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Denon AVR-1910 Home Theater Receiver Review

Denon AVR-1910 Review


One With Everything
This spring Denon unveiled its new AV receivers. and there weren't a whole of lot
of surprises, except perhaps in the pricing: for the first time in a long time,
Denon will be able to compete at the entry level with advanced features such as
analog to digital HDMI video transcoding and an excellent selection of surround
sound decoding, including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby ProLogic IIz and DTS-HD Master
Audio.
The new line ranges from a 5.1 channel AV receiver with three HDMI inputs that
retails for around $350 all the way up to a custom installer-friendly 7.1-channel
model that includes networking functionality via Ethernet and access to more than
7,500 Internet radio stations and built-in HD radio for $1,999. Being more of movie
guy than a music fan, I opted to check out (and for full disclosure, actually
purchase) the Denon AVR-1910 Home Theater Receiver. which is the custom installer-
friendly version of the AVR-790.
The AVR-1910 is a full 7.1-channel AV receiver with four HDMI inputs, offering the
ability to upconvert analog and digital video signals to 1080p output over HDMI. It
includes four digital audio inputs and a plethora of analog video and audio inputs
including a 7.1-channel analog audio input. It's also XM/Sirius-ready with
subscription to that satellite radio service. At about $550 (MSRP) this is a lot of
bang for the buck.
The Denon AVR-1910 is a step up system without the step up price.
Home Theater Out of the Box
The receiver showed up in a sturdy box within the box from the retailer
(OneCall.com ), and it was simple enough to unpack and get going. To save a few
bucks, I purchased an "open box" version but you could have fooled me that it was
not brand spanking new. Not a mark on it and all accessories were factory fresh
and still sealed. The AVR-1910 was about a half an inch taller than my previous
receiver, and that meant I had to take a few minutes to adjust the space in the
rack system so as to provide adequate ventilation. But otherwise, the switchover
from the old receiver was straightforward enough.
Out of the box the AVR-1910 comes with a pretty beefy manual, or so it seems until
you realize half of it is in French. But honestly, why spend money on classes to
learn another language when you could use these manuals as your bilingual training
guide. I mean are you going to need to hook up a receiver in France or order
dinner? Priorities people!
Unfortunately, the manual and the additional Getting Started pamphlet are the
weakest links, especially if you're the type of person who doesn't think you need a
manual but then needs to look something up. The annoying part of the Getting
Started guide is that it assumes you're running a cable/satellite box and a DVD
player (Hello? Blu-ray anyone?). Cables are, of course, not included (but I made
the run to the store before the receiver even arrived). For the most part most
users are likely going to be swapping out an old receiver and can use existing
cabling.
The Getting Started guide is a little confusing -- not that it actually confused
this reporter -- in the way that it presents the various connection options. The
guide offers a "Best" (HDMI), "Better" (component) and "Good" (composite) option
for which video cable to use, and how to set it up. Choices in words such as
"Please choose the option that is best for you " after referring to HDMI being
"Best" is something that results in a phone call to writers like us from our
parents, uncles and anyone who doesn't understand, as they desparately search
for HDMI jacks on their VCR and Wii console. But obviously for those of you that
do know what you're doing, you won't even need to open the Getting Started
pamphlet.
The layout and placement of connections is excellent, but the connection name
choices are not for all tastes (fortunately you can change them).
Where the set up might make even a seasoned pro take a second to think is when it
comes to the inputs. Instead of merely numbering these, the kind folks at Denon
choose to label everything, complete with the type of device printed by the input.
Thus instead of HDMI 1, HDMI 2, HDMI 3 and HDMI 4 we're left with "1 (DVD), 2
(HDP), 3 (SAT/CBL) and 4 (DVR)." What exactly is an HDP? Is that a "high
definition player" perhaps? And do people really have separate DVRs which are not
also cable or satellite receivers? And the same nomenclature is used for the
component video inputs, which are "assignable" but still listed as "1 (DVD),
2(DVR)." Again, if you recommend this receiver to those less experienced friends
and family, expect phone calls asking for clarification.
The manual does a bit better when it comes to determining the best option for your
speaker arrangement, and offers solutions for 7.1 with surround back speakers, 7.1
with front height speakers (PLIIz), 6.1 and of course 5.1. The "Surround Back/Amp
Assign" channel outputs can be assigned a number of different ways. For a
standard 7.1-channel configuration, the rear outputs will be your rear surround
channels. If you have a 5.1-channel speaker set-up, and your front speakers support
bi-amping (separate amps for low and high frequencies), then you can configure
these outputs to be bi-amped front channel outputs. If you want to set the
receiver up for dual zone usage, then these outputs can be configured for a
powered zone 2 (for different sound in another area of your home), leaving you 5.1
channels for your main system. And if you want to explore a height-
enhanced surround soundstage, then you can configure these outputs for the front
height channels (Dolby PLIIz).
Given that I live in an apartment in Manhattan my usual configuration is 5.1
channels most of the time, but I like to have the option of adding two extra rear
speakers or hieght channels when I feel inspired to do so. The main speaker system
used for this review was Aperion Audio's new Intimus 4B-BP Fusion SA system (review
forthcoming).
The remote is streamlined, but the two sided thing leaves something to be desired.
Sound Check
Once everything was wired, it was time to hear the magic. With the AVR-1910 you can
choose to do a manual setup or use the Audyssey Auto Setup. We chose to try both.
The Audyssey MultEQ automatically measures the acoustical properties of your room
as well as the characteristics of your speakers and their placement in the room and
tries to create the best audio experience for your specific environment. This
involves setting up the device's microphone, which also involved pulling out a
