So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
A very capable entry-level receiver
- Great range of inputs, good functionality
- No HDMI, difficult speaker connection, no HD format decoding
If you’re a home theatre enthusiast or have the time to read a manual, the VSX817S should be easy enough to use. It offers a large range of inputs and plenty of functionality, and is only slightly hindered by its inability to decode HD formats and lack of HDMI inputs.
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
Pioneer's VSX817S is an entry-level 7.1 channel A/V receiver that does a good job considering its low price-point. It doesn't support high-definition audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and doesn't have any HDMI capability. However, it has a plethora of other features that make it a solid option for anyone considering creating a home theatre.
This receiver is able to drive 90 Watts to each of its seven channels as well as having a dedicated pre-out for a powered subwoofer, making it a fairly powerful surround amplifier for the price. These measurements are taken at 0.09% total harmonic distortion, so you can be assured that even at full volume the VSX817S is capable of producing clean, undistorted audio. Indeed, we couldn't find any significant issues with the sound quality from the unit — it's more than capable for any non-audiophile's home theatre system.
After unpacking the receiver, we plugged it in and it started without any issues. The real drama for any home user will start when connecting any other devices to the receiver — no audio or video leads are bundled. Unless you have a dedicated A/V rack in which to put all your home theatre components, you may end up having to buy new cables to stretch the distance to the receiver.
Plenty of inputs are offered, with three component and S-Video connectors as well as four composite inputs. Audio is handled by two digital optical or coaxial inputs, or six analogue connectors for 5.1 channel DVD sound. Output is handled by a similar set of component, composite and S-video ports.
One annoyance became apparent when we attempted to connect a set of Liverpool Series MS5LX speakers using standard speaker wire. The speaker connections at the rear of the VSX817S have obviously been designed with professionally-built banana plugs in mind, with bare speaker wire connection as an afterthought. The terminals don't completely unscrew and it's very fiddly and time-consuming to insert wire into the small port available. Repeating this process five or seven times certainly leads to painful fingertips.
Once everything is connected though, the unit is relatively simple to use. We connected a Samsung BD-P1000 for watching Blu-ray movies and an Onkyo DV-L55 for watching DVDs and listening to CDs and ran a series of tests. As an output, we used an Liverpool Series MS5LX for sound and a Sharp Aquos LC42D83X for video.
We were able to drive the amplifier to extremely loud levels and we're confident that the majority of speakers would start to distort before the amplifier reached full volume. There were certainly no impediments placed by the amplifier on sound reproduction, with the speakers free to create rich, clear sound.
The VSX817S is able to handle all the standard DVD audio codecs, ranging from standard Dolby Digital to DTS Neo:6 and DTS 96/24. It can't support the newer high-definition formats like DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD, but users who have yet to make their setup high definition ready will find little use for those anyway. Plenty of other features are included, with 12 distinct surround sound modes, as well as miscellaneous tweaks like dialogue enhancement and 'night' modes.
Automatic room calibration is also possible, with a bundled MCACC microphone. We found in a previous review of the Pioneer VSX-LX60 that the MCACC adjustments were very useful. It's a definite bonus, especially coming with an entry-level receiver.
The unit's remote is capable enough, meaning you won't need to get up to manually change inputs. It's not a universal remote but it's small and easy to use, operating from across a large room without any difficulty.
If you can handle the setting it up and don't mind the lack of HDMI or high-definition audio support, the VSX817 is a very capable unit for anything but the most extensive home theatre setups.
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