Software and Hardware
All other good points aside,
this is where the 800 really impressed us. For the most part, the 803
shows definite improvements, though if I'm being honest, it is a case of
several steps forward,
with one or two steps back.
Time alignment gets set just
the way we like it: by inputting the distance to each and every speaker in
the system, but unlike the 800 which offered 0.5 foot increments, the 803
limits you to 1 foot increments. That's fine the majority of the time, but not for
absolutely critical listening. There is a global audio delay for
realigning the sound with a video signal which may have been delayed by a
DVD player's de-interlacing, an external scaler, or even just the video
processing inside of a digital display (LCD, Plasma, etc.). Unlike the
800 which offered just one setting, the 803 lets you set the global delay
in the range of 0-250ms, differently for each input. This is
As is the case with any SSP worth its salt, the TX-SR803 uses a digitally
controlled analog volume control, permitting not only precise but also
repeatable volume levels. Onkyo continues to harnesses the convenience
of its volume control by permitting the user to set a default power-on
volume level (no full-volume surprises), and a maximum volume level can be
set (anyone with knob-obsessed infants or overzealous teens take note), and
there is even an option for what exactly the mute button does: You can
choose between a total cut or a fixed reduction of -10 to -50 dB (in 10 dB
increments). Each input has its own volume trim of ± 12 dB.
The front panel display is thankfully dimmable. At the press of a button, you
can cycle through three brightness levels, the lowest of which is only just
low enough for me (I'd like it if it was even dimmer). Whoever designed the front panel display needs a
slap though. It consists of a single line
of dot matrix text with a plethora of miniscule icons above it which attempt
(but fail) to tell you what's going on in terms of digital signal type and
playback mode. I sit abnormally close to my processor, 7 feet to be
exact, and these little icons are absolutely indiscernible (and yes, I've
had my eyes checked). Not only that,
but they did away with the dedicated, though smallish, volume level readout
that the 800 had: on the 803 you have to choose between the dot-matrix
line showing the current volume or the current mode.
The Pro Logic II Music non-mandatory adjustments are available to the user.
Panorama, Dimension, and Center Width can be set in the Advanced menu.
We've found only one
hardware manufacturer who enables their decoders to read the Surr.Encode
flag in two-channel Dolby Digital . . . and it's not Onkyo. It's not a big
deal, but it would take, like, three lines of code for them to distinguish
themselves in this regard.
You can select, for each input,
a default playback mode for each of the various possible input formats. So
for example, for a given input, you can have it default to Stereo on
Analog/PCM material, THX on Dolby Digital 5.1, and Pro Logic II on two-channel Dolby Digital.
THX Surround EX playback can be set to either Auto, where we confirmed the
unit does read the bitstream flag, or forced on/off. Ditto for DTS ES. When
using the unit as a 7.1 playback system, unlike the 800 you cannot choose to
send the surround channels of a 5.1 source to the rears. The thought in
dropping this feature, I suppose, is that with Pro Logic IIx, not only will
you get rear channel output from 5.1 sources, but it will be somewhat
intelligently extracted. Personally, I would have liked to see them
keep the option of having the rears "double" the surrounds.
The TX-SR803 will
down-mix 5.1 soundtracks to stereo for the sake of headphones, Zone2, or
heaven forbid, if you find yourself with only two speakers for some reason.
THX's Re-Eq can be turned off independently of the THX Cinema/THX Surround
EX mode, and unlike the 800, its not buried in a menu: one button press on
the remote will do it. Unfortunately, THX requires that this be reset
to On whenever input or mode is cycled. In our article
Cinema Sound and EQ Curves, we
explain why the use of THX's Re-Eq depends not on the media, but on the
room's acoustics (meaning that using it or not using should be a persistent
setting). This is something we will have to take up with THX.
Mono listening on the 800 had issues in that although the Academy
Filter was offered, there was no way to use it in a single speaker mode
(only a mode which split the signal to the main L/R speakers).
Well, the 803 now lets you choose between playing a mono soundtrack from
either the center channel or the main Left/Right, but the Academy Filter
option is now missing. While
Mono may seem an insignificant topic these days, there are an awful lot of
timeless classics in my DVD collection which have mono soundtracks.
The Academy Filter option
doesn't cost anything to speak of and is a nice thing to have. Why
Bass management follows the THX spec. Each channel can be set to either Large
(full range) or Small (high passed) with the balance going to the subwoofer
or, in the absence of a sub, main left/right. The default crossover
frequency is 80 Hz, but the Onkyo allows a selection, independent for each
pair of channels, of 40 Hz - 120 Hz in 20 Hz
increments (as well as 150 Hz and 200 Hz). In an odd twist, the Onkyo gives you a choice of low pass frequency applied to the LFE
channel vs. allowing it to run up to 120 Hz. In our article
Miscellaneous Ramblings on Subwoofer Crossover Frequencies, we explain
why it is "correct" in every sense to low pass the LFE channel at the same frequency as the
rest of the bass (as well as explain why you DON'T want to choose a
different crossover frequency for the different speakers). I
appreciate that a manufacturer has to give the people what they think
they want, but there comes a point where you give them just enough rope to
hang themselves, and the 803 definitely does (like most other receivers do
As per THX requirements, the Onkyo attenuates DTS material by 4 dB, equating
it with Dolby Digital material encoded with the default Dialnorm value of
-27 . For more information on Dialogue
Normalization, please see our article
Dialogue Normalization: Friend or Foe.
One thing that the 803 thankfully dumped is Upsampling, which although not
categorically an evil, did more harm than good on the 800.
The 803's multi-channel analog input has the option of being digitized for the sake of inheriting
the receiver's bass management and time alignment. Now with HDMI and its ability to carry 5.1 digital into the receiver,
the most forward thinking might disregard this feature, but for sake of all
the existing DVD-A or SACD players, as well as the first generation HD DVD
and Blue-ray pieces, it's still a handy tool in the toolbox.
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