JVC's low profile RX-D702 stands out in a field of generic receiver designs, and its high-tech aura is more than skin deep. Sure, this $800 list A/V receiver boasts cutting-edge, high-power digital amplifiers, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. It also includes HDMI switching and HDMI upconversion--and it's currently the least expensive receiver on the market with both. In theory, HDMI is the pinnacle of A/V connectivity: an all-digital connection that carries high-definition video and surround-sound audio. One HDMI cable could, for instance, replace the three component-video cables as well as the optical audio line between a DVD player and the TV. Other receivers with HDMI either don't offer conversion or are relatively expensive; is a good example. In addition to HDMI, the JVC RX-D702 includes a wireless USB streaming-audio solution that's unique among receivers we've tested. Its combination of features and solid sound quality make it among the most capable receivers of the year, especially at this price. The JVC RX-D702 looks like no other receiver. Its gleaming front panel features a deep-blue LED slit sprinkled with red LEDs to indicate the selected input, while on the right, illuminated volume and source-selector knobs complete the accoutrements. In our darkened home theater, the RX-D702's light show dazzled our friends.
This nimble JVC is refreshingly compact, just 17.25 inches wide, 3.5 tall, and 14.5 deep. Considering its hefty power rating of 150 watts for each of its 7 channels, we were surprised to note the RX-D702 weighs a very manageable 17.2 pounds. The receiver is available only in black.
Maybe it's because all that power is concentrated in such a small chassis, but we couldn't help but notice that the RX-D702's amplifiers put out a significant amount of heat. Don't plan on stashing this receiver in an unventilated cabinet.
The basic setup can be expedited by the JVC RX-D702's automated Smart Surround Setup. Unlike most such setup routines, JVC's system doesn't even need a microphone; just clap your hands and the autosetup does all of the work. The catch is that the Smart Surround Setup wasn't all that smart or accurate, so we went ahead and continued with the manual routine. Setting up a receiver as capable as the D702 is an involved process. We're used to that, but we found this receiver's menus especially difficult to fathom and use. For example, when we tried to access the D702's customizable digital signal-processing modes that create a more reverberant, spacious surround effect or change the apparent height of the center speaker, we ran out of patience before we achieved the desired result. On the plus side, we appreciated that the JVC's onscreen menus were also available via the HDMI output.
When you first pick up the remote, you'll see only the volume and source-selection buttons required for everyday use. That's nice, but we were less enthusiastic about the crowded array of 44 teensy buttons that handle individual speaker and subwoofer levels and EQ settings and lurk under a slip-down cover. Even with all those buttons, there's no way to directly access Dolby or DTS surround modes or a single-button command that will produce sound from our DVD-Audio player. While we're carping, the remote lacks backlighting and looks like a refugee from an inexpensive home-theater-in-a-box. The JVC RX-D702's Hybrid Feedback digital power section includes 7 150-watt channels and all of the standard Dolby and DTS 7.1-channel surround-processing schemes. JVC's proprietary surround processing is also onboard.
Considering the small amount of back-panel real estate available, JVC's engineers crammed in a surprising amount of connectivity, including switching for two HDMI sources. Your composite, component-, and S-Video sources are converted to 480p and output via the monitor HDMI jack, and composite and S-Video sources can also be converted to component-video. The unit includes two component-video inputs and four A/V inputs (including the set on the front panel), plus an SACD/DVD-Audio input, one stereo input, and a total of four digital audio inputs: three optical (one on the front) and one coaxial, as well as a single optical digital output. Due to the limitations of back-panel space, the D702 forgoes such niceties as A/B speaker switching or multiroom capabilities.
In another unique feature, you can route music wirelessly from your PC or Mac to the JVC RX-D702. The receiver comes with a small USB dongle that attaches to your PC and broadcasts the music to the JVC, which has a small antenna attached to its back side for receiving the transmission. The dongle installs itself on your computer as a generic USB speaker, which then passes the audio output of the computer to the D702. As a result, you're getting a free digital audio receiver that let's you enjoy any and all digital audio available on your PC--including copy-protected or DRM-encoded songs from online music stores such as iTunes. You can also opt for a wired USB connection to the D702's front panel.
Many of the same features can be found on JVC's RX-D401 A/V receiver ($500). If you don't need HDMI connectivity, check out the JVC RX-D301 ($400). Unlike the black-only D702, the step-down models are available in black or silver. If we had any doubts about the ability of the 17-pound JVC RX-D702 to deliver 150 watts per channel, the Batman Begins DVD quickly changed our minds. The sound was crisp and clear, and James Newton Howard's score had a weight and an impact that we associate with powerful components. The film's dark gothic tone and Batman's angst were perfectly conveyed by the D702. This receiver has power and grace.
We next popped on the Pixies' Sell Out concert DVD and indulged our rock and roll fantasies. The band broke up in 1992 and reunited in 2004, and if this DVD is any proof, the group hasn't lost its edge. The DVD's surround mix put us in the midst of the crowd, and yet the delineation of the band's guitars was exceptional. Kim Deal's ethereal vocal on "In Heaven" gently reverberated throughout the arena. Cranked up as loud as we could stand it, the JVC's power reserves never ran out of gas.
The best test of the JVC RX-D702's fidelity came when we played our favorite Super Audio CDs. Pianist Wayne Horvitz's gentle Sweeter than the Day SACD sounded warmly acoustic, and his piano had the grand scale of the real thing. That sense of hearing the full size of the instruments was something you don't often get from receiver in the D702's price range. Our sole reservation about the sound was in the area of bass definition; the "pluck" of the stand-up basses was slightly blunted. A brief comparison with Denon's new AVR-3806 receiver confirmed that hunch. The bass firmed up and the overall clarity of sound was superior, but the Denon goes for $1,299 and grabs significantly more shelf space.
Since the JVC RX-D702 can also upconvert all 480i video signals to 480p and can output them via HDMI, we tested its processing by hooking up both of the S-Video outputs from a Sony DVP-NS975V DVD player--one routed through the JVC's S-Video input and out via HDMI to the TV, and another straight from the Sony to the TV's S-Video input. The JVC's processing performed well, properly implementing 2:3 pull-down and smoothing out jaggies along moving diagonal edges, such as the waving American flag from the Video Essentials DVD, in video-based sources. High-def 720p and 1080i resolutions, meanwhile, were passed from the video sources through the receiver's HDMI connections unmolested.
The wireless audio connection worked as advertised. Setup was quick and easy--basically plug-and-play--and the system didn't suffer from any noticeable breakup. Fidelity was par for the course for PC-based digital audio--which is to say, far from audiophile-grade--but certainly no worse than you'd get from a digital audio receiver add-on that would add at least $150 to the cost of your system. But the biggest attractions are universal compatibility and ease of use. The driver for the USB dongle self-installed on our Windows XP machine, and no other software is necessary; once you establish a wireless connection with the RX-D702, just boot up any audio program--iTunes, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music player, or even online streaming from XM or Sirius--and you'll hear it through the JVC. The company's 100-foot range may be optimistic, but we had no problem streaming over a 30-foot distance through thick walls in an office rife with potential RF interference.
Editors' note: CNET has discovered an incompatibility issue that affects the JVC RX-D702 receiver when it's connected to the TiVo Series3 DVR via HDMI. Details on the issue--and suggested workarounds--are available here.