Luxury A/V receivers, such as Yamaha's RX-V2600 ($1,300 list), used to be easier to review. Once upon a time, higher-end models were mostly about sound quality, the overall look and feel, how easy they were to set up, and the smattering of features that truly mattered, such as multizone capabilities, surround processing modes, and connectivity options. But now that HDMI switching and video upconversion have entered the picture, you have to be not only an audiophile but a videophile to accurately assess these A/V receivers, especially when you're comparing them to competing models. What's particularly impressive about the Yamaha RX-V2600 isn't so much that it looks and sounds great but that it offers video switching and upconversion features that are superior to those of its more expensive sibling, the RX-V4600. And while it doesn't perform its upconversion quite as well as Denon's mighty AVR-4306, it costs significantly less than that model. The Yamaha RX-V2600 A/V receiver is jam-packed with the latest technology, but you'd never know that from its uncluttered, sculpted-metal front panel. Visible controls are limited to volume and an input selector. There are, but of course, plenty of buttons and knobs lurking behind a flip-down door--the radio tuner, multizone options, tone controls, a headphone jack, and a full set of A/V inputs, to name just a few--though we expect that, in everyday use, the volume and input selectors will be the mainstays. The RX-V2600's build quality feels solid, and its highly legible orange display is easy on the eyes, even in a darkened home theater. The full size receiver measures 17 inches wide, 6.7 high, and 17.2 deep, and it weighs 38.4 pounds.
We imagine most RX-V2600 owners will go ahead and use the Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) autosetup system, which not only determines speaker size and volume level but measures the distances from the speakers to the listener, checks the wiring, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all the speakers. YPAO is an automatic system, but you still have to navigate the receiver's rather convoluted video and input-assignment setup menus. We'd like to see something a lot more intuitively designed here. On the upside, the setup is extremely accurate.
The Yamaha RX-V2600's power amplifiers generate a lot of heat, so don't even think of placing this bad boy inside a cabinet, or at least one that's not ventilated. Reading the owner's manual, we discovered you can select continuous cooling fan operation, which can no doubt help, but we'd still want to make sure the receiver doesn't overheat. The menus also offer controls to compensate for the relative volume level when you switch between FM radio, DVD, your cable box, and other sources, so the volume doesn't suddenly jump up or down.
The receiver's remote is fully backlit and has a small illuminated LCD screen that displays the selected source. The large buttons for receiver volume and TV channel are handily positioned, and the side-mounted slide switch provides easy control of your TV, other selected sources, and the receiver itself. You also get a second, small remote for use in a second zone or room, but because it's infrared and not RF, you'll need a signal repeater that's wired back to the receiver in order to use it. This seven-times-130-watt Yamaha RX-V2600 receiver isn't lacking for features and sports most of the latest surround processing modes: Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital EX; DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, Neo:6, 96/24, plus THX Select2 processing. The only one missing is Dolby Headphone surround processing, but Yamaha engineers probably left that out because the V2600 instead uses Yamaha's Silent Cinema to produce quasi-surround sound over stereo headphones. Oh, and there's an adjustable lip-sync function for use with video displays that lag behind the audio.
Connectivity options will fulfill the needs of even the most complex home-theater installations: You get a total of six A/V inputs (including the one front-panel input) with S-Video. High-def sources are also well served: three inputs can be toggled to accept component video, and two more can handle HDMI. Even better, any of the analog sources (composite, component, or S-Video) can be converted to component or HDMI output at 480p, 720p, or 1080i. (To be clear, while 720p and 1080i are high-definition resolutions, do not expect to see a true HD picture on your display; as with upscaling DVD players, the real goal here is to better match the video resolution to something that's more easily "digested" by your HD display.) The 480p progressive-scan option is particularly important because it maximizes compatibility with HDTVs; many older models can't accept a 480i video signal via HDMI. If you're comparing this model to Denon's similarly priced ($1,100) AVR-2807 , that model features only conversion to 480p via HDMI. To get 720p and 1080i upconversion in Denon's A/V receiver line, you currently have to step up to the $2,000 AVR-4306.