Menu, Setup, and Remote Control
Have you ever seen those infomercials about personal metal detectors? They show overly enthusiastic people strolling along a beautiful beach and finding a rare coin or lost ring every 15 feet. Not to mention the metal always seems to be only a few inches under the sand. In real life you tend to spend hours and find nothing but rusty nails, beer cans, and fishing lures (I assume—I have never actually used a metal detector, but that’s not important). When I came across the menu on the STR-DA2800ES I felt like I had found hidden treasure! With other receivers I have spent many hours digging through convoluted menu systems trying to find a particular setting and never quite finding it, only coming up with proverbial rusty nails. The new menu system on this receiver is hands-down one the easiest to navigate and nicest looking I have ever used on a receiver. Navigating between system settings, internet apps, or changing inputs was a great experience. Each setting or selection in the menu is accompanied with a basic description so you don’t have to dig out the manual to find out what a particular option does. When you press the “home” button on the remote the main menu appears on the TV (shown in the picture). From there you can easily navigate to what you want to do. Once you select a particular input or activity, the receiver will setup all of your equipment as needed. For some network features you have to dig through a couple menus, so Sony included a customizable “favorites” tab on the main menu for quick access to your favorite apps. The menu can be a little sluggish during the initial setup, but that’s because the receiver is pulling information from Control4’s database in the background. I am not so sure why it has taken a receiver manufacturer this long to match the level of menu found in IPTV boxes costing less than $99, but Sony is leading the way with their ES receivers.
Setting up the STR-DA2800ES was about as easy as it gets. Colorful diagrams and text-based descriptions guide you through each step. When the receiver starts you are presented with an “easy setup” system, which takes you through network, input, home control, and speaker settings. The first step you are guided through is connecting the receiver to the Internet. The purpose of doing network setup first is so the receiver can start downloading IR codes for the input and home control setup, which are the second and third steps. In the input step you simply check which inputs you are and are not using on the receiver. During the home control step you first tell the receiver the model number of your TV and what inputs are being used on it. Next, you tell the receiver what devices are hooked up to each of the inputs that were selected during the input step.
The receiver taps directly into Control4’s IR database to find manufacturers/model numbers to choose from during the home control step. Oddly enough it couldn’t find my Panasonic plasma or Oppo Blu-ray player. I chose a similar model for the TV which worked well and had to learn all of the Oppo commands. Learning the commands with the Oppo was a big pain. I had to try to learn each command multiple times. Giving Sony the benefit of the doubt I figured the Oppo remote was the culprit so I grabbed another remote in my system just to try learning commands from it, and it worked flawlessly.
You might wonder at what point during the initial setup you program the macros for power and input for each activity? As I eluded to earlier, the answer is never. All you do is tell the receiver what devices you have hooked up and it does the rest. After the initial setup is done the receiver uses needs-based logic to remember the state of each device. Simply change the input on the receiver to whatever you want and it will do the rest.
Initial home control setup Speaker setup
The final step during the initial setup is speaker settings. You first select the speaker configuration (ie. 5.1, 7.1, etc…) and then let the auto-setup mic do its thing. There is no way to manually adjust speaker settings during the initial setup. Based on our experience with this particular setup mic we would suggest skipping the auto setup and going straight to the manual settings. When in the manual speaker setup you can adjust the speaker layout, level (.5dB increments), distance (1” increments), and crossover (10Hz increments from 40Hz-200Hz). You can also utilize built-in test tones to ensure proper speaker polarity—a nifty little feature.
Setting up the STR-DA2800ES almost seemed too easy! It made me a little suspicious. But, if you want to dive into the manual settings there is plenty to customize and doing so is a cake-walk.
My experience with Sony’s setup mic during my review of the STR-DA1030 was pretty impressive; however, my luck wasn’t so good this time around. The mic lacks a threaded insert for use with a tripod and is so lightweight that the mic cord pulls it off of most surfaces. As such, it was difficult to place properly. Furthermore, some receivers in this class have multi-position measurement mics, where the mic will take measurements at multiple positions and average the results (usually weighted towards the first location). To help combat this deficiency the STR-DA2800ES can save EQ settings for three different positions, allowing the user to change the EQ based on their seating location.
Sony STR-DA2800ES Auto-Setup Mic Comparison; Black Trace – Frequence response before mic;
Red Trace – Frequency response after mic, set to “Flat EQ”; Blue Trace – Frequency response after mic, set to “No EQ”
I had the receiver setup in my secondary home theater system (yes, I know—that's sick) and took three different measurements, before using the mic, afterwards in “Flat EQ” mode, and afterwards in “No EQ” mode. As you can see from the chart above, before using the mic the frequency response of the system was about +/-5db 32Hz – 20Khz. After the mic it was about +/- 15db 28Hz – 20Khz. In “Flat EQ” mode it bumped the bass by about 10dB, took out a nice chunk of the midrange at about 1.2Khz, and boosted the treble between 8Khz and 20Khz. The system went from well-balanced to pop-and-sizzle, with booming bass and bright treble but a diminished midrange. I was pretty surprised by the results so I reset everything and ran the mic again and took each measurement again, but the results were the same (except no dip in the mid-range the second time around). I wanted to triple check my results so I set the receiver to “No EQ” mode with the hope of getting a response curve close to the original, but oddly enough there was almost no change. I am still waiting on a reply from Sony as to why “Flat EQ” and “No EQ” modes are essentially the same.
These results go to show that you should not always trust an auto-setup mic. The STR-DA2800ES is the not the first receiver we have seen with a sub-par mic, and it surely will not be the last. To give the receiver the benefit of the doubt we must always consider that each room is different and there could be something weird about my room that is confusing the mic. With that said, this was one of the poorest results I have had with an auto-setup mic in a long time and is a strike against what so far was a great experience.
Most receiver manufacturers design remotes with a “good enough” approach, but I hoped Sony would step up their game because of the automation features built into the receiver. The remote is better than Sony’s previous attempts, but still lackluster. Now, the remote isn’t bad, just not everything I had hoped for. My hope was that it would be geared towards cable box and Blu-ray player control. The receiver handles all of the power and input switching that a universal/macro-based remote would do, so all the receiver remote needs to do is control each device. Unfortunately, the buttons are laid out to favor controlling specific functions on the receiver instead of each device. It has all of the buttons you would need to control a cable box or Blu-ray player, but their placement is awkward. Additionally, it can be confusing to remember what function a button will do when you press it. For example, the number buttons double as the input buttons for the receiver. The big question is, will this remote be able to control all of your equipment, eliminating the need for a different universal/macro-based remote? In short, yes, but it won’t be as nice to use as a dedicated remote solution. If you plan on using the built-in automation features I would suggest using the included remote, it will just take a while to get used to where everything is at. If you don’t intend on using the automation features a different remote might be advantageous.