The Yamaha RX-V3800 is an excellent communicator and dialogue in particular is reproduced with a sparkling clarity. However, depending on the source there were times that this treble could harden slightly and threaten to become sibilant -- particularly during Peter Parker's opening monologue in the Spider-Man 3 BD. But mostly, surround sound effects were delivered flawlessly -- helped along by the quick and efficient YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) calibration routine.
In fact, when we bypassed the onboard decoder of thewe were greeted by one of the best surround-sound experiences we've ever had from a modest system. When Sandman emerges for the first time, you see what looks like rocks, but with the RX-V3800 the audio clues are always there -- it sounds like sand. Treble detail was handled very delicately. While the onboard decoder of the Sony player is very good the sand particles looked and sounded like granite boulders -- the subtleties were lost.
We found that stereo music was best served by using the Pure Direct function, which essentially shuts down all the circuits unnecessary to making music -- namely video and the front display. Stereo focus is sharpened and instruments gain a breathy, "right there" quality.
It may sound like a cliché, but we actually did have to check if the rear speakers were on when listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seed's Red Right Hand. The soundstage was incredibly wide, and yet audio detail and the fine interplay between the vocals and the bass weren't lost in the track's general hubbub.
Where the receiver didn't live up to all the expectations for an AV switcher was in its video processing capabilities. The unit will upscale from 480/576 all the way up to 1080p, and for this we found it did a very good job. However, deinterlacing was another issue. Unlike some competitors, the Yamaha chooses not to use the Faroudja DCDi chipset or equivalent, and the results are telling. For example, there was a tendency for the Yamaha's deinterlacing of an SD source -- in this case Foxtel Digital -- to introduce some image compression artefacts such as some colour stepping and ghosting. Tearing and combing effects were also in evidence.
Trying to use the RX-V3800 with Vista connected resulted in a no-show. We've had some success using the RX-V2700 with a Windows PC running Media Player 11, but even that was flaky. Once working, the interface is rudimentary and the list of supported files short -- this is not the receiver to realise your media streaming dreams, then. We hate to say it but the Apple TV is still one of the easiest to set up, if fairly crippled.
Until Yamaha unveils their Z11 receiver -- which should be any day now -- the RX-V3800 is the company's top-of-the-line receiver. It ticks all the boxes for features -- some more successfully than others -- and should provide most home cinema set-ups with the room they need to grow.