Hardware: Sony STR-DG920
[Note: Each part of this series was to have an increasingly longer name – but then again, this was only supposed to be a three-part series. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. The increasingly-longer-name joke isn’t funny and I’m not doing it anymore.]
In Replacing Television with The Internet, Part 2 1/2: The Sound Redux, I said that my new amp would be here by the end of the week. It finally arrived three weeks later.
I chose the STR-DG920 because it has 4 HDMI inputs, a Faroudja video processor, and is TrueHD/dts-HD compliant.
The TrueHD/dts-HD thing is future-proofing. I only have 5.1 speakers and don’t own a BluRay player, so I won’t be listening to 7.1 sound any time soon.
The video processor allows me to hook a Nintendo Wii up to my system without buying a costly component-and-optical-audio-to-HDMI bridge, (and Faroudja is a name in video processing that I trust)
…and the 4 HDMI inputs will eliminate the need for an HDMI switch. At least that was the plan.
I don’t know if this is a Sony-specific problem, a problem with my model, or if it has something to do with how HDMI works, but I couldn’t connect my Mac to the Video 1 HDMI input and the Video 1 optical audio port at the same time. The Optical port only works if the HDMI port isn’t in use.
That isn’t to say that I HAVE to use the HDMI audio feed.
I can combine the HDMI video feed with any of the other audio inputs on the back of the machine EXCEPT the digital optical port. It seems that the digital optical port can only be combined with an analog video port.
If I want the AV Receiver to control the digital video feed from the Mac, I need to use the receiver’s analog audio ports and the analog stereo speaker plug on the Mac. All my 5.1 content pumped into my 7.1 amp would be downmixed to 2.0. No thanks.
(Not to mention that for some reason my Mac’s video goes from being 1920×1200 to (something)x720 when piped through the DG920. What’s causing THAT?!?)
I end up unplugging the video feed from the receiver, re-ordering the same video switch I just returned, and using the digital optical port sans video. So for the Mac, the DG920 was a poor decision.
[UPDATE: What was causing the downscaling was a lack of HDCP certification coming from the Mac. All new Macs have miniDisplayPort ports, but (like remotes) mine does not. It’s too old. By bypassing the amp, I bypass the “checkpoint” and get full 1920 x 1200 from the Mac to my screen. My next Mac will be able to be plugged directly into the DG920 with no downscaling. I don’t know if it will still refuse to let me use the HDMI digital video feed and the digital optical audio feed at the same time or if being HDCP compliant on the video end will solve it.]
Luckily, the other things I connected to it went more smoothly.
I picked up a Sony DVP-NS601HP DVD Player at Costco for $60 and hooked it up to the DG920 via HDMI. I don’t know which of the two units is doing the scaling, but the picture looks incredible. I had no idea a DVD could look this good! Much better than the software scaling inside the Mac.
It also improved the picture quality of the Roku Netflix Player (which I had connected directly to the monitor for the week before the receiver arrived).
As for setup, I’m going to have to calibrate the speakers the old fashioned way – with test tones and a sound meter – because the auto-calibration only works with 7 speakers and a subwoofer attached even though there is a method of telling the amp how many speakers you have attached.
Like all Sony products, the remote control is awful. The controls on the unit itself aren’t much better. It was designed by designers who believe that “design” is all about looks.
Gone are the simple buttons for each input (press “DVD” for the DVD Player, press “Video 1” for the TiVo, etc.). To change inputs you have to spin a knob and cycle through all the inputs, including those not in use. And the knob is right next to the volume knob so it’s real easy to bump when adjusting the sound level. If the machines didn’t put out such wonderful, deep, rich, clear sound at an affordable price I wouldn’t keep buying them.
Hell, I’d pay more for a better interface if someone would make one. Until then I have to shop by spec sheet.
As long as I’m wishing for stuff, If Apple would put out a Mac Mini with BluRay and HDCP-compliant output, clams would envy my happiness level.
[UPDATE: Whoa, we’re halfway there. Whoa-oh! Livin’ on a prayer!]
(And may Apple NEVER build in DVR capabilities! Death to Linear Television Delivery!)