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Not too long ago, if I was asked

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					AV RECEIVERS AND BLU-RAY PLAYERS

SONY STR DA5400 ES & BDP-S550

Hi-definition evolution
N
ot too long ago, if I was asked to recommend a good mid-level AV receiver, chances are a Sony wouldn’t have featured in my list of recommendations. To me, the company had for far too long been relying on the strength of its brand to garner sales, particularly in the competitive separate component segment of the A/V arena. Then the high-definition era dawned, and as one of the originators of Blu-ray, Sony upped the ante and started releasing receivers that could actually, in all areas of performance, support the promise of Blu-ray. This brings me to the first component to be looked at in this review, the STR DA5400 ES AV receiver that in virtually all aspects is a device that more than ably meets, and in some aspects actually beats, many of the more upmarket brands that usually grace the pages of this magazine. Feature-wise, I don’t think that there is a competitor’s receiver at a similar price that comes close to the 5400, and more importantly, most of the features have an actual use in the real world of audio and video entertainment. Those features I really found worthwhile, and there simply isn’t enough space to list more than a few, included the auto set-up function, the graphical user interface, and the onboard video scaling. The scaling, that could transcode analogue video to digital and scale up to 1080p in particular worked really well, and the onscreen image was far better than when I left our resident television to do its own scaling. While features add to a product’s appeal, most get used to having them fairly quickly, expect them to do their thing, and then just accept them as being there to use. Performance on the other hand is always being evaluated, and here the 5400 was, in most aspects, a winner too. Its ability to decode all the current highdefinition audio formats meant that I could hear the difference between Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby True HD audio. This meant that the processing and amplifiers built into the unit had enough resolution to enable me to hear the differences, although I did feel that the on board amplification did tend to lean out as volume levels were pushed up. I have heard similarly rated AV amplifiers that sound a little cleaner and clearer. On the other hand, when the line level outputs of the 5400 were connected to an external power amplifier, it proved to be a more than capable pre-amp, and here it

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sounded clean and neutral at all levels. Moving on, and we get to the Blu-ray player part of this review. Here, being a Blu-ray founder certainly showed benefits in a number of key areas. Not having to pay anyone else royalties is probably one of the reasons that Sony can offer so much performance for relatively little money – for a Blu-ray player, that is. As a look at the vital stats panel reveals, this is a player that has all the features and functionality that Blu-ray has been promising from the start. Theoretically you could use the BD live feature, connect to the Internet, watch and download extra information available from filmmaker’s websites. I say theoretically, as discs that feature BD-Live are few and far between. The presence of analogue outputs and Dolby TrueHD internal decoding, also means that this is a player that can be connected

to almost any receiver that has 7.1 channel inputs, and you would still hear the benefits of uncompressed audio.As far as I could tell, the player doesn’t decode DTS Master Audio and high resolution audio internally, but it does output these signals through its HDMI connector, so an AV receiver – like the 5400 – would be required should you have discs encoded with these formats that you want to listen to. Naturally, the player supports all the latest video formats too, and image quality was quite superb, although I’m not sure if it quite matched that delivered by the Denon Blu-ray player we looked at recently.The Denon however couldn’t match the Sony as far as features is concerned. As stated in my verdict, both these models can face any opposition, and the Blu-ray player in particular would win most value/ performance battles.
Joel Kopping

VITAL STATS
Sony STR DA5400 ES Channels ......................................................7 Power output ....120 watts per channel Surround sound formats ..........................................All current formats DSP chips ....................SHARC EX4+EX3 HDMI inputs/outputs ........6 in/2 out AV inputs/outputs ................5 in/1 out Audio inputs/outputs ........5 in/2 out Digital inputs/outputs ..............6 optical in/3 coaxial/1 optical out Sony BDP-S 550 Digital conversion ..........................................All current formats Outputs ..............................HDMI, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video, Coaxial, Optical, 7.1ch Analogue Output, Ethernet. PRICE BDP-S 550 ............................................R5 999 STR DA5400 ES ................................R24 999 VERDICT Individually, both the player and the receiver looked at here have a whole lot to offer in terms of performance and specifications. As a high-def combo, they’re difficult to beat. SUPPLIED BY Sony SA 011-690-3200 www.sony.co.za

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posted:12/19/2009
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