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Buying a Blu-ray player is no longer as expensive as it used to be, but pairing it with a home cinema system equipped to handle the latest sound formats might be a stretch if you're on a tight budget. However, help is at hand in the form of Onkyo's latest entry-level receiver, which gives you access to HD audio for a very affordable price.
The most impressive of its many features is built-in Dolby Digital Plus decoding, which allows you to connect a Blu-ray player to one of its three HDMI v1.2a inputs and enjoy enhanced sound quality. But hang on a minute, we hear you cry, how can it accept a Dolby Digital Plus bitstream when HDMI v1.3 is the only version that can carry it? According to Onkyo, the HDMI v1.2a standard has been changed to include support for raw Dolby Digital Plus bitstreams, and we have to admit that we were a little surprised to hear this, but pleasantly so.
What's more, if your Blu-ray player can internally decode HD audio formats to uncompressed multichannel PCM, then you can feed the signal into the Onkyo via HDMI and enjoy the benefits of Dolby True HD, DTS HD and DTS HD Master Audio. The unit also boasts Dolby Digital EX, DTS ES, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS Neo:6 and DTS 96/24 decoding.
The Onkyo supports full 1080p HDMI video switching (but sadly not upscaling), which means you can pass up to three hi-def video sources through the unit to your display. Elsewhere, the video socket selection is highly generous, with two component video inputs and one output, three S-video inputs and one output, plus three composite video inputs and two outputs.
Among the audio sockets are two optical and two coaxial digital audio inputs, four analogue stereo inputs and a set of colour-coded 7.1-channel analogue inputs that allow you to feed in decoded audio signals from Blu-ray, DVD-Audio or SACD players. Rounding up the rear selection is a subwoofer pre-out and Onkyo's Remote Interactive jack, which allows you to connect and control other Onkyo kit (including the optional DS-A1 iPod dock), while on the front there's a set of extra stereo audio and composite video inputs.
In terms of design, the TX-SR576 comes in silver or black, and the silver version looks pleasant enough, with slanting lines on the fascia, tidily arranged rows of buttons and a clear, bright display panel. All of the crucial settings and listening modes can be accessed from the front panel, which helps when you don't have the remote to hand.