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Giant TV. Check. Super-rad universal remote. Check. Speakers strategically placed around the room so that when stuff blows up onscreen you actually feel it in your belly. Check. A/V receiver that supports up to 7.1 surround sound and the iPhone. Surprise--check!
While the iPhone has taken over your pocket and possibly your car, home theater rigs have been noticeably late to the iPhone party. Fortunately, the folks at Pioneer have taken notice of the iPhone and its league of faithful users with the release of the VSX-819H home receiver. Instead of relying on 1/8-inch cables, the system includes a USB port with a USB-to-dock cable.
Once you have your iPod or iPhone attached to the receiver, you have a very important decision to make. What do you do with the tiny front panel on the front of the receiver that hides the USB port? The panel comes off, instead of being on hinges. This is fine if you’re a bit anal-retentive, but it’s not so great if you tend to lose things or have a kid at home. Once you find a safe place for the panel, the magic happens. Thanks to the dock connector, you can control your iPod or iPhone with the receiver’s remote and have the audio blasting out of your expensive speakers. The device also supports video playback from capable iPods, although at press time, Apple’s 3.0 software update broke video output on the iPod touch and iPhone when using third-party cables.
For $300, it's a great deal with great sound, adequate inputs, and it includes iPod/iPhone support for audio and video.
Great sound on a budget.
Beyond the nice iPod/iPhone integration, the VSX-819H pumps out some impressive sound for a sub-$300 receiver. The highs felt crisp and lows were tight without sounding muddy. Pioneer’s Advanced Sound Retriever added a bit of warmth to our compressed audio files without compromising the high end. The receiver features the ability to tune your setup via an included microphone. After placing the mic in the center of a room, the system sends out a series of tones that it uses to tweak your audio settings based on your speaker placement and room acoustics. Golden-eared perfectionists can also manually adjust the phase and volume of their speaker setups by hand. An impressive number of surround sound formats are supported, including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio for Blu-ray players.
If you’re the type of person who’s more interested in what’s on the back of a receiver than what it looks like, the VSX-819H’s inputs are adequate for all but the hard-core home theater geeks. The unit features three HDMI, three composite, two component, one coaxial, and two digital optical inputs. For output, the Pioneer sports single HDMI, composite and component ports. Pioneer is quick to point out that this device is not a digital converter. It doesn’t support upscaling signals from composite or component inputs to HDMI output.
Out of the box you’re ready for a 5.1 setup. A pre-out is available for 6.1 and 7.1 setups as well. The automatic setup mentioned above makes getting more complex systems up and running a breeze: You won’t eat up an entire Sunday twiddling knobs. Just connect the speakers, run the automated setup, and sit back to enjoy the special extended director’s cut of Watchmen. Nice!
The front of the device has all the knobs and buttons you’ll need when you lose the remote in the couch, and it doesn’t look tacky. The display is easy to read and bright enough for daytime viewing, but won’t blind you at night. Navigating the menus within the system was a breeze and we found ourselves bravely treading into the menu system without consulting the owner’s menu first.