Yamaha Rethinks the AV Receiver, Creates neoHD

Reading up on this totally fresh neoHD receiver tells me that Yamaha—unlike its competition—is trying hard to keep up with the rapidly changing home theater situation, particularly where HD video is concerned.

Yamaha clumsily calls neoHD a "media connector," which makes it sound like just part of the home-theater equation, rather than a solution to that equation. What neoHD really is is a streamlined AV receiver with more emphasis on "V" than "A."

It's a smallish box with a zillion inputs—3 HDMI, 2 component, 1 composite, both optical and coax digital audio, and a USB port—and a few choice outputs. Straightaway there's support for media on USB disks, but you can add on an iPod dock or a Bluetooth stereo receiver.

There's an amp to drive your own 5.1 surround-sound speaker set, or a 2.1 system that you can buy bundled with it that uses a virtual surround sound. There are IR blasters for TiVo, cable boxes and I suppose even Xbox (though not PS3, right?), so that everything can be run and managed through the system. And to do that, it's got a super-simplified remote, signaling the days of the 14" long AV receiver remote are finally, possibly, at an end.

As you probably guessed from the picture, it ditches for good this notion that a receiver can be programmed with a tiny LED display and a bunch of abbreviated terms like "PrLgcII." Instead, it throws everything to an on-screen display that is sadly not pictured here. The core is a natural-language command hierarchy much like the one that made Logitech's Harmony remotes famous, where you select "Watch" "Listen" or "Play" and a series of commands are set into motion.

The basic neoHD receiver, the YMC-500, costs $600, a little steep, perhaps, but if it replaces a Harmony as well as an AV receiver, it could well earn its price—we'll find out for sure when we have a look at a review unit. There's a $200 step-up YMC-700 model that comes with Ethernet and Wi-Fi, which is good for Rhapsody as well as local content (using Twonky Media Server), but something tells me Yamaha may not be able to go as far as Samsung, LG, Sony or Panasonic to secure really good on-demand video. $800 is also the price of the YMC-500 with 2.1 speakers thrown in.

YAMAHA neoHD MEDIA CONTROLLERS WITH SIMPLIFIED REMOTES OFFER INTUITIVE CONTROL OVER ENTIRE HD ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEMS

- Breakthrough Components Deliver HD Audio, HDMI, AIR SURROUND XTREME and Dynamic Full-Color On-Screen Menus for Quick Access to Desired Entertainment -

BUENA PARK, Calif.––Yamaha Electronics Corporation, the innovator in home theater and digital audio and video reproduction, today ushers in the future of home entertainment with the introduction of neoHD. These sophisticated Media Controllers provide the HD audio and video performance essential to true HD entertainment experiences and total control of all home and Internet components and sources connected to a home AV system. Using a simple remote to drive an intuitive menu-driven on-screen display, neoHD makes it easier than ever before to navigate and access all audio and video content in the home, regardless of where it is stored.

Upon touching the power button of the neoHD remote, the Media Controller and connected TV automatically power up and give the user three onscreen entertainment choices: "Watch," "Listen," or "Play." Next, the user is prompted to choose among more specific activities (such as Watch Movie, Watch LiveTV, Listen CD, etc) at which time icons for the appropriate video, audio or video game components (such as Blu-ray players, CD players, cable boxes, iPods, game consoles, etc.) will appear. Once the component is selected, it automatically powers on and is fully operational via the neoHD remote and on-screen interface. All individual component remotes that normally clutter the room can be kept out of sight in a drawer.

neoHD can control up to six other AV components, such as TVs, Blu-ray disc players and set-top boxes, through its remote control and three IR outputs on the Media Controller's back panel. Remote control codes for the AV components (including TVs, DVD and Blu-ray players, VCRs, set-top boxes, etc.) from most manufacturers are embedded into the neoHD Media Controller for immediate compatibility and control. The codes for components that are not embedded can be quickly learned by the Media Controller.
neoHD is available in a variety of configurations, including neoHD (YMC-500), neoHD WiFi (YMC-700) with WiFi/Ethernet compatibility, and the neoHD System 2.1 (YMC-S21), a complete surround sound and system control solution that matches the YMC-500 Media Controller with two high-quality speakers and a subwoofer.

Both neoHD models feature HD quality audio playback (Dolby TrueHD) and three HDMI inputs for connecting HD AV sources, such as a Blu-ray player, digital set-top box or Apple TV. Also provided are two component video inputs for game consoles and DVRs, such as Tivo, and single composite video inputs for a VCR. The YMC-700's WiFi compatibility allow it to wirelessly play back content from PCs, laptops and audio files stored on hard drives. Even without the computer powered on, the Rhapsody online music service and Internet radio can be accessed directly from the Internet. YMC-700 can also playback iTunes AAC files via TwonkyMedia Server Software that purchasers have access to via a bundled license key.
Both models also allow connectivity to portable devices, such as USB memory sticks, as well as iPods and Bluetooth-enabled devices (including cell phones, PCs or Macs) via optional accessories (Yamaha YDS-11, MSRP $99.95, and Yamaha YBA-10, MSRP $129.95, respectively).

neoHD employs several proprietary audio technologies. Users can take advantage of Yamaha's popular Cinema DSP programs, such as Movie, Music, Entertainment and All Channel Stereo, to optimize movie, TV and sports viewing experiences in systems with 5.1 speaker configurations. Yamaha's AIR SURROUND XTREME technology adds extra system setup flexibility for a two-speaker stereo configuration, delivering surround sound that clearly separates the audio from in front, behind and either side of the viewer. Yamaha's YPAO Automatic System Calibration quickly optimizes audio performance in any room, regardless of where the speakers are placed.

Adaptive DRC maintains the maximum dynamic range at all volume levels by continuously monitoring audio content and making low-volume sounds easier to hear as music or movies are playing. Yamaha's Compressed Music Enhancer restores the highs and lows that are lost when audio files are digitally compressed, such as with MP3 files, to make them sound fuller and more engaging.

Both neoHD Media Controllers, YMC-700 and YMC-500, are currently available for MRP $799.95 and $599.95, respectively. The neoHD System 2.1, YMC-S21 is also available for MRP $799.95.