AV receivers are maddeningly difficult to compare, sometimes because they're so similar. Denon's AVR-1913 ($600 street) sits at the high end of the brand's mainstream line of AV receivers, and in terms of features, there isn't much that separates it from the competition. It has built-in AirPlay, six HDMI inputs, an iOS/Android remote app, and a smattering of streaming audio services, which makes it largely indistinguishable from the Yamaha RX-V673 ($600) and Pioneer VSX-1122-K ($600). The Denon has its good points (sound quality is excellent, as is the included remote), but they don't stand out enough to provide a significant edge over its challengers.
The Denon's real competition is Onkyo's TX-NR616, which is shockingly inexpensive at $430 street, and Sony's STR-DN1030 ($500 list, available in mid-July), which is the first receiver in this price range to include both built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With the exception of AirPlay the Onkyo actually has more features than the Denon AVR-1913 (including eight HDMI inputs) -- and if you want AirPlay just add a $100 Apple TV, which gives you much more functionality for a total price that's still lower than the Denon. And while Sony's STR-DN1030 may only have five HDMI inputs, its built-in wireless connectivity at a lower price than the Denon is a killer combination.
Not to mention that the AVR-1913 is more AV receiver than most people need. If you're set on getting a Denon, check out the step-down AVR-1713 ($450), which is a better value if you don't need the AVR-1913's niche features, like analog video upconversion or 7.1 channels. The Denon AVR-1913 is an all-around solid AV receiver, but buyers should take a long look at other options to make sure they're getting the best receiver for their needs.
Denon's receivers tend to look a bit classier than others and the AVR-1913 is no different. It eschews the glossy finishes of Yamaha's and Pioneer's offerings, while avoiding the more utilitarian look of Onkyo's models. It's big and bulky, though, coming in at 6.4 inches tall, 17.1 inches wide, and 13 inches deep, so make sure you have plenty of space in your AV cabinet. It doesn't quite look as good as last year's subtly curved AVR-1912, and Marantz's slimline receivers are the most stylish receivers around, but the AVR-1913 is still above average in the looks department.
AV receiver remotes are generally terrible. Picture countless tiny buttons, all about the same size, with small lettering that's near impossible to read in dim home theater lighting.
That's what makes the AVR-1913's remote so refreshing. There are relatively few buttons, and they're big and bright -- a good formula for an easy-to-use remote. Denon has thankfully ditched the number pad and array of seldom-used buttons, instead relying on you to make those changes via the user interface. The only misstep (and it's a big one) is the glossy black finish around the buttons. Glossy finishes collect fingerprints very easily, especially with a device that's always in your hand. So the remote is laid out well and unusually easy to use, but it's going to get smudgy quickly.
In addition to the included remote, the AVR-1913 can be controlled via the Denon Remote App smartphone app. I used the iOS version on an iPhone 4 and it works pretty well. Obviously you can select inputs and adjust the volume, but it's even more useful for apps like Pandora -- or even accessing a media server on your network -- where it's a little easier to use the phone interface rather than an onscreen menu. The Remote App can even access the music stored on your phone, so there's no need to jump to a separate iPod app to play music via AirPlay.
The AVR-1913's graphical user interface may only be a short step up from the text-based interfaces of yore, but it's very easy to navigate. Menu choices are simple and there are even some basic graphics when it's helpful, like choosing your speaker configuration.
If you jump into the "network" section, you'll be able to browse the AVR-1913's limited streaming-audio options. Here the interface looks a little more archaic, especially compared with those of other home theater devices like the Apple TV or Xbox 360. The user interface looks similar if you're using AirPlay and thankfully cover art is now supported for third-party apps, so you'll see album art from, say, Rhapsody.
Six HDMI inputs: The AVR-1913 has six HDMI inputs, including one front-panel input, which should be enough to cover most home theaters. If you want the most HDMI connectivity for your buck, however, go with Onkyo: the TX-NR616 ($430) and TX-NR515 ($400) both offer eight HDMI inputs. The rest of the Denon's audiovisual connectivity is on the skimpy side, particularly with just two digital audio inputs, but I wouldn't worry about that too much since nearly all modern home theater components support HDMI. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receivers' connectivity.)
Built-in networking: The AVR-1913's Ethernet port allows for all kinds of networking functionality, including firmware updates, AirPlay, smartphone control, and media streaming via DLNA, Internet radio, Pandora, Sirius/XM, and Flickr. I still don't think networking is an absolutely essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but it's a nice bonus. The AVR-1913's set of streaming-audio apps is somewhat limited compared to competitors', so if you won't be using a separate media streamer or iOS device (with AirPlay), you'll get more options, like Spotify, from Onkyo's network receivers.