Editors' note: The rating of the Yamaha YHT-791 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
Great-sounding home theater is becoming increasingly rare, as consumers move toward space-saving solutions like soundbars and tiny home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs). If you still care about sound, have a budget around $1,000, and want the convenience of an all-in-one package, the choice largely comes down to two systems--the Onkyo HT-S9100THX ($1,100 list price) and Yamaha YHT-791BL ($800, the subject of this review). The two systems are very similar: you get a component-grade AV receiver with four HDMI inputs plus a big, boxy 7.1 speaker system that delivers better sonics than the rest of the HTIBs on the market. Working against the Yamaha is that its receiver can't assign inputs and the subwoofer wasn't quite as musical as we'd like. On the other hand, the Yamaha costs about $150 less and we did really appreciate the included iPod dock; Onkyo charges an extra $140 for its DS-A3. While we can't make a definitive statement about which of the two systems is better for you, we can say the Yamaha YHT-791BL delivers almost all of the performance of the higher-priced Onkyo system and includes an iPod dock for $150 less, making it a smart choice for audiophiles on a budget.
Regular HTIBs usually come with speakers that feel like toys, but the YHT-791BL isn't a regular HTIB. The two front speakers weigh a hefty 8.8 pounds and stand 13 inches tall, which means they'll intrude on your living space more than a standard HTIB. The surround and surround-back speakers are identical, weighing 2.6 pounds each, and with the more manageable dimensions of 8.25 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 3.75 inches deep. Also a rarity, all of the speakers are two-way: the front speakers have a 6.5-inch woofer and .5-inch tweeter; the surround speakers have a 3-inch woofer and .5-inch tweet; and the center channel has two 3-inch woofers and .87-inch tweeter. All the speakers come with a textured plastic finish; the look definitely isn't for everybody, but we didn't mind it and it won't attract fingerprints like a glossy finish would. The size of the speakers definitely helps the YHT-791BL sound great, but keep in mind that you'll need a reasonably large room to accommodate them.
The included HTR-6250BL AV receiver towers a typical HTIB receiver. It has the boxy look of a standalone AV receiver, but it's a little shorter than most, coming in at 17.2 inches wide by 6 inches high by 14.3 inches deep. The front panel features a large volume knob and a few additional front-panel controls, but otherwise it's relatively sparse compared with some competing models. The LCD display is a bluish white, compared with the orange of 2008's Yamaha HTR-6150, which we preferred and found a little easier to read from far away. (Note that the HTR-6250BL is available separately for around $400.)
The included remote is jam-packed full of tiny buttons, making it difficult to use, especially for home theater novices. Thankfully, important buttons like volume and the main directional pad are separated enough to be easily differentiated, but input buttons and playback controls are a confusing mass. It's definitely not as bad as the remotes included on 2008's Denon AVR-1909 receiver, but we prefer the simpler remotes found on the Onkyo TX-SR607.
The YHT-791BL's onscreen display is text-based, and it looks primitive compared with other receivers in this price range. It has a strictly white-text-on-black-background look that you're used to seeing on an old VCR, and it doesn't help that the entire image shakes as if the unit is struggling to keep it on the screen. Making matters worse, its simplicity didn't carry over to ease of use, as options such as output resolution are under the "HDMI" menu instead of "Display," which instead controls the front panel LCD. We also spent quite a bit of time trying to find the input assignment menu, only to realize the YHT-791BL doesn't have the capability to assign inputs (more on that later).
The YHT-791BL features Yamaha's Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) automatic speaker calibration system that sets the speakers and subwoofer volume levels, determines the speaker/subwoofer crossover point, measures the distances from the speakers to the listener, confirms that all of the speaker cables are correctly hooked up, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all seven speakers.
Plugging in the (supplied) Optimizer microphone brought up the Auto Setup menu on our display, which first offers a choice of "EQ Type," of which there are three: Natural, Flat, or Front. Then we selected "Start" and the YPAO initiated a series of tones that sequenced through all seven speakers and the subwoofer. We liked that all of the measurements were taken from just one mic position and that the calibration takes just a couple of minutes to complete.
We found the results to be accurate overall, though the subwoofer was a little too loud. The sub has its own volume control on its back panel, thankfully, so we were able to lower the volume. We experimented listening with the three "EQ Types," and heard little difference between them. Natural is the default option, so we went with that for all of our listening tests.
Editors' note: The YHT-791BL's feature set is largely similar to the included Yamaha HTR-6250BL AV receiver's; therefore, much of the following section is the same.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||Yes||Onscreen display||Text-based|
|Analog upconversion||1080p||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||Yes||Satellite radio||None|
The included receiver is a step down from the traditional midrange receiver price level, but it maintains most of the same key features as the step-up HTR-6260BL. There's onboard decoding for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so you'll be able to connect an older Blu-ray player and still decode high-resolution audio soundtracks. It can also upconvert your analog signals all the way up to 1080p, but don't put too much stock in that spec, as we weren't thrilled about the receiver's actual performance (more on that in the performance section). One surprise is that the YHT-791BL lacks any built-in support for satellite radio, so you'll need a separate outboard tuner if you are a subscriber.