be a practice in finding the best of the worst. Some brands have better overall products than SONY...but in this price range (at the time)...the SONY STR-DH520 seemed to have the best reviews, features and specs which I was looking for. So armed with a Fry's weekly special for $175 in hand...I purchased my new AVR.
Initial impressions were mixed. Having never owned a true AVR, I wasn't quite sure how the AVR was supposed to feel. It's quite a bit larger than upgrading from an HTiB...and the size seems on par with other brands...but the casing does feel somewhat hollow and flimsy...as if the components inside are somewhat cheap. Again...this is based off nothing more than weight and the feel of picking it up...but having played around with several other brands at this point (about 1 year later)...I can confirm that other brands do feel more sturdy. Additionally..this AVR does generate some heat. My corner unit for the Audio/Video equipment is well ventilated...so it's not much of a concern for me...but this AVR might not be best for set-ups without a lot of breathing room.
Installation is fairly straight-forward as it has the usual connections that I was already used to. 4 HDMI in/1 HDMI Out and 2 Component In/1 Component Out as well as 2 Digital Optical and one Digital Coax for audio.. Speaker connectors are a mix of Banana Plug type (2 sets for Front Only) and 5 standard Clip-type connectors for Center and Surrounds. Of course I would prefer Banana Plugs all the way around...but at the price point I was shopping...it was acceptable. Going in to it...I knew there wasn't going to be Up-Conversion for my legacy equipment...but I was expecting to reduce some of the cable clutter by changing those Component Cables to an HDMI output. Unfortunately - SONY is not very clear on this issue in the literature. As it turns out...the connectors are internally separated...meaning that a Component-in MUST go to a Component-Out. An HDMI-in MUST go to an HDMI-Out. So - If you were hoping of converting some of those Component Cables to HDMI...IT IS NOT POSSIBLE with this unit. As expected though...It was very nice to reduce some cable clutter by having a single HDMI cable and a single set of Component cables going to the TV from the AVR.
Though every thread I read about a new AVR said to get something with Audessy...I opted to save a few bucks and grab something without room correcting features. Though this model sold OUTSIDE the US DOES come with room calibrating and correcting features...the US version does not. The do-it-yourself Settings are fairly simple though...even to a novice. You can adjust the decibel level of individual speakers to account for personal taste. Though that is a standard feature on most I would assume...using it is fairly simple on the Sony.
The unit integrated fairly well with my LG TV and 3D Blu-Ray player. The ARC functions very well and the HDMI-CEC also tends to work well between the units. With my Direct TV remote control - I can adjust the AVR's volume without having to change inputs on the remote. This was a pleasant surprise since for years I have had to change the input on the remote to adjust the system volume. I also have an Optical cable running directly from the TV to the AVR for those occasions when I use the TV's built-in Smart functions (Netflix, Amazon Video, etc). Though you do have to change the Input from Sat/Cable to TV...again it is fairly seamless.
Sound quality is excellent (as far as I can tell) in both 5.1 and 7.1 configurations. Dolby Digital and the other sound modes (DCS, Pro_logic, etc) all sound very good. With my room set-up...the 5.1 is pretty all that I can use...so the extra speakers for the 7.1 setup are not used any more. It would have been nice if this receiver had zones that I could assign those 2 extra speakers to...as I would love to have them moved outside onto our patio...but again, that is a feature that is normally found with a little more money spent.
My most major complaints about this unit are this:
1) The input (TV, Sat/Cable, Game, etc) DEFAULTS BACK TO TV every single time you turn off the unit. I shared many emails with Sony support on this issue and they have assured me that that is intentional. Though I can understand that for over-the-air users...for me it is really a deal-breaker. Every time I turn on the Home Theater...I have to change the input back to Sat/Cable. Its annoying as heck. I am of the opinion that it should stay in the last mode used when powered off.
2) No Component to HDMI conversion. Many entry-level receivers do this and I thought that was a standard thing...but it turns out it is not.
3) The FM radio actually only works if you have BOTH the AM and FM antenna's plugged in. In the interest of reducing clutter...I had removed the AM loop only to find that I could no longer select FM radio on the receiver. Again - this is not a major issue...but it seems silly that you have to plug in the AM antenna to be able to access FM radio
Given the budget I was working with and the "need it NOW" factor (since the TV's built-in sound is horrible)...I really rushed into buying something that fit a budget and had the basic features I needed. In retrospect...I should have gotten something else. Am I satisfied with the AVR...sure. Would I buy it again though...No.