Browsing the prices for Onkyo's receivers can give you the familiar feeling of "too good to be true." Take the Onkyo TX-NR616. At its $410 street price it costs around $100 less than comparable models from other manufacturers, and it offers a staggering eight HDMI inputs, tons of streaming audio options, and an affordable Wi-Fi dongle. It doesn't have built-in AirPlay, but with the money you save you can snag a $100 Apple TV, which offers much more functionality beyond AirPlay.
So what's the catch? Reliability, it seems. Fair or not, Onkyo receivers have a reputation for being a little flaky, both in enthusiast forums and user comments. But those reviews shouldn't totally scare you away from the TX-NR616, as the reported problems don't seem to affect all units. Our review sample (with the most recent firmware update) didn't suffer from many of the issues mentioned in negative reviews and many other buyers seem satisfied.
If you're put off by Onkyo's reliability issues, the next best value for most buyers is the Sony STR-DN1030, which includes built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay for $500. But if you're okay with the off chance that you'll get a lemon, the TX-NR616 is easily the best AV receiver value. In fact, in terms of value the TX-NR616's toughest competition may be its step-down models, the TX-NR414 ($280) and TX-NR515 ($350), which offer enough features for the average buyer for even less.
Onkyo has never made much of an effort to pretty up its AV receivers. The basic design hasn't changed much over the years, with a boxy shape and an overall rough-around-the-edges look. The big volume knob is nice, though, and luckily the glowing ring around the outside can be dimmed in the setup menu. But if aesthetics are high on your list for an AV receiver, check out Denon or Marantz instead.
Onkyo's included remote is decent, although not as good as the offerings from Marantz and Denon. The input buttons are bright white, but they're small and don't glow in the dark. Overall, the remote isn't as cluttered as Sony's or Pioneer's, but there are still plenty of unnecessary buttons like the number pad at the bottom. At least with the money you saved by going with Onkyo, you can grab a nice universal remote.
The Onkyo Remote 2 app is far from well-reviewed, although the version we tested wasn't nearly as bad as the reviews would indicate. It's particularly great if you'll be using Onkyo's built-in streaming services, as the app often replicates what's on the TV's screen on your phone, so you don't have to keep looking back and forth. (That's a frequent complaint we have about smartphone remote apps.) It's also much more convenient to search services like Spotify or Rhapsody using a phone or tablet keyboard. The downside is that it can be a little buggy, although it usually worked well in our tests.
Pressing the home buttons brings up a row of icons overlaid on whatever video you're watching. You can jump straight to, say, streaming-audio services, or adjust the settings.
Onkyo's interface for streaming-music services isn't pretty, but it gets the job done. It's certainly better than the cramped interface on the STR-DN1030, and thanks to the smartphone app you likely won't need to use it that often. Artist information and album art display whenever you're streaming audio, either from the Internet or your own music.
Eight HDMI inputs: The TX-NR616 outdoes everyone with eight HDMI inputs, including a front-panel input that supports bleeding-edge MHL devices. Eight HDMI inputs will almost certainly be more than you need, but it leaves a lot of room for upgrading, especially with new game consoles on the horizon.
The only catch is that you can't quite access them all from the remote. HDMI Inputs 1 through 6 have corresponding buttons directly on the remote, but inputs 7 and 8 are by default only accessible through the Quick Setup menu. You can actually assign input 7 to the TV/CD button, but input 8 currently remains inaccessible via a single button on the remote -- and our Harmony remote lacked a discrete code to access it. It's an annoying flaw and does detract from the value of that eighth input.
The rest of the Onkyo's connectivity is solid as well, including four digital-audio inputs. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receiver connectivity.)
Built-in networking: The TX-NR616's Ethernet port allows for all kinds of networking functionality, including firmware updates, smartphone control, and media streaming via DLNA, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker, Last.fm, and Internet radio. I still don't think networking is an essential AV receiver feature (largely because AV receivers shouldn't be media streamers), but Onkyo does a better job than most, with its wide support for streaming audio services and decent smartphone app.