camera tripod to mount the microphone at ear level [editor's note: you can also
hold it in your hand]. While running through the Audyssey set-up routine, I found
that one of the rear speakers was out of phase as the wires must have been
inadvertently reversed during setup. With that solved, I completed the auto-
calibration routine and we were good to go.
After a few action movies on Blu-ray Disc, including Valkryie and Ronin. it was
back to the manual setup. The Audyssey did a bang-up job for movies with subtle
sound, and provided excellent balance for movies with a lot of dialog. But the
front speakers knocked me out of my seat during any film with any extreme bursts of
sound. This might be the best cinematic experience, but it was too hot to handle
for viewing and listening in an apartment building! So through the manual set up,
I lowered the front speakers a bit while also raising the subwoofer level
slightly. We're not using the most ideal placement for the sub (near a
corner behind the TV), and this may have confused the calibration system a bit.
Now the receiver was truly ready for prime time, and my biggest complaint again
comes back to those odd input labels which make it a little hard to remember what
is what. The receiver does offer source renaming which helps (you can rename "DVD"
to "Blu-ray" for example, or "CBL/SAT" to "Moxi") but that doesn't change the input
labels on the remote control itself. Speaking of which, I found the remote
terribly confusing, in part because it has some of its buttons on the back side,
hidden and protected by a little flip door. This makes changing inputs, especially
from a video source to a musical source a little confusing, at least until you
memorize the inputs. For me, it was easier to get off the couch, go to the
receiver and rotate the "Source Select" dial than it was to endlessly press
buttons on the remote. If you're using an aftermarket universal remote, then this
won't be a factor, but I think Denon could benefit from some usability studies on
their remote controls.
The multi-channel tests continued with HBO's Band of Brothers on Blu-ray, and World
War II came alive in the living room. From the roar of the machine guns to the
subtle dialog and environmental sounds between combat sequences, the sound
was fantastic. Likewise, the musical score came through crystal clear. To test a
more music-driven movie, the DVD of Toppsy Turvy came into play, and it was like
heading to the Savoy Theater to see Gilbert and Sullivan in their prime.
For music listening, a variety of classical CDs and military marches (disclosure:
this writer is a big history buff) were used to hear the various brass and string
sections. As with the movies, musical numbers were presented with excellent
dynamics and delineation of fine details. And while the Denon AVR-1910 wasn't
specifically designed for such things as an analog turntable (lacking a phono
input), the results were also very good with my Numark USB turntable, which
happens to be equipped with a built-in preamp and standard line level output. A few
New Order and Secession 12-inch dance mixes made the audio transition from parade
guard to dance club. Overall this system delivers the goods for movies and for a
variety of musical styles.
Can You Take Me Higher?
As this receiver comes equipped with Dolby's new ProLogic IIz decoding, I decided
to take this for a spin with a couple of height channel speakers. At Dolby's
recommendation, I placed these about 3 feet above the main speakers and used an
identical pair od speakers for height as for the main channels. While there
is no material currently encoded in PLIIz for testing, Dolby does claim that PLIIz
can be used to good effect even with standard 2-channel and surround sound
recordings. So in addition to the standard 5.1-channel listening, I added the
height channels to the mix and put on a few cuts which are recommended by Dolby
for your height-litening pleasure, including scenes from The Fifth Element,
Ratatouille and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers .
This added a bit to the overall experience, enough for me to hear some subtle
differences, and the sound was a tad bit fuller over all, with a more expansive
front soundscape. But when comparing it with a standard "non-enhanced" surround
sound mix in in the receiver's "Direct" mode, it wasn't so dramatic that I felt
the regular mix was missing something important. I imagine that when software
(games, music and perhaps movies) are actually encoded with a PLIIz height channel,
the effect will become more obvious. But all things considered PLIIz seems aimed
at those who are looking to add something really more for the sake of adding
something - to be the first on their block with the latest feature. Given the
trouble of implementing permanent front channel speakers (at least in my
listening environment), it's not something I feel compelled to use.
Picture This
While the move to HDMI with just about everything is in full gear, there is still
plenty of legacy gear and even some current generation stuff that just doesn't
offer this connection. Fortunately the AVR-1910 can handle it. The receiver offers
plenty of options for upconverting your content, including from a component video
source, courtesy of on-board ABT (Anchor Bay Technology) video processing.
We put the receiver to the test, using the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark DVD as well
as real world SD DVDs, comparing this to our Pioneer DV-410V DVD player's built-in
upconversion to 1080p over HDMI. It was really hard to distinguish which exactly
offered a better picture, though I'd say the DVD player was a hair better than the
receiver. But if you have an older non-upconverting DVD player or other analog
source connected via component or composite video, the receiver's upconversion to
1080p is quite acceptable.
To be specific, the colors and details were very good with the Denon AVR-1910, and
it passed the HQV "jaggies" tests showing that it has decent diagonal filtering.
They say "these colors don't run" when referring to Old Glory, and the waving
flag on the HQV DVD was free from any major jagged edges -- the stripes were
smooth -- while the bricks in the background retained much of their detail. In the
"Super Speedway" clip (Film Detail test), the receiver locked onto the underlying
3:2 cadence in under half a second, eliminating the moire distortion from the
grandstand in short order. Overall, upconverted content was generally free of any
major visual distractions. And those who want better upconversion can trade up to
the higher end Denon receivers which offer enhanced video processing (also from
ABT).

