The rear panel has most of the facilities I'd expect in an $800 receiver, including two optical and two coaxial digital audio inputs, a six-channel analog audio input, and the two component-video inputs - all of which can be freely assigned to any relevant source. But there's no digital audio output, which might complicate things if you have a CD recorder. Note also that, like virtually all other digital surround receivers, the TX-DS696 provides no bass management for its multichannel analog input.
I connected the receiver to a high-performance six-speaker suite, including dipole surrounds and a powerful subwoofer. The onscreen menus made the usual set- up routines self-explanatory, and with one exception I was able to complete them quickly with the help of the supplied programmed/learning remote, which I liked a good deal. It seemed busy at first glance but turned out to be very easy to use thanks to the wide variety of shapes and sizes for the buttons and the sensible spacing between them. Onkyo has wisely included a Light key that illuminates all of the buttons so the keytop labels are perfectly legible. Unfortunately, the lettering on the remote's panel is still tough to read in the dark.
You use one group of buttons to select the receiver input and a second, totally separate group to select which component the remote will control (it can operate eight different devices). That sounds cumbersome, but it's probably the least confusing solution to this universally vexing design problem for system remote controls.
The setup exception I mentioned concerned channel balancing. Initially I balanced the channel levels using the receiver's noise generator and my usual sound-level meter, but the result seemed terribly bass-shy with soundtracks and music. When I reset the channel levels using Ovation Software's Avia home theater setup DVD, I found that the subwoofer level dictated by the TX-DS696's noise generator was almost 10 dB too low. To be fair, if you set up by ear using music and soundtracks, instead of with the noise signals and a sound-level meter, you likely won't have this problem. But those who rely on science (as we so often urge) and use Onkyo's noise generator and a meter to set levels may end up bass-deprived.
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