|Yamaha RX-V861 Receiver|
|Home Theater AV Receivers AV Receivers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007|
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With technology changing so rapidly, especially in the areas of high-definition content and flat panel displays, the rest of the consumer electronics industry has been forced to play catch-up. While many have stepped up, there are those who still seem painfully behind the curve. Well, the designers and engineers over at Yamaha haven’t fallen into that latter category with their new RX-V861 receiver. The RX-V861 represents the current state of the art, not only for Yamaha, but for receivers everywhere, with its seemingly endless array of features. The most important of these is its complete support of 1080p video through its HDMI inputs. When you consider that most receivers boasting the same claims as the RX-V861 cost upwards of two grand or more, the rather modest price of $999.95 for the RX-V861 makes it a relative steal in more ways than one, before even opening the box. However, like all things HDMI (and perhaps, more importantly, HDCP copy-protected), specs can be misleading and the reality is often painfully different than the hype. On paper, the RX-V861 seems pretty fantastic for the money, thus my excitement about doing this review.
Out of the box, the RX-V861 is pretty standard-looking for an AV receiver: it’s black, loaded with buttons and controls, has a large display and is about as visually appealing as most other receivers in its class. The RX-V861 measures in at 17 inches wide by six-and-three-quarters inches tall and another 17 inches deep. The RX-V861 is surprisingly lightweight at a bit under 30 pounds, which made it very easy to put in my main equipment rack, where it would be installed next to gear from Mark Levinson, Meridian and various players for all of the HD disc formats. This is the part of the review where the Yamaha PR people take a big gulp, but to be compared to the world’s reference gear, if only by proximity, and to be connected to the world’s finest 1080p sources is meant to be nothing other than the highest compliment to a receiver at this price point.
Turning my attention to the rear of the RX-V861, I was greeted by a menagerie of connection options. Moving left to right, I noticed the RX-V861’s XM Radio input, single optical audio out, three optical and two coaxial digital audio inputs. Next to the digital audio inputs are the RX-V861’s two HDMI inputs and single HDMI monitor out. Across the entire top of the RX-V861’s back panel are its analog audio inputs and outputs. The RX-V861 has a phono input and a full complement of preamp outputs, neither of which are usually seen in a lot of receivers in the RX-V861’s price bracket. The RX-V861’s analog video connections are below its analog audio section. The RX-V861 has three high-definition-capable component video inputs mated to a single component video out. There are also a host of composite and S-Video inputs for you. The RX-V861 has inputs for both an FM and AM antenna, as well as remote triggers both in and out. However, it does not have any RS-232 support for you Crestron/AMX users out there. Located along the bottom of the RX-V861 are nine plastic five-way binding posts. The RX-V861 is a true 7.1-channel design, but the back channels can be configured in a variety of ways, including the option of bi-amping. The additional two sets of binding posts can be used for either a second zone or for what Yamaha calls Extra SP. Extra SP allows for the consumer to place two smaller speakers higher up on the front wall, most likely in the right and left corners, to aid in creating a fuller, richer surround sound experience. Lastly, the RX-V861 has a hardwired power cord, as well as two 120-volt switched outlets.
Satisfied with the outward features, I turned my attention inward and to the RX-V861’s numerous internal power and decoding features. First, the RX-V861 has a rated power output of 105 watts across all of its seven channels via its ToP-ART High Current Amplifier section. It also boasts full HDMI 1.2a support, which isn’t absolutely the newest 1.3 spec (that was seen on prototype receivers from the likes of Sherwood Newcastle at this winter’s CES show), but is impressive nevertheless, given that it can decode multi-channel audio, such as SACD and DVD-Audio via its HDMI inputs, which makes connecting multi-channel sources, such as my HD DVD and Blu-ray players, rather easy. Keeping with high definition, the RX-V861 allows for full HDMI video upscaling from both its analog and digital video inputs through its single HDMI monitor out. The RX-V861 will upscale any video signal, be it 480i or 480p to 720p/1080i, as well as de-interlace native 480i content to 480p through its HDMI output. The RX-V861 will also pass a full 1080p signal through its HDMI inputs and output, provided your player can output true 1080p. As far as audio features go, the RX-V861 is ahead of the competition in a lot of ways with its upgraded DSP settings, including Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES and DTS Matrix decoding. A word on DSP or Digital Sound Processing, for which the RX-V861 has 17 different programs: I find them to be mostly unusable, but in the case of the RX-V861, they are welcomed and often work exceptionally well, but more on that later.
The RX-V861 also has a compressed music enhancer setting, which goes a long way in cleaning up and improving the sound quality of poorly ripped MP3 and WMA audio files for those of you using an iPod or AppleTV-type of device. Speaking of iPods, the RX-V861 has an optional iPod doc (YDS-10), which allows you to navigate and control the content stored on your iPod via your monitor, provided it’s connected to the RX-V861. Again, the RX-V861 is XM satellite radio-ready and has several audio decoding features that better the quality and experience derived from such a format, including XM HD surround sound and Yamaha’s own Neural Surround. Lastly, the RX-V861 features an automated room EQ program called YPAO, which works in conjunction with a small microphone to aid in calibrating the RX-V861, giving you improved sound in seemingly any environment.
Which brings me to the remote. I honestly wish I could skip this part, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t warn you about just how disappointing the RX-V861’s remote is. Ten years ago, this remote would’ve cut the mustard, but by today’s standards, it misses the mark. For starters, it has no backlighting, which is a problem, considering that home theaters themselves tend to be dark by nature. The layout of the remote didn’t exactly speak to me, requiring me to turn the lights on to make changes to the system through the receiver.
The RX-V861 went out of the box and into my reference rack. Getting the RX-V861 into my rack was easier said than done, not because of the RX-V861’s physical constraints, but because of the enormous amount of rewiring it took to remove my reference Meridian and Mark Levinson gear. To say that the RX-V861 had its work cut out for it was an understatement. I first connected the RX-V861 to my Meridian in-wall speakers. For two-channel listening, I connected my new Paradigm S8s to the RX-V861’s zone 2 or speaker B binding posts. All speakers were wired via Ultralink’s line of reference cables. Next, I connected my Toshiba HD-A20 HD DVD player and Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player to the RX-V861 via single runs of HDMI cable, also from Ultralink. I connected my Motorola DVR and my highly customized Apple TV to the RX-V861 via component video and optical audio cables. Lastly, I connected the RX-V861 to my Sony 1080p “Pearl” projector via a single HDMI cable from the RX-V861’s HDMI monitor out.
With all of my gear locked and loaded, I began the process of navigating the RX-V861’s numerous onscreen menus and automated EQ software. Starting with the YPAO program, or automated EQ, the RX-V861 performed flawlessly. Yamaha’s YPAO program is simpler than my reference Audyssey EQ and not quite as robust in terms of absolute performance, but it worked quite well and improved the RX-V861’s sound dramatically. Next, I moved on to the RX-V861’s set-up menus, which was an exercise in patience. When reviewing, I rarely have to consult the manual for anything these days, but I was glad I had it handy, because the RX-V861’s menu architecture is anything but intuitive. Although it was in English, I felt as if it was written in a different language. Yamaha has a long way to go with the RX-V861 when it comes to ease of use before they can claim to be competitive with the likes of Denon, Sony or Marantz.
All in all, the entire process of integrating the RX-V861 into my system took the better part of two hours before I was satisfied enough to start my listening and viewing tests.