Yamaha’s neoHD line of products mark a departure from the company’s traditional audio video products. In the same way that the original MusicCAST was innovative in 2003, the neoHD represents a new way of looking at a surround sound receiver. The family includes the basic YMC-500 ($599), network-ready YMC-700 ($799) and the 2.1 package YMC-S2 ($799, includes a YMC-500).
The neoHD is a bit difficult to place into traditional audio/video categories, because its primary purpose is not clear. Yes, it’s a surround sound receiver that does everything a receiver is supposed to do: merge, sort and output the stuff you plugged into it. It’s got 5.1 speaker jacks (small spring clips rather than large binding posts), built-in digital amplification and a back panel full of jacks. It does some digital audio decoding (Dolby TrueHD and DTS) and there’s an FM tuner. On the YMC-700 version you get networking (Ethernet and WiFi) which allows you access to your PC’s stored content, digital radio or Rhapsody subscription music service. You can add optional iPod or Bluetooth adaptors as well.
If that were all, it’d be a cute little shoebox of a receiver, but a bit underwhelming these days. What the neo strives to be is a control system to keep all your components in line and snap to attention when needed. And do to it all simply. While all receivers of at least a moderate level are control systems of a sort, that’s the neo’s primary purpose. It’s as if the product were a Harmony remote with a receiver glued to its back.
The comparison to Logitech’s Harmony line is more appropriate here than you might think. The neo takes your various components (plus its own media skills) and sorts them into activities much like a Harmony. DVD, Blu-ray, Internet radio, DVR, USB drive all get filtered through more general activities such as Watch, Listen, Play. Everything is accessed through a novel onscreen interface and controlled by an elfin remote, similar to the basic remotes that ship with most projectors. If, for instance, you wanted to watch a DVD, from the main screen menu (Watch, Listen, Play) you’d select the Watch icon. Next you’d see a screen with icons for all the video sources you have connected. In this case you’d select the DVD icon, which would switch the neo to the player’s input and turn the player on. Because the tiny neo remote can’t possibly cover all the controls of a DVD player, you press the Control button to bring up a virtual remote overlay on screen with all your player’s control functions (play, pause, fast forward …). Using the up and down toggle button, you navigate the virtual remote to control your player normally. Press the control or exit button to make the screen overlay disappear. The components are all controlled through a series of IR blasters in the back of the main unit.
You’re probably thinking either “that sounds simple” or “that sounds complicated.” In fact it’s both. I like that it’s very logical and linear. I don’t like that it seems to add a lot of extra steps. The point is it takes the logical decisions involved in setting up a control system or universal remote (including grouping activities and planning macro commands) out of the user’s hands and lets the neo do the work. I have to admire that.
So how easy is the neo to use? Let’s start with setup. I first plugged in the 2.1 speaker system that came with the YMC-S21 configuration (I actually used the YMC-700 controller because I wanted to try the network features). The speaker inputs are merely the small clip style, not the binding posts you’d expect on most receivers these days, which means no heavy gauge wires. Then I plugged in each of my components into HDMI inputs and the TV to the one HDMI output. You get three HDMI inputs, so if you need more HD than that you continue with the two component inputs (all video is output via HDMI). Next I plugged the wired IR blasters into the back (you get four) and connected them to the IR receiver ports on the front of all my components and the TV. Then I turned the unit on and followed the instructions, which would allow the neo to control my TV and components. The process didn’t take long.
At this time I used the included microphone for an automated speaker setup routine. I placed the wired speaker in my standard listening position while the neo sent out a series of test patterns to measure the room and set the speaker levels. Strangely, when the audio tests were done I needed to manually adjust the subwoofer level. The sub happens to have it’s own microphone input as well.
Finally, since I was using the YMC-700 controller, I set up the WiFi network and downloaded a firmware upgrade (which got hung up on the first attempt).
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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. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.