Last updated: 2005.03.13

Onkyo TX-NR801 Home Theatre AV Receiver Review

| How to Use | Net Tunes/Audio | links |

This is a review of the Onkyo TX-NR801 Home Theatre AV Receiver. It is a very current receiver supporting all the new dolby digital formats. It comes with a lot of digital inputs and outputs. It also does up convert of video signals. It can convert my old VCR's composite video output to S Video. So I can leave the TV's input to S-Video all the time now. That's one of the main reason for my upgrading to it from an old Yamaha receiver.

Out of the Box Experience

The receiver arrived mail ordered from Onecall. I bought it when they were offering a sale on it, and I paid only $700 for a $1000 receiver. It was in a standard shipping box, with styrofoam holding up two ends of the receiver. The user manual and the AM and FM antennas were taped to the top of the unit. The remote control was on the side.

One interesting observation of the shipping box is that they have included two warning on the weight of the unit. On the box it warn the buyer to lift it with two people. On the inside there is a sheet of paper to explain that one should not attempt to lift the unit out of the box, but to turn the box over and slide the box off the unit.

The receiver is fairly heavy, 37.1 pounds according to the specification. It is also fairly bulky. But I myself just lifted it out of the box by myself. Of course I am an expert Tai Chi practitioner, and that is a different story.

Configuration

You must minimally set up the receiver's inputs. The receiver maps input sources to the connectors at the back of the unit logically. You have to use the on screen display (OSD) to map all the inputs. It came with reasonable defaults for the DVD input source. So if you just plug your DVD player into the receiver at the inputs marked DVD, you can immediately enjoy watching DVD.

Special Features

The receiver has some special features that made me buy this unit:

  • S-Video up convert -- the NR801 will automatically convert video input from the composite input to it's S-Video output. This mean I can leave the TV (Monitor) on it's S-Video input all the time. Before when I watch Cable or Tape, I have to switch the TV's input from S-Video to Composite, which is a hassle.
  • Net-Tunes -- the NR801 will stream MP3 from a windows server and play them ! Pretty cool huh? No need for a home theatre PC. You need to download and install their server software Net-Tune Central on a PC. I actually have the reciever reading off my MP3 server via a 802.11b wifi connection and it works well.

Digital vs Analog Audio Inputs

One of the reason for upgrading to a "current" receiver is that I can make use of optical outputs from my sources, DVD, CD, and even my home theatre PC. I now have an all digital audio path when playing DVDs and listening to CD or loseless music files. At this point you may think that you can leave out all the analog audio connections (the white and red RCA plugs) between the source devices and the receiver.

Net-Tunes

The Net-Tunes feature works surprisingly well. The user interface is documented but a little confusing in documentation. Net-Tunes allow you to either stream internet radio (from the http://www.xiva.com list of stations) or play MP3 stored on your home network.

The easiest way to describe the user interface, using the remote control, is as follows:

  1. Press the NET A button on the remote (under the MODE section). notice that the NET A button is blue. pressing this button will toggle you between the MP3 playing mode or the Internet Radio mode.

For MP3 playing:

  1. You can browse your music database by albulm, artist, genre, or playlist. There are dedicated buttons for that purpose. They are labeled in blue. The buttons are actually the v1, v2, tap, and tun buttons on the INPUT SELECTOR section.
  2. You can jump to an entry within album, artist etc using the "telephone keypad". Again, see the blue labels. For example, pressing the "THX/5/JKL" button once will jumpt to the J entries, press it again and it will jump to the K entry. Got it?
  3. To summarise -- use the blue keys.

For Internet Radio:

  1. Press the "return/DISPLAY" button to get to the selection menu. You choose Genre, Location or Language. This is a hierarchical menu that gets you eventually to a particular station.
  2. To save the station to preset, press the "Right" button, the next available preset station is shown flashing. Press "ENTER" to set. NOTE: Do this at a preset station will erase the preset.

Net Tunes Problems

  1. Both the software on the PC and on the receiver is definitely release 1.x software. The software can only recognize a fixed list of genre's. It does not support the ID3V2's free form text genres. So my highly tuned genre list are mostly showing up as "others". Bad move.
  2. The GUI on the PC nettuens "editor" is hopeless. It does not support shift-click multiple select. To build a playlist you have to drag-n-drop one song at a time.

Network Re-Setup

I needed to reconfigure my home network because I started using Vonage VOIP service. As a result I need to make the receiver re-request IP address from my DHCP server. There is no setting on the OSD to do this. I ended up unplugging both the Ethernet cable AND the receiver's power to get it to re-lease a new IP address.

Areas for improvement:

  • If you can also control the streaming on the PC side it would be great.

Customer Service

Two nice things with Onkyo customer service:

  • I had a problem with the custom label function (see below), after emailing tech support, I actually got an answer back in two days.
  • I got a phone call from them "thanking me" for purchasing the receiver.

Quirks/Bugs

The receiver has a function for you to label the input with text that is more meaningful then Video 1, Video 2, etc. So I spent the time entering all the new labels, and... they do not show up on the OSD nor the receiver display. I emailed Onkyo on their website. Very surprisingly, they responded to my email with an answer in two days! However, the answer is not what I want to hear. The custom label will only show if you press the "display" key on the remote, and it only shows on the Receiver.

Funny Stuff

Hate to make fun of Onkyo, but there are a few errors in their English Language interface:

  1. on NetTunes, after scanning files to add to the database, it will say something like "Add a new file [ 37 files ].

Links

  • Onkyo USA Site
  • On their nettune info page, there is a full list of all the Radio stations that is suppose to be available. Look for the Excel download instead of paging through the long list. You can also request a station!
  • Sound and Vision Magazine Review of it's big brother, the 901.