The Denon AVR-3808CI and the Sony STR-DA5300ES both use a new GUI menu. Denon’s text and graphics are not as slick looking as the Sony’s, but they are very readable and work
as designed. The Denon is the least expensive receiver to offer GUI and also will display album art and track info from digital media sources. Digital media plays through the Ethernet port or the USB port. The integrated USB is designed to access mass storage devices like hard drives or flash drives. This addition of a USB port greatly expands the Denon’s capabilities. However, for proponents of Apple there is a bit of a catch. If you’re an iTunes fan you’ll need to purchase Twonky Media software ($40) in order to play your iTunes library. Even with this extra hoop they make you jump through the Denon still won’t play your iTunes store purchases. The Denon really likes Windows Media Player, Microsoft's new sticker on the front of the unit touts the receivers ability by saying the Denon "playsforsure" Window Media Files.
The Sony’s GUI is a bit more up-to-date looking and the inputs names can be custom labeled. This might come in handy if you end up using all 6 available HDMI 3.1 connections, Denon’s receiver has 4 HDMI jacks (that’s plenty). As far as digital media playback, Sony has their proprietary Digital Media (DM) port. Sony offers up four adapters that support the use of this port. They are designed to interface with WiFi, Bluetooth, iPod, and of course, Walkman. These don’t seem as if they’d be big sellers, especially due to the fact that there are so many inputs in this flagship receiver that you don’t have to use their DM port compliant items. The Sony STR-DA5300ES GUI’s drawback is it was found to have problems displaying the GUI on some HD sets. Make sure if you choose the Sony that the merchant will accept returns.
Video conversion technologies are a big reason these guys cost so much. In both receivers the video conversion technologies have been enhanced.They differ a bit though; the Sony up-converts only analog signals to HDMI. The nice thing is you are given selectable resolution choices that run the gamut of HD set resolutions from 480i all the way to 1080p. The newest processor tests revealed the great strides Sony has made in their video processing technology ('Jaggies' are a thing of the past). The Denon offers more video conversion modes. Along with analog to HDMI conversion, the Denon also up converts among the various analog formats. The low analog to high analog conversion allows for non-HD video component owners to get the best performance possible from an analog signal. The Denon’s analog video processing works in several ways, but basically it takes the composite video (lowest quality analog signal) and converts either to S-Video (middle quality analog signal), or component video (highest). Which one you’ll use is depended on your TV. These added video conversions options make the Denon a little more versatile.
Last, but most definitely not least, the big question, how do they sound? For the price, these things should sound amazing and don’t let you down. There are very few sound quality differences that are worth noting. They use 7.1 surround sound, have Digital Sound Processing (theater, jazz, concert, ect.), and have internal processors for Dolby true HD and DTS-HD. These HD sound processors allow newer disc players like the new Panasonic DMP-BD30 to utilize their own digital HD sound signal capabilities. Again, the differences are slight. The Auto calibration mic from Sony is stereo, Denon’s is mono. Conversely, the Denon outputs 130W and the Sony 120W. Sony and Denon don’t make this decision easy. These HDMI receivers are too evenly matched to pick a clear winner. It really comes down to what type of home theater system they will be integrated into.
The Sony has more connections than a Hollywood casting agent, I mean six HDMIs is a lot, but than again it’s a bit future proofed by having so many. It has a multitude of options for video resolution output and the GUI menu is customizable. Although, that goofy GUI display bug (testers found it did work on all sets) is a bit concerning.
The Denon is less money and it allows for more digital media interfacing options while giving you more information about what you’re listening to. The Ethernet ports allows for remote repair or calibration by Denon authorized installers and when disc content catches up it could be used to access movie extras that are on the internet.
So, it is left up to you to decide which options are more important or more applicable to your specific home theater setup. It’s that age old sales question, “So, what are you going to do with it?”