Sony has unveiled three new AV receivers in its flagship ES ("elevated standard") lineup. While the company's announcement is light on specifics, it looks as if some or all of the models will offer the lossless audio decoding for Blu-ray movies, graphical user interfaces, Sirius and XM satellite radio compatibility, automatic speaker calibration, and upscaling of analog video sources to 1080p HDMI output. Model-by-model details include:
Sony STR-DA2400ES ($800, July 2008): The entry-level ES receiver boasts 100 watts per channel, four HDMI inputs, and what Sony calls a "basic icon-driven graphical interface."
Sony STR-DA3400ES ($1,000, August 2008): The middle model of the trio improves upon its little brother with a 12-volt trigger, IR repeater, and composite video output to a second zone. Sony's info isn't specific, but it appears that this model and its step-up (below) will both feature the more familiar Cross Media Bar-style (XMB) graphical interface similar to that found on the PSP, PS3, and newer Sony TVs.
Sony STR-DA4400ES ($1,500, August 2008): The crown jewel in the new ES line is a 120 watt model that features six HDMI inputs, 3-zone audio, and HD video output to a second zone. It also will offer picture-in-picture functionality, so you can watch two video sources simultaneously.
We gave last year's top ES receiver, the STR-DA5300ES, extremely high marks (though users were less enthusiastic). It looks as if the 2008 models will be at least as full-featured, but competing models--from the sub-$500 Onkyo TX-SR606 to Sony's own $600 STR-DG920--are offering many of the same key core features (plenty of HDMI inputs, lossless audio decoding, analog-to-HDMI video conversion) for hundreds less. Still, some of those extra bells and whistles--such as picture-in-picture and the impressive XMB graphical interface--may well make it worthwhile for some consumers to splurge.