It seems as if cutting-edge home theater electronics keep getting more and more complicated, and the growing back panels of A/V receivers bear this out. On the other hand, the newest A/V receivers offer the promise of the ultimate in simplicity--just one HDMI cable from your receiver to your HDTV. The Yamaha RX-V1700 ($1,200 list) is one of these receivers: it's capable of upconverting all analog signals to its HDMI output. Along with its upconversion abilities, it has a nice package of features, including two HDMI inputs, eight (!) digital audio inputs, XM-Ready functionality, and multiroom capabilities. That's not to say it doesn't have issues--eagle-eyed videophiles will be disappointed, and those on a budget can get much of the same functionality for less from Onkyo's TX-SR674 ($700 list). That being said, the RX-V1700 certainly offers a nice design, a solid feature set, and decent sound, which make it a very good product overall--it just might not be the best value.
The Yamaha RX-V1700 looks, for the most part, like a standard black A/V receiver (it's not available in silver), with its nicely sized LCD screen in the center of the unit. What makes the design stand out a little is the noticeable absence of button-clutter--there are only two knobs on the front, for volume and input selection, plus just a trio of other buttons. The clean look is nice, but it doesn't mean there's no front-panel functionality. Right under LCD screen is a flip-down panel that reveals a ton of additional keys, as well as an A/V input and a headphone jack. The receiver itself has a solid build quality, marked by its metal face plate and hefty 38.8-pound weight. The unit measures 6.75x17.13x17.75 inches (HWD)--standard A/V receiver dimensions.
The RX-V1700 comes with two remotes: a full-fledged main remote, and a second, smaller remote for use in a second room. The main remote comes with an illuminated screen for selecting a source and is packed with buttons. It's actually pretty easy to use if you're savvy with receivers, but like all receiver remotes, it will confound novices. The second remote is about half the size of the first and includes just basic functions. Because it's an infrared remote, it needs a line of sight to the receiver, so you'll probably need to buy a signal repeater to make it truly worthwhile.
The onscreen display setup menu looks the same as that of almost every A/V receiver, which means it's just blocky, white text on your TV screen. In addition to being aesthetically dull, we found navigation a little difficult because of the way the directional keys are used both to navigate and to change settings. We did like the Signal Info menu, which gives detailed information about the audio and video signals running in and out of the receiver. If you're interested in a much more visually pleasing and intuitive receiver menu system, be sure to check out Sony's excellent STR-DA5200ES.
The Yamaha RX-V1700 is a 7.1 receiver that, according to Yamaha, pumps out 130 watts to each channel. Like almost every receiver on the market, it offers a full selection of Dolby and DTS surround-processing modes, although it cannot decode the newest high-resolution soundtracks from Dolby and DTS--but neither can anything else. (Receivers capable of decoding Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio won't be available until summer 2007 at the earliest.)
The RX-V1700 comes into about the middle of the pack for features--it's not quite as densely loaded as top-of-the-line models such as the Denon AVR-4306, the Pioneer VSX-84TXSi or the Sony STR-DA5200ES, but it's a cut above low-to-midrange models such as the Onkyo TX-SR604. The key features are its two HDMI inputs and one output, which are enough to handle an HD cable/satellite box, plus an HD DVD or Blu-ray player. For the rest of your high-def video, there are also three component video inputs and one output, so all but the biggest HD fans should be covered. Those looking to see up-to-the-minute 1080p compatibility will be mostly happy, as the HDMI handles 1080p, although the component video inputs don't. For standard-definition content, there are six A/V inputs with S-Video (five on the back panel, one up front).
All of these video inputs are made even more convenient by the RX-V1700's video conversion abilities. The RX-V1700 can upconvert all analog sources--composite, S-Video, and component--to be output over the HDMI output. This means that you can have just a single HDMI cable running from your receiver to your TV, instead of separate cables for each signal type. For interlaced standard-definition (480i) content, the RX-V1700 converts it to 480p by default (though you can keep it at 480i if your HDTV supports that resolution on its HDMI input). For everything else--in HD, that is--it leaves the signal in its native format. This isn't quite as flexible as the STR-DA5200ES--or the Yamaha step-up model, the RX-V2700--which allow you to select the output resolution.
The RX-V1700 is even more loaded with audio connectivity. There's a whopping total of eight digital audio inputs (three coaxial and five optical, including one of the latter on the front panel) and two optical digital audio outputs. In addition, there are four stereo analog inputs including a phono jack for vinyl enthusiasts. Although HDMI is capable of carrying most multichannel audio, there's also an analog 7.1 multichannel input, perhaps for those still using the dying high-resolution audio formats SACD and DVD-Audio, which often cannot use HDMI. Audiophiles will be pleased to see the 7.1 channel preamp output, which enables the use of an external amplifier.
One of the dirty little secrets of A/V receivers is that you can't really use every input on its imposing back panel. This is because of the difference between inputs and "selectable A/V sources". Just because a receiver has, say, five HD-capable inputs, that doesn't mean it has enough labels--such as DVD or DVR--to accommodate all of the inputs simultaneously. Luckily, the RX-V1700 is pretty good in this regard. The two HDMI inputs and three component-video inputs can be assigned any of the following source labels: DVD, V-Aux, DVR/VCR2, VCR1, CBL/SAT and DTV. That's six labels for five HD sources, so you'll even have a label left over for a standard-def signal if you max out your HD inputs.