AV receivers are packed with features that complicate making a buying decision, but the truth is most buyers would be fine simply picking the cheapest model that has enough HDMI inputs for their home theater. The Onkyo TX-NR414 is a perfect fit for this approach, offering up six HDMI inputs with a shockingly low street price of $280. It is missing many of the perks of more expensive receivers (such as 7.1 channels, a graphical user interface, automatic speaker calibration, analog video upconversion, and AirPlay), but many of those features are unnecessary and savvy home theater aficionados on a budget can easily work around the other limitations.
Our only hesitation is about reliability, with the conventional wisdom of the Internet (see forums and user reviews) being that Onkyo's receivers are a little flaky. It's hard to determine whether that's true (there are a lot of reasons why user reviews can be negative), but in any event it seems not to have affected the TX-NR414, which has gotten largely positive reviews from customers. (CNET doesn't test long-term reliability, so we have to rely on user reviews for details on reliability issues that don't show up during our testing period.)
There's a strong argument that it's worth spending a little more for the Onkyo TX-NR515, but both receivers are untouchable by the competition in terms of value.
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 by users, 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 during our test period.
Onkyo's TX-NR414 doesn't offer up much of a user interface; it's just blocky white text on a black background. That's not such a big deal when you're making tweaks to the setup menu -- you'll likely only access that menu a handful of times over the life of the product -- but it's more disappointing when using the TX-NR414's networking features. Rather than the icon-driven menu on the step-up TX-NR616 (above the NR515 mentioned earlier), you get text that's hard on the eyes, and there's no album art displayed when you play back music. It's an archaic look, especially in 2012.
Onkyo TX-NR414 user interface
Onkyo TX-NR414 user interface
The good news is you can get largely avoid the TX-NR414's ugly menus by using the Onkyo smartphone app. The app actually shows artist info and album art, so there's no need to keep the TV on at all when you're using streaming-audio services.
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Six HDMI inputs:
Having six HDMI inputs is excellent for the TX-NR414's price, as most manufacturers are charging hundreds of dollars more for that much connectivity. Yes, you can pay $65 more for Onkyo's TX-NR515 and get eight HDMI inputs, but for most people six will be plenty. The rest of the TX-NR414's connectivity is solid as well, with four digital audio inputs (two optical, two coaxial) -- that's double the number you get on the $580 Denon AVR-1913. (Check out CNET's 2012 AV receiver spreadsheet for a more detailed comparison of AV receiver connectivity.)