For decades, receiver innovation has been stuck in tar, an anonymous group of large black boxes with way too many buttons. Now, the neoHD hopes to re-imagine what the receiver can be.
The NeoHD may support 5.1 surround sound, but it dubs itself a "media connector," not a receiver. That's because the model I tested, the YMC-700 ($800), includes ethernet, Wi-Fi and USB drive support. The other big NeoHD revolution is supposed to be its Logitech Harmony-like interface. And the kicker? It's all managed by the most minimal remote you'll find in the home theater world.
What's Really Different with the neoHD?
• graphic-driven interface
• tiny remote
• about half the size of your average receiver
• removes audio modes like Theater, Live, Sports, etc
• gladly supports 2.1 virtual surround or 5.1
• streams web-based radio, network audio
• IR repeaters can control other devices through onscreen remote
Watch, Listen and Play
Every receiver I've ever seen is driven by Inputs. You know, HDMI 1, HDMI 2, Component 3. But when you load the NeoHD, you see Watch, Listen and Play. Like a Harmony, the interface is purpose-driven, not device-driven.
Of course you plug in the PS3 through HDMI just like any other receiver, but going through guided setup, the system asks what you want to do with this device. And if it happens that you use it to watch movies, listen to music and play games, guess what? The PS3 will propagate in a submenu under each of those shiny icons.
Herein lies my main problem. I always knew that I wanted to listen to music from my PS3. That was a complete thought. But using the NeoHD's menus, I need to say, listen to music. Then I need to sort through a list including a slew of other devices. And if I own an Xbox 360, which I do, I need to recall whether the PS3 is Game Console 1 or Game Console 2. (Technically this is the Play menu - I ended up turning off music for both my consoles after encountering the issue.)
I see the intent for a simple UI. But how is this system easier than before? Even the grandma stereotype will be just as lost in this second menu, filled with inputs, as she would be a normal receiver.
Wouldn't it be better for the main menu just to show an icon of a PS3, an Xbox 360, my satellite dish and whatever else I had around?
To make matters worse, this lack of formal inputs means there's no input button on the remote. I haven't been able to find a way to change inputs other than hitting a back button, a la webpage, to slowly back my way to the main screen. The neoHD hopes to replace your universal remote altogether, controlling your TV and cable box through IR blasters. But how can I expect it to replace every remote in the house when it can't adequately replace itself?
Let's call the system halfway there.
I found that the neoHD can just as easily play FM as it can stream music from its large library of internet radio stations. But even when streaming music from my Mac (which requires TwonkyMedia Server, bundled free) there's no way to pause or stop your music, even using a button that brings up onscreen controls. Why can I loop a track but not pause it?
It was also a great disappointment when I realized that the iPod and Bluetooth functions both require external adapters to work. The USB port won't even charge your iPod.
But the biggest issue that many Giz readers may have is that the neoHD can't stream video of any sort, nor can it load video from USB. In this regard, the you can't justify a neoHD purchase knowing that it could replace an Apple TV, Roku, Xbox...you know, anything you use to watch those torrents on the big screen, let alone web content.
Music streaming works, and updating the NeoHD's firmware couldn't be easier (it's basically one button in the settings menu). But ultimately, the AV networking aspects are a bit of a tease without both the A and the V arriving in full force.
Oh right, this thing drives speakers, doesn't it? I tested the YMC-700 with 2.1 speakers found bundled with the cheaper, Wi-Fi-less YMC-500. So we're talking two small front speakers and a subwoofer setup through an automated microphone tone test.
Watching Hero on Blu-ray, the water droplets panned sporadically through the front half of my living room with distinct, round plops, before the clash of swords sliced through atmosphere. The faux surround fills your ears completely, but it only captures the front 150 degrees of your perspective (at least in my living room). Still, I was pleased with the quality. Honestly, voices and shows over DirecTV have never sounded so good, and I use the impressive ZVOX 550 on a daily basis. Not bad.