Over the last few years, AV receivers have been integrating all sorts of functions necessary for a modern home theater, including video upscaling, media streaming, and video switching. It's good in some ways, but bad in others; when we reviewed Denon's AVR-3808CI, we were thrilled about how much we could do with it, but much less excited about how confusing it was to operate.
Yamaha's newly announced neoHD series of products continues to consolidate functionality in your AV receiver, but also focus on ease-of-use, including a graphical user interface with icon-based navigation and the ability to control other devices with IR blasters.
Yamaha announced three new products in the neoHD line: the YMC-500, YMC-700, and YMC-S21.
The entry-level YMC-500 includes much of the functionality found on a midrange AV receiver, plus advanced ability to control other devices and playback media off its USB port. There are three HDMI inputs, two component video inputs and a single composite video input, and the YMC-500 can upconvert those signals to its HDMI out. In fact, you have to upconvert analog signals because there are no analog video outputs. There are also two digital audio inputs, one optical and one coaxial. Speaker connections are limited to spring-clip connectors, which is disappointing, but we're assuming that was done to save space on the back panel.
The step-up YMC-700 adds networking capabilities, either via its Ethernet port or the built-in Wi-Fi connection. It's fully capable of playing back media stored on your PC and its DLNA compatibility should make it a pretty painless task. It's also can stream internet radio stations and Rhapsody, which really diminishes the need for another digital audio streamer.
The YMC-S21 packages a YMC-500 with a 2.1 speaker system. The YMC-500 and YMC-700 also come with Yamaha's Air Surround Extreme technology, designed to create a pseudo-surround sound effect from just two speakers; we'll have to do a hands-on test to see how well it really works.
The one weakness we can see in the neoHD system is that the units include a basic remote for controlling your devices. The included remote it fine for navigating a GUI, but there are no playback controls in case you also want to operate a DVR. We would have preferred if Yamaha offered a more extensive universal remote control for a more seamless experience between your gear--or even better, just threw a Logitech Harmony remote in the box. (Editors' note: Yamaha contacted us to clarify that while the included remote doesn't have playback controls, there is an onscreen keyboard that offers the functionality. We still prefer actual buttons on the remote, but onscreen controls at least provide an optional for fully controlling external devices.)
The prices for these systems is more reasonable that we expected, with the YMC-500 selling for $600, the YMC-700 for $800 and the YMC-S21 for $800.