Yamaha's Value-Packed Receiver

Gas prices and subprime crises notwithstanding, we're no longer surprised that A/V receivers continue to get more capable and more powerful even as their prices spiral ever lower. So it might be a bit too easy to overlook the value quotient of another strong player in this highly competitive arena.

Yamaha's RX-V863 offers the virtues of high power, HDMI 1.3 switching, sophisticated audio DSP with automatic setup and EQ, an extensive DSP-surround menu, and 1080p video scaling. And it manages to do all this in an attractive and accessible package.


Introducing the RX-V863 into my 6.1-channel layout involved shifting RCA, HDMI, and speaker cabling, connecting the tiny microphone that Yamaha supplies for auto setup, and running the auto-setup routine from the main onscreen menu, a rather plain-Jane text-only display. This excited the familiar chorus of bloops, bleeps, and noise bursts, resulting in very accurate channel levels and an 80-Hz setting for the receiver's single, all-channels crossover. Knowing my room and speakers as I do, I'd probably have selected 60 Hz manually, but 80 Hz worked fine.

The receiver's YPAO (for Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) uses DSP to automatically crunch data collected at a single sweet-spot mike location. (Unlike competing systems from Audyssey and others, it doesn't do a differential analysis of room dimensions and responses with data sets from multiple locations.) The V863's EQ gives the option of selecting Flat, Natural, or Front curves. The first averages the response of all speakers, and the second is a suggested alternative if Flat "sounds a little harsh" when applied. The third is said to match the response of center and surround speakers to that of the front left/right ones.

In my listening room, the performance of the receiver's auto EQ wasn't on the same level as that of more advanced systems like Audyssey's or the Room Correction feature in Anthem's D2 preamp/processor. While the Flat setting didn't sound particularly harsh, it did result in a somewhat thinner-sounding midrange/bass and a slight "honk" on certain voices. The Natural setting sounded better on both scores. But in general, I preferred my system's sound with the EQ defeated. Of course, every system/room combination will be different, and in some (or many) rooms, the Yamaha's EQ will prove entirely worthy.


The V863 showed itself to be a highly competent performer during my listening tests. Playing Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio tracks, as well as "old-fashioned" Dolby Digital and DTS ones, I heard no restriction of tonality, spatiality, or dynamic ability that suggested the receiver was being stressed.

This remained true even on demanding material like the Blu-ray Disc of Die Hard 2. The V863 displayed plenty of oomph throughout the roaring mayhem of the runway sequence, and it produced completely enveloping, involving sound. Yamaha's Cinema-DSP postprocessing is tailor-made for this kind of material: The Adventure setting yielded a distinctly larger, big-cinema auditory experience, and while it does faintly change the tone color of voices and music, this seems a fair exchange for the palpable increase in "Wow" factor.

The V863's performance was satisfying in critical music listening, too, including multichannel SACDs. The Yamaha decodes these in-receiver via HDMI, which is a nice convenience (and possibly a quality perk, depending on player-decode quality). For example, on an excellent ECM multichannel disc of the Stephen Hartke vocal chamber pieces Tituli and Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain, I heard tremendous clarity of line, subtlety of vocal shadings, and convincing small-hall ambience. Some checks of familiar multichannel rock recordings suggested that while the V863 delivered ample power for most listening needs, its limits were finite, and attempting big-venue rock-show levels resulted in somewhat impact-challenged sound.


The receiver converts incoming analog video (composite-, component-, or S-video) to a high-def format (720p, 1080i, or 1080p) so you can rely on a single HDMI or component-video cable between TV and receiver. I tried a variety of sources and settings, concluding that the Yamaha's scaling and processing were on the whole good, not great. On the other hand, standard-def analog video processed and upconverted by the V863 showed a distinct resolution limit at something less than 480 lines, a shade of extra "red push," and fairly obvious "jaggies" when dealing with diagonal movement, particularly with material originating on film. And this was in large part true whether I used the receiver's HDMI or component-video outputs.


Yamaha's multicomponent remote control is another of those long-standing designs that a manufacturer wisely elects to stick with; we've seen variations on it across successive generations of Yammies. This means it's thoroughly evolved and de-kinked, and it works well. I liked it.

I also liked Yamaha's Scene system. By way of four large keys across the remote's bottom, you can recall any of four combinations of input, surround-mode, and source-component control mode via one keystroke. There are 19 preprogrammed combos you can select from out of the box, or you can dial in your own fab four. This might not seem like much, but it's simple enough that it might actually get used, especially if you share your living space with a less technophilic housemate. (Note that I didn't say "a woman.")

Nonetheless, I was a bit disappointed that the Scene system didn't also optionally incorporate setup data like relative channel levels and delays, or user-adjusted surround parameters. Such additions would make it that much more valuable, especially among wonkier users. (Okay: guys.)

As already mentioned, fancy onscreen displays aren't the V863's forté, but I have no problem with that: I prefer the Yamaha's basic text screens to a few next-gen graphical user interfaces I've encountered. But the V863's silicon will output only 480i-format video, not high-def.

Like most current receivers, the Yamaha is both XM- and Sirius-ready. I plugged in my XM mini-tuner and was rewarded with trouble-free satellite-radio playback, albeit with rather minimal displays for metadata and antenna-strength info. Yamaha sent along a sample of its basic iPod dock, the $100 YDS-10 (there's also a Bluetooth adapter for a wireless source, the $130 YPA-10). This worked as advertised, posting text-based iPod metadata and providing menu navigation and selection via the Yamaha's remote.


Yamaha's latest midpriced model may be no standout in terms of gee-whiz features or video processing, but it's hard to fault the RX-V863's overall usability and its excellent audio DSP. Anyone looking for basic, reliable audio and video performance will appreciate this thoughtfully designed, intelligently executed, and affordable A/V receiver.