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.
Like nearly all receivers priced above $1,000, the RX-V1700 offers an autocalibration system. The YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) autosetup program uses the included microphone to optimize the receiver to the specificities of your speakers and room acoustics.
The RX-V1700 is also pretty flexible in terms of multiroom capabilities. It has the ability to power both a second and third room with independent sources. It's also XM-ready, which means that you only need to plug in a Connect-and-Play antenna (such as the XM Mini-Tuner) and you can receive XM programming--assuming you have a subscription, of course. There's also support for XM's surround format, Neural Surround. Additionally, there's a port around back for Yamaha's iPod dock, the YDS-10. Those with home-automation systems will be happy to see an RS-232 port. There's also a pair of switched AC outlets on the back.
Overall, the RX-V1700 feels a little light in terms of features at its price. For example, the Onkyo TX-SR674 ($700) matches the RX-V1700 on several important feature categories, such as HDMI inputs and upconversion capabilities. The RX-V1700 definitely has the edge overall--it has more standard-def video and audio inputs and more selectable A/V sources, as well as superior multiroom categories--but we don't know if most people would find that worth the $500 premium. On the other end of the spectrum, if you spend a little more you can score Sony's excellent STR-DA5200ES, with its groundbreaking menu-navigation system--or Pioneer's feature-packed VSX-84TXsi, which has four HDMI inputs and scales standard-def sources all the way up to 1080i. The same upscaling feature is also available on the Yamaha's step-up model, the RX-V2700 ($1,700). The V2700 also adds a third HDMI input, an additional 10 watts per channel, and network audio streaming capabilities similar to those found in the Yamaha RX-N600.
The Miami Vice DVD wasted no time demonstrating the Yamaha RX-V1700's home theater skills. The score's pulsing music had a weight and power that reached beyond the norm for A/V receivers, and we totally believed its 130-watt-per-channel power rating. This was even more amazing because we've criticized previous generations of Yamaha receivers for sounding tonally lightweight, but the RX-V1700 was anything but. Crockett's and Tubbs' shootouts with the bad guys were scarily effective. Maybe we're just tired of car chases in general, but we loved Vice's scenes with the drug dealers' fast boats. The powerful engines roared with gusto.
The same could be said about the Rolling Stones' Four Flicks DVD concert set. The band's sound had the perfect balance of close-up presence and the live atmosphere you would experience in the very best seat at a show. Mick Jagger was in fine voice, Keith Richards' raunchy guitar had just the right edge, and we could hear Charlie Watts' drums filling the arena. Our only complaint was that the surround ambiance of the audience felt a trifle subdued. The RX-V1700 otherwise had the surefooted stamina of high-end components.
The high-resolution sound we heard from SACDs produced exceptional spatial depth on the front three speakers in our home theater system. Despite the general impression that SACD and DVD-Audio are fading away or dead, we keep finding new discs such as Telarc's just-released SACD of Rachmaninoff's "Dances from Aleko" with Paavo Jarvi conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra's strings had the rich, harmonic bloom few receivers in the RX-V1700's price range approach.
Next, we listened to XM Satellite radio, which sounded fine, though nowhere as good as CDs--though that's a shortfall of the XM service, not the Yamaha. That said, engaging Yamaha's compressed music enhancer didn't seem to make much of a difference.
Video processing is becoming more and more of an important issue for A/V receivers, and we ran the Yamaha RX-V1700 through our full suite of tests. We kicked off our tests using Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, using an S-Video connection from our reference Denon DVD-3910 to the RX-V1700 and upconverting it over HDMI to 480p on several displays (the Pioneer PRO-FHD1, the Vizio GV47LF, and the Panasonic TH-50PF9UK). Right off the bat, the RX-V1700 struggled with the initial resolution test, unable to pass the full vertical resolution of DVDs. It faired better on the next tests; it handled a rotating line pretty well, and it had marginally acceptable performance on the test with three shifting lines--only the third one wasn't stable. Next up was a waving flag test--which looked fine--as well as a detail test, which predictably looked a little soft.
The real problem came with the race-car scene, which indicates how well the video processing can detect film material and engage its 2:3 pull-down processing. Well, the RX-V1700 never quite was able to lock into film mode, which results in a moirÃ© pattern in the background. To follow-up on its 2:3 pull-down capabilities, we put in Star Trek: Insurrection--our favorite torture test for this issue. Unfortunately, the opening seemed to confirm that the RX-V1700 did indeed lack proper 2:3 pull-down detection: we saw jaggies on the hulls of the boats, as well as on the roofs of the houses as the camera panned over. The result wasn't pretty--unlike some of the more subtle processing issues we see, we think even nonenthusiasts would pick up on these errors. We followed up with a look at the introduction to Seabiscuit, and it was just as bad, with each black and white photograph having several examples of distracting jaggies.
That the video processing of the RX-V1700 isn't perfect isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. Because every recent HDTV can deinterlace a 480i signal--that is, convert it to 480p--the only advantage to having your receiver handle the job is if its deinterlacing capabilities are superior to your HDTV's. In the case of the RX-V1700--where the deinterlacing isn't that good--most people would probably be better off just letting their TV do the processing and using the RX-V1700 primarily as a video switcher. This can easily be done by going into the setup menu and turning HDMI I/P off, which means that standard-definition interlaced signals will remain interlaced but will still be sent over the HDMI output. We should note, however, that not every HDTV is capable of accepting a 480i source over HDMI.