Priced to sell
Four HDMI inputs
Two zones
Full HDMI video and audio processing and switching onboard
Audyssey auto-calibration gets you most of the way to audio nirvana

Inputs including HDMI inputs are oddly labeled


Remote is confusing and bulky
A little too hot when using the Audyssey set up
Manual is good for learning French tech speak, but not the most helpful out there

Final Thoughts
With four HDMI inputs, Zone 2 functionality and more processing power than a room
full of 1980's era computers, the Denon AVR-1910 is a great all-around home theater
receiver. Priced at $550 this system will give your home theater a boost even in
these recessionary times. While it lacks some of the musical streaming and advanced
video upconversion of the step-up models, this one cover the basics and even a
few extras very well, and that's a true compliment.
System Specs:

Power output: 90 Watts/Channel into 7 channels at 0.08% THD


HDMI inputs (HDMI v 1.3a): 4
HDMI output: 1
Analog Video inputs: Component Video (2), S-video (1), composite video (3)
Digital Inputs: Coaxial (2), Optical (2)
Digital Output: Optical (1)
Analog Audio Inputs: 8 Including AM/FM tuner and XM/Sirius Radio
Dolby decoding: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby ProLogic II
(PLIIx and PLIIz)
DTS decoding: dts, dts-ES (Discrete 6.1 and Matrix 6.1), dts 96/24, dts neo:6, dts-
HD High Resolution Audio, dts-HD Master Audio
Multi-channel PCM Support (HDMI): Up to 7.1 channels at 24-Bit/96KHz
Two zone capable
Weight: 23.6 pounds
Dimensions (inches): 17.1 x 6.7 x 14.9
Warranty: 1 Year
MSRP: $549.99