Editors' note: The rating of the Yamaha YHT-791 has been changed since publication to better reflect its value compared to competing home theater systems.
Great-sounding home theater is becoming increasingly rare, as consumers move toward space-saving solutions like soundbars and tiny home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs). If you still care about sound, have a budget around $1,000, and want the convenience of an all-in-one package, the choice largely comes down to two systems--the Onkyo HT-S9100THX ($1,100 list price) and Yamaha YHT-791BL ($800, the subject of this review). The two systems are very similar: you get a component-grade AV receiver with four HDMI inputs plus a big, boxy 7.1 speaker system that delivers better sonics than the rest of the HTIBs on the market. Working against the Yamaha is that its receiver can't assign inputs and the subwoofer wasn't quite as musical as we'd like. On the other hand, the Yamaha costs about $150 less and we did really appreciate the included iPod dock; Onkyo charges an extra $140 for its DS-A3. While we can't make a definitive statement about which of the two systems is better for you, we can say the Yamaha YHT-791BL delivers almost all of the performance of the higher-priced Onkyo system and includes an iPod dock for $150 less, making it a smart choice for audiophiles on a budget.
Regular HTIBs usually come with speakers that feel like toys, but the YHT-791BL isn't a regular HTIB. The two front speakers weigh a hefty 8.8 pounds and stand 13 inches tall, which means they'll intrude on your living space more than a standard HTIB. The surround and surround-back speakers are identical, weighing 2.6 pounds each, and with the more manageable dimensions of 8.25 inches tall by 5.5 inches wide by 3.75 inches deep. Also a rarity, all of the speakers are two-way: the front speakers have a 6.5-inch woofer and .5-inch tweeter; the surround speakers have a 3-inch woofer and .5-inch tweet; and the center channel has two 3-inch woofers and .87-inch tweeter. All the speakers come with a textured plastic finish; the look definitely isn't for everybody, but we didn't mind it and it won't attract fingerprints like a glossy finish would. The size of the speakers definitely helps the YHT-791BL sound great, but keep in mind that you'll need a reasonably large room to accommodate them.
The included HTR-6250BL AV receiver towers a typical HTIB receiver. It has the boxy look of a standalone AV receiver, but it's a little shorter than most, coming in at 17.2 inches wide by 6 inches high by 14.3 inches deep. The front panel features a large volume knob and a few additional front-panel controls, but otherwise it's relatively sparse compared with some competing models. The LCD display is a bluish white, compared with the orange of 2008's Yamaha HTR-6150, which we preferred and found a little easier to read from far away. (Note that the HTR-6250BL is available separately for around $400.)
The included remote is jam-packed full of tiny buttons, making it difficult to use, especially for home theater novices. Thankfully, important buttons like volume and the main directional pad are separated enough to be easily differentiated, but input buttons and playback controls are a confusing mass. It's definitely not as bad as the remotes included on 2008's Denon AVR-1909 receiver, but we prefer the simpler remotes found on the Onkyo TX-SR607.
The YHT-791BL's onscreen display is text-based, and it looks primitive compared with other receivers in this price range. It has a strictly white-text-on-black-background look that you're used to seeing on an old VCR, and it doesn't help that the entire image shakes as if the unit is struggling to keep it on the screen. Making matters worse, its simplicity didn't carry over to ease of use, as options such as output resolution are under the "HDMI" menu instead of "Display," which instead controls the front panel LCD. We also spent quite a bit of time trying to find the input assignment menu, only to realize the YHT-791BL doesn't have the capability to assign inputs (more on that later).
The YHT-791BL features Yamaha's Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) automatic speaker calibration system that sets the speakers and subwoofer volume levels, determines the speaker/subwoofer crossover point, measures the distances from the speakers to the listener, confirms that all of the speaker cables are correctly hooked up, and uses equalization to balance the frequency response of all seven speakers.
Plugging in the (supplied) Optimizer microphone brought up the Auto Setup menu on our display, which first offers a choice of "EQ Type," of which there are three: Natural, Flat, or Front. Then we selected "Start" and the YPAO initiated a series of tones that sequenced through all seven speakers and the subwoofer. We liked that all of the measurements were taken from just one mic position and that the calibration takes just a couple of minutes to complete.
We found the results to be accurate overall, though the subwoofer was a little too loud. The sub has its own volume control on its back panel, thankfully, so we were able to lower the volume. We experimented listening with the three "EQ Types," and heard little difference between them. Natural is the default option, so we went with that for all of our listening tests.
Editors' note: The YHT-791BL's feature set is largely similar to the included Yamaha HTR-6250BL AV receiver's; therefore, much of the following section is the same.
|Dolby TrueHD + DTS-HD MA||Yes||Onscreen display||Text-based|
|Analog upconversion||1080p||Source renaming||Yes|
|Selectable output resolution||Yes||Satellite radio||None|
The included receiver is a step down from the traditional midrange receiver price level, but it maintains most of the same key features as the step-up HTR-6260BL. There's onboard decoding for both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so you'll be able to connect an older Blu-ray player and still decode high-resolution audio soundtracks. It can also upconvert your analog signals all the way up to 1080p, but don't put too much stock in that spec, as we weren't thrilled about the receiver's actual performance (more on that in the performance section). One surprise is that the YHT-791BL lacks any built-in support for satellite radio, so you'll need a separate outboard tuner if you are a subscriber.
|HDMI inputs||4||Optical audio inputs||2|
|Component video inputs||2||Coaxial audio inputs||2|
|Max connected HD devices||6||Stereo analog audio inputs||2|
|Composite AV inputs||5||Analog multichannel inputs||None|
|Max connected video devices||8||Phono input||No|
The strongest part of the YHT-791BL's connectivity is its four HDMI inputs, which should be enough for most home theaters. Aside from HDMI, the HTR-6250BL starts to feel a little skimpy. There's no analog multichannel input, so anyone with some legacy gear may be out of luck; it's worth pointing out that the competing Onkyo also lacks an analog multichannel input.
The YHT-791BL also lacks the capability to assign audio inputs to any video input you'd like. So, while there are two component video inputs and two optical-digital-audio inputs, it's not possible to use two component video sources accompanied with both optical-digital-audio inