Technological changes arrive in waves of increasingly shorter duration, turning yesterday's state of the art into today's also-ran. Take the Yamaha RX-V661 AV receiver. Last year--or even three-to-six months ago--the mere presence of such niceties as HDMI switching and auto-speaker calibration in a $500 box would've been cause for celebration. But the rules of the game are rapidly changing, thanks to the availability of next-generation receivers with advanced HDMI 1.3 features (namely, built-in decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio), analog-to-digital video conversion, and XM and Sirius Satellite Radio compatibility built-in. All of those features are available in the Onkyo TX-SR605, which retails for just $100 more than the Yamaha reviewed here. And that, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem with the Yamaha RX-V661. In and of itself, it's a fine--if not great--midrange receiver. It's just that given the competing options now available, it's not delivering the same bang for the buck as it would've just a few months ago.
The Yamaha RX-V661 is pretty average looking for a midrange AV receiver. It's available only in black; there's no silver option, as found on some receivers. In the center toward the top is the LCD display, which is a tad smaller than we'd like to see. Below the display are several small buttons which allow you to access some infrequently used features. Beneath the small buttons are four Scene buttons, which can be used to jump to a specific viewing configuration (more on this later). There are three knobs on the front panel: a very large volume knob to the far right and two smaller knobs, one for selecting inputs and the other for selecting various digital sound processing (DSP) modes. Also on the front panel is a headphone jack, along with an AV input. Like we said, the design is pretty average, but design-conscious buyers may prefer a more uncluttered look or the slim look of JVC's digital receivers.
One design misstep we noticed was the way the inputs were aligned on the back panel. The slight annoyance we ran into was that the standard-definition video inputs and their accompanying stereo analog jacks aren't located in the same area. While this won't be a problem for those using the digital-audio connections, it's annoying when you have a standard AV cable with the video and audio cables bunched together, and you have to separate it in order to reach the appropriate inputs. It's a nitpick, but we've seen other receivers that are more logically laid out.
The remote is pretty easy to use. Like all AV receiver remotes, its multitude of buttons will be intimidating to less-savvy users, but overall it's well thought-out. It also functions as a universal remote, and along the right side is a slider that lets you select whether you are controlling the receiver, your sources, or the TV. It certainly doesn't compare to the top universal remotes we've seen, but it's good for a freebie. When you press a button, the source that you have selected lights up, but other than that there is no additional backlighting.
One of the drawbacks to the RX-V661 is that it cannot display its onscreen display over the HDMI output. This can occasionally be frustrating if you're watching an HDMI source and would like to change a setting on the receiver, as you have to switch to an analog input--on both the receiver and the TV--to bring up the onscreen display. Of course, you can still navigate the menu via the receiver's LCD display, but you'll need pretty sharp eyes to see it from across a home theater room.
The RX-V661 offers automated speaker calibration in the form of the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) system. It uses a microphone to determine the sizes of your speakers and their distance from the listening position and to balance the volume levels of all speakers and the subwoofer. Plugging in the mic was easy enough, but the next step may be a little confusing. The onscreen display asks you to select an "Extra SP Assign" from the following choices: Front B, Zone 2, Presence, or None. We went with the last choice since we didn't have anything connected to those speaker terminals. We found the owner's manual auto-setup instructions somewhat vague, and we had to make a couple of attempts before we could run the auto-setup routine. Once started, everything went smoothly; the speakers and subwoofer produced a series of tones and whooshes for a few minutes, and we later confirmed the resulting settings to be fairly accurate.
Key features at a glance
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||2||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||3||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|AV inputs with S-Video||5 (4 rear, 1 front)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||No|
|Optical inputs||4 (3 rear, 1 front)||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||2 (all rear)||HDMI version||1.2a|
|Selectable HD sources||5||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||XM-ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||No|
|Phono input||Yes||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||No|
|Analog multichannel inputs||7.1||Selectable output resolution||No|
The RX-V661 is a 7.1-channel receiver that, according to Yamaha, can deliver 90 watts to each channel. It offers the usual assortment of surround-sound processing modes, such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24. Note that it does not have onboard decoding for any of the new soundtrack formats available on HD DVD or Blu-ray--such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master--so you'll need to have a player with onboard decoding to take advantage of the superior sound quality offered by these new formats. Alternately, you can set your player to send uncompressed PCM audio, which the RX-V661 can handle (see below).
Connectivity on the RX-V661 is average for a receiver in this price range. For video, there are two HDMI inputs which are compatible with 1080p video signals. There are also analog video connections, including three component video inputs (also 1080p compatible) and five standard AV inputs with S-Video (one of which is on the front panel). On the audio side, the HDMI inputs can handle as many as eight channels of uncompressed linear PCM signals, and they can carry encoded standard Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. There are six digital audio inputs--four optical, one of which is on the front panel, and two coaxial--plus an optical output. There's also a multichannel analog input (it works with 5.1- and 7.1-channel sources), a phono jack, and two stereo analog inputs. For those looking to use an external preamplifier, the RX-V661 is equipped with 7.1 preouts.
Also note that the RX-V661's HDMI inputs are version 1.2a, and they're SimplayHD certified, which should guarantee the best possible compatibility with other HDMI devices. The HDMI version number explains exactly which features the RX-V661's HDMI port supports. For example, HDMI 1.2a is capable of handling audio from compatible DVD-Audio and SACD players using the HDMI connection. It does not have some of the more-advanced functionality of HDMI 1.3, which includes the ability to receive Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD-Master soundtracks via HDMI (from Blu-ray and HD DVD players). That said, the Yamaha will pass uncompressed PCM audio from those players, and the 5.1 analog inputs also can be used if the players offer internal decoding and analog audio outputs (such as the Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player).