The increasing acceptance of HDMI technology in the world of home cinema has given way to a new breed of surround sound amps such as Denon's AVR-3808.
This high-end and expensively-priced £1,300 AV receiver features the latest HDMI 1.3a outputs, which can be used for video switching between your sources and high-definition display. The new format can carry 'Full HD' and internally upscaled 1080p video signals as well as supporting next generation sound formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD -- as used by HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs.
While this all offers outstanding sound and picture performance, there is one snag. Only the latest high-definition players are able to output these next generation audio formats in bitstream, which allow them to be processed by the receiver -- otherwise they are converted to linear PCM signals by the player first.
Nonetheless, existing high-definition players will eventually be offered firmware upgrades and all new models will feature HDMI 1.3a. So, if high definition is the next stop in your system, then Denon's AVR-3808 has all the future-proof features you need and more.
As you might expect at this price point, the AVR-3808 is armed with an arsenal of the latest home cinema receiver features -- not least its ability to play practically any audio format including a complete range of digital files from your home computer. These can be streamed directly using an integrated Ethernet connection while there is also USB support for portable devices and an optional dock for your iPod -- ideal if you store most of your music collection as digital files.
Elsewhere, there are a full 7.1 channels of amplification that can be used in advanced home cinema set ups with additional centre rear speakers or to bi-wire the front two speakers for enhanced stereo performance. There's also integrated video processing that can upscale any analogue or digital video source all the way to 1080p/24fps -- supported by four HDMI 1.3a inputs and a single output for fuss-free video switching between a number of HD sources.
Even the new graphical interface can be upscaled and the state-of-the-art menu system looks sensational. While installing, the receiver is aided by an accurate and simple to use automatic calibration system with Room EQ. You can also extend the output to up to three different rooms using a high-end MultEQ XT system from Audessey.
Sound performance, especially playing high-definition audio formats, is immediately engaging with an authoritative and exciting delivery that's typified by tight yet agile low frequencies. It's enough to enliven any explosive film score with plenty of dramatic impact without totally ignoring detailed subtleties, expressive dialogue and cohesively steered ambient effects. The scene in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment where the crab-like creatures slowly emerge from the ground offers conclusive evidence of the receiver's all-round dynamic ability.
The quality of upscaled video images, including Freeview broadcasts, is equally impressive -- even if it's not true high definition.
Aside from finding a compatible high-definition player that can be used to directly transfer the latest high-definition audio formats, we can't find too much criticism for the AVR-3808.
As a home cinema receiver, it's capable of superb multi-channel performance with both music and movies. If you're considering using the device as a central hub for all your audio listening, then you might find that stereo soundtracks lack a little musicality and timing compared to a model like Onkyo's TX-SR875 -- but bi-wiring the front speakers and employing the Pure Direct mode to bypass video circuitry and tonal controls does improve matters.
Our only real complaint is the AVR-3808's comparatively high price, which can be bettered by manufacturers like Yamaha and Onkyo in this highly competitive market without sacrificing too much in terms of quality -- although Denon can still claim more features.
Denon's AVR-3808 is one of the most flexibly fitted AV receivers we've seen with high-end features including streaming digital music, integrated video processing, multi-room facilities and an automatic setup system. The inclusion of the latest HDMI 1.3a connections makes it ideal for listening to next generation sound formats and all round performance is outstanding -- even if it is a bit on the expensive side.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday