The whole setup process actually took less time than I’d spent on any Harmony remote—and I’ve used most of them. A customer service rep told me the part of the setup process people have the most trouble with is hooking up the IR lines.
As a control system, the neo does its job well. You select the activity you want from the onscreen options, drill down in the submenus to the right component, and the controller turns on all the products in the proper sequence. Where it sometimes gets hung up is on components that have complicated original remote commands. The neo remote just doesn’t do a good job managing the record, on-demand and widget commands of my Verizon FiOS box, and the onscreen virtual remote lacks elegance. You also can’t easily control the menu functions of the connected TV, because the only TV commands neo is interested in are on and off.
I ran into a particular problem when I wanted to use the TV’s built-in antenna input rather than my Verizon box. There was no easy way to get the TV to switch from HDMI to antenna without picking up the original remote. The customer service rep suggested creating a phantom component in the setup routine, then teaching the neo remote the necessary commands. It’s a creative solution, but not satisfactory.
On the networking front, the YMC-700 performed admirably when streaming music from my PC, Rhapsody or free Internet radio. It does not, unfortunately, stream any video. The addition of music services Pandora or Slacker and video sources like Netflix or Vudu would make it even more compelling.
Control issues aside, the neo is an audio component, so I spent a lot of time listening to movies and music through the YMC-S2’s 2.1 system. Yamaha’s Air Surround Xtreme audio processing did a good job of creating a wide and full soundstage from the two small satellite speakers and digitally-amplified subwoofer. While the process bills itself as a virtual 7.1 experience, don’t expect very dynamic surround sound effects. Yamaha’s own sound bars do a much better job. The jack pack includes speaker ports for surround channels, so I suggest you take advantage of them.
Stereo music listening was good, but not extraordinary. Highs during some traditional Celtic music were a bit sharp, and a Yo Yo Ma recording lacked the texture his cello produces. I was, however, extremely impressed with the richness delivered from the Internet radio channels, probably owing to Yamaha’s compressed music enhancer processing.
Overall, I think Yamaha is off to a good start with this product. The concept of changing a receiver to a control system at a moderate price is exactly what both the audio and control categories need. The interface could use a more fine tuning, and the remote could be expanded, particularly with a home button to take you directly to the main screen. Mostly, I’d like to see the neo idea built onto a higher quality receiver—one with more power, more inputs and more decoding capabilities. Multiroom would be great too. I’ll be paying close attention to this line in the future.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.