Yamaha takes a 24-hour lead in AV receiver war

The Yamaha RX-V861 AV receiver delivers a host of cutting-edge features for under $1,000--but it's likely to be upstaged by similar products Onkyo is announcing tomorrow.

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John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
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John Falcone
2 min read
Yamaha RX-V861
Yamaha RX-V861: a great receiver for $1,000--at least until Onkyo shows its hand Yamaha

For better or worse, most consumer electronics companies don't announce products with Apple-like fanfare. There's no gilded invite, no glitzy PR event at the Moscone Center, no 90-minute Steve Jobs presentation. For most companies, it's a booth at CES in January, and a press release. Three to eight months later, the product pops up at Amazon, Best Buy, or J&R, often with more of a whimper than a bang.

Take the new AV receivers from Yamaha and Onkyo. Keen eyes at AVS Forum and other enthusiast sites began noticing that new entry- and midlevel receivers from both companies started appearing on their respective Web sites (Onkyo USA and Yamaha). But Yamaha fired off a press release this morning to highlight the imminent release of the RX-V861 receiver, a $1,000 model that it says offers "unprecedented high end features" for that price point. Perusing the spec sheet, it certainly appears that the RX-V861 is no slouch: -n addition to the usual assortment of high-end audio goodies (automatic speaker calibration, multizone operation, built-in XM satellite capability, 105 watts per channel), it's got two Simplay HD-certified, 1080p-capable, HDMI inputs, and--just as importantly--it can upscale analog video sources to high-definition resolutions. What it's missing, of course, is a few of the keystone features we're expecting in the true "next-gen" receivers due later this year: namely, HDMI 1.3 and built-in support for Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS HD Master Audio (the super-high-def soundtracks found on HD DVD and Blu-ray discs).

To date, the only announced receiver that includes those features is the Sherwood Newcastle model we saw at the Consumer Electronics Show. But tomorrow could be another story: Onkyo has scheduled a press event in Jersey City where the company is expected to unveil its 2007 line of receivers and home theater products. In fact, the odds are that they'll be these products, which were leaked via the Web earlier this month. So while we can't blame Yamaha for launching a shot across Onkyo's bow, we have to say that--on paper, at least--the rumored Onkyo TX-SR805 seems to be offering a lot more for $1,000 than the Yamaha RX-V861, including a third HDMI input, HDMI 1.3a (instead of the Yamaha's 1.2a), and on-board decoding for Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

We'll have a full report on Crave as soon as we know the details from the Onkyo event (tomorrow, April 24), but the audio geeks in us have high hopes that the leaked specs--and prices--are right on the money. Meanwhile, don't expect the competition to be far behind: we'll know in a few months how close Denon's 2007-2008 line-up is to the rumored specs for that manufacturer, and we suspect that Yamaha itself will soon be releasing details regarding successors to last year's high-end RX-V1700 and RX-V2700. And by September's CEDIA show, every big-name manufacturer should have at least one HDMI 1.3/Dolby TrueHD/DTS-HD ready to roll--if not already in stores.