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JVC RX-D412B review: JVC RX-D412B

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.



The Good

7.1-channel A/V receiver; HDMI switching; converts composite, component, and S-Video sources to HDMI; automatic speaker calibration; USB connect for PCs; sleek, low-profile design; XM satellite radio ready.

The Bad

No onscreen menus; could be louder; CD sound was a little harsh; runs hot.

The Bottom Line

Though its sound is average and it lacks onscreen menus, the stylish RX-D412B is packed with features for a reasonable price.
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.)

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.

While JVC is quick to tout the RX-D412B as having a "Sirius input," don't get this confused with the type of functionality the XM-Ready feature provides. The RX-D412B's Sirius compatibility is limited to the fact that one of the analog inputs is labeled "TV/Sirius" and that you can use the RX-D412B's remote to control one of two compatible JVC Sirius tuners, the KT-SR2000 and the KT-SR3000. Unlike the plug-and-play XM antenna, the Sirius tuners require their own power supplies, and they won't display the station and song names on the receiver's front-panel display.

The RX-D412B's HDMI capabilities are unusually sophisticated for a sub-$500 receiver, and best many models costing twice as much. In addition to offering HDMI switching between two inputs, the JVC can convert any of its analog video inputs--composite, S-Video, and component--to HDMI output as well. Moreover, it can de-interlace said video streams, so they're output as progressive-scan 480p signals. That's important, because it essentially guarantees compatibility with virtually any HDMI-equipped TVs; many older and some current models can't accept at 480i (interlaced) HDMI signal. Together, the analog-to-HDMI conversion and the de-interlacing functionality mean you can effectively run a single HDMI cable from the JVC to your HDTV and watch all your video sources with ease. (The only issue we noticed was that the RX-D412B could not accept 480i signals via its HDMI input--but since virtually all HDMI sources are high-def, it's not a big issue.)

The RX-D412B also comes equipped with a USB input that lets you play any audio files off your computer over your home theater system. The beauty of this solution is that it bypasses all annoying DRM issues by letting the receiver function as a USB speaker--the bottom line is any file you can play on your computer will work over the USB input. Setting this up is as simple as you could wish for. Using a Dell notebook computer, we plugged in the USB cable, flipped to the USB source on the RX-D412B, and within seconds everything was set to go. The only gripe we had is that if you're using the computer at the same time--say, surfing the Web--you might experience some digital disruptions.

As far as delineating the RX-D412B from other receivers in JVC's line, the differences are pretty straightforward. Its predecessor, the RX-D401, is nearly identical except that it's not XM-ready. Likewise, the more expensive step-up model, the aforementioned RX-D702B, also lacks built-in XM support and the updated autocalibration routine--but it does include the onscreen display capability missing on the RX-D412B. We started our evaluation of the JVC RX-D412B with The Woods DVD. The film is a witches' tale, with lots of creepy, downright unsettling effects that serve to keep the tension up throughout the film. The shrieking strings--reminiscent of Psycho's music score--were especially effective, and the nasty car crash in the woods packed quite a wallop. The brilliantly conceived surround mix, loaded with whispering voices, filled our entire home theater. The RX-D412B's resolution of these subtle details was excellent.

The King Kong DVD made us doubt RX-D412B's 110-watt-per-channel power rating--that, or Kong seemed light on his feet as he sped through the jungle--especially when we played the DVD at high volume. At a more civilized volume, the JVC sounded fine. We fiddled with the RX-D412B's bass management and nudged subwoofer volume up a little, and that put more bounce in Kong's step. We also auditioned the receiver's 3D headphone processing; it opens up the sound, making it less confined within the listener's head, but the processed sound becomes too echoey and reverberant for our taste.

Turning to music, we fired up R.E.M.'s Best of the I.R.S. Years CD, which was a blast. The band's jangley rhythms had lots of energy, though the sound was somewhat harsh, especially when compared to what we heard from the similarly priced (but HDMI-less) Yamaha HTR-5950 receiver, whose treble sounded smoother and cleaner than the RX-D412B's. We tried the RX-D412B's CC Converter, which JVC claims improves digital sound quality, and thought it made some difference but not enough to close the gap with the Yamaha.

We finished up listening to multichannel SACDs, but other than the increased spaciousness, we couldn't discern much of a quality difference compared to regular CDs.



Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 6