While A/V receivers have long been an analog stalwart in the increasingly digital home theater, a quick glance at the specs of the JVC RX-D412B indicate those days are coming to an end: HDMI switching and upconversion, USB connectivity, even digital amplifiers. While it's not good news for the analog faithful--who are holding onto their turntables and reel-to-reel systems as long as they can--the added functionality of a receiver like the RX-D412B is a boon for a cutting-edge home theater. HDMI switching and analog video conversion allows you to run just a single cable from your receiver to your TV, USB connectivity frees up all the music on your computer--even DRM'ed files--so they can be played on your home stereo, and the digital amplifiers allow for the RX-D412B's sleek and slim look. We didn't like everything about the RX-D412B--we thought its sound was only average and the lack of onscreen menus was frustrating. So while audiophiles will want to look elsewhere, less critical listeners can get a slick-looking, fully featured receiver that's selling for less than $400 online. We're definitely fans of the design of JVC's digital receiver line. The JVC RX-D412B's front panel is black and scooped in, making it stand out in the average A/V cabinet. Even flashier is the thin, blue light over the LCD, which also has a red light that indicates which input is selected. It might be a little too gaudy for some, but we thought it looked cool. Luckily for home theater purists, the display can be dimmed. (The RX-D412B is black; the otherwise identical JVC RX-D411S is silver.)
Because of the digital amplifiers, the JVC RX-D412B is a good deal smaller than traditional analog amplified receivers. At 17.19 inches wide, 3.63 inches tall and 14.63 inches deep, it should fit easily in all but the smallest A/V shelves. It also weighs less than similar receivers, coming in at just 15.3 lbs. Certainly anyone looking to slim down their home theater setup would want to take a good look at the RX-D412B, but be careful of putting it in too confined of an area--like the RX-D702 we previously reviewed, this receiver puts out a lot of heat.
One major hitch we ran into was the lack of onscreen menus. While many HDMI-switching receivers we've tested have been unable to display onscreen menus via their HDMI output, the RX-D412B actually lacks them completely. This means you'll have to do all your setup tasks via the small LCD on the receiver instead of on your TV.
When we reviewed the step-up RX-D702, we knocked its Smart Surround autosetup for being neither smart nor accurate. Since the RX-D702's setup relied on only a single hand-clap and an internal microphone, we were happy to see the RX-D412B an updated autosetup routine, dubbed Precise Surround. Using two earbud-size microphones and a 90-second series of test tones, we felt the Precise Sound autosetup delivered better results than Smart Surround. We ran the autosetup on both receivers using the same speakers and found the RX-D412B offered a more uniform surround effect. However, the lack of onscreen display was especially frustrating for setup tasks, since all adjustments have to be made via the front-panel LCD.
It's never easy to get the remote right with a receiver--generally the more functionality you try to pack in, the more cluttered and confusing it is. The JVC RX-D412B tries to get around this by having a mostly minimalist remote on the surface, while keeping the majority of the functions under a slide-out cover. The idea isn't terrible, but trying to deal with the tiny buttons under the cover is a real pain. There's also no backlighting, and all the source buttons feel the same, so navigating by feel is difficult. (The workaround, as always, is to get a universal remote control instead.) The JVC RX-D412B is equipped with the company's Hybrid Feedback digital amplifier, which supplies 110 watts to seven channels. It also has the usual gamut of surround-sound processing options, such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES, DTS Neo:6, and DTS 96/24.
Connectivity-wise, the RX-D412B packs a lot of punch for its small size. First and foremost are the two HDMI inputs, enabling you to switch between two HDMI sources via the receiver. The rest of the video connectivity is rounded out by a pair of component-video inputs, three A/V inputs with S-Video, and a couple of A/V outs with S-Video for DVRs and VCRs. On the audio front, there are three digital audio inputs (two optical and one coaxial), and three analog RCA inputs to accompany the A/V inputs. There's also a 5.1-channel analog input for high-resolution audio formats such as SACD and DVD-Audio as well as the latest video formats--HD-DVD and Blu-ray. In addition, there's an XM input, which can be used with a Connect-and-Play antenna to receive XM programming--with a subscription, of course.