AV receivers are considered the brain of the home theater, but for all their routing and amplifying, they can't pull all the tricks a true home automation system can.
Sony's new ES AV receivers are looking to change that, with the company dubbing them "the world's first consumer [AV] receiver fully integrated with home automation technology." The two new models, the STR-DA5800ES ($2,100) and STR-DA2800ES ($1,000), were created in a partnership with Control4 and are capable of typical home automation functions such as dimming the lights, turning on the right components, and switching inputs when you press "Watch movie."
While home automation companies like Control4 and Crestron have sold customized AV receivers before, the new Sony ES models are configurable by consumers, with a built-in wizard to guide setup. Both the receivers and their home automation functions are also controllable via iOS and Android smartphone apps, so you don't necessarily need to buy a home automation-specific tablet. The receivers also aren't necessarily locked into a specific home automation system, as Control4 Simple Device Discovery Protocol (SDDP) is supported, along with Crestron Connected and AMX Device Discovery. (Check out Geoffrey Morrison's hands-on coverage for more details.)
In addition to the home automation, these receivers are packed with the kind of features you'd expect on a high-end AV receiver. The intimidating back panel of the STR-DA2800ES boasts eight HDMI inputs, three HDMI outputs (included Zone 2 output), several IR inputs/outputs, and three digital audio inputs, with the STR-DA5800ES also adding 7.1 analog audio inputs, pre-outs, and switched AC outlets, plus more digital audio inputs and IR inputs/outputs.
Networking is built in to both models, including a four-port Ethernet switch, as well as streaming-media services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Pandora. While Netflix on your AV receiver may seem cool, most home theater enthusiasts will still want a separate streaming-media device to get more services, like Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, and MLB.TV. (Though I'm personally not a big fan of using an AV receiver as a media streamer.)
Sony also announced a (relatively) entry-level model in the ES line, the STR-DA1800 ($700). The step-down model lacks any home automation functionality, but is still well-equipped with more conventional features, including built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay, plus six HDMI inputs, two HDMI outputs, and second-zone support via HDMI. (If built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and AirPlay sounds like a nice trio, Sony also offers the excellent Sony STR-DN1030 for $450.)
The STR-DA5800ES and STR-DA2800ES are available today, while the STR-DA1800ES will be released in October.