The receiver is very important to your home theater system. This is the device which routes audio and video between all of your components. The point when I would building my system, summer of 2009, ended up being a transitional time between Sony's receiver models. The exisiting consumer end topped out with the STR-DG920. This unit had some very mixed reviews which had me shying away from it. There was also the option of going with Sony's "ES" line, which although a near professional grade line of equipment the bottom end units were actually missing some features found in the top of the consumer grade offerings.
In between the consumer and premium grade lines was an orphan, the STR-DG1100. It had most of the same specifications as the lower end premium models (such as the STR-DA3400ES) but was priced closer to the top end of the consumer grade line. It has the analog to digial conversion capability which I required (to allow incoming composite video to be sent to the TV via HDMI) and comes with a decent on screen display for setting up the input routing and speaker configuration.
The DG1100 is no longer available. You may still find them out there but they are remnant inventory. If I was building a new system today, I would likely go with Sony's STR-DN1000 , which became avaiable shortly after I purchased my system. This unit is also a 7.1 channel receiver, supports upconversion from analog to digital, and has an onscreen display. Additionally, it has the same gloss face as the current line of Sony Blu-ray players, so the components will visually compliment each other very well.
Home theater receivers usually list as 2-channel, 5.1-channel, or 7.1-channel for audio. This refers to the number of speakers supported. A 2-channel receiver will drive left and right (stereo) channels only. 5.1 and 7.1 are full surround sound. With a 5.1 system you get a left and right main channel, a center channel, two surround channels (usually behind and off to the sides), and a subwoofer channel (the "dot one" in the name). With a 7.1 system you get a left and right main channel, a center channel, two surround side channels, two surround back channels, and a subwoofer channel. There are other variants of this scheme (6.1, 7.2, or even the great 22.2), but the three listed above are the most common seen in the market.
Most broadcast and disk content is in 5.1 channel audio. If you have a 7.1 channel system and you are receiving 5.1 channel audio, many receivers are able to "matrix" the sound. This means that the two surround channels will be sent to the four surround speakers so that you are still receiving sound from all sides. If you can go with a full 7.1 setup you will always be better off.
Even if you will only be using a speaker setup for 5.1 it may not hurt to have a 7.1 capable receiver. Many of these receivers are able to use the amplifier for the extra channels to put extra power to the front left and right channels. This is called "bridging" and may give you up to 200W per channel up front instead of the usual 100W supported per channel by most receivers.
If the STR-DN1000 doesn't look like enough to you then you'll want to go with the "ES" line. For a basic home theater system, the Sony STR-DA3500ES is the best option here. It is designed for a single screen system but still provides full 7.1 sound. The ES line also has the added benefit of a five year warranty.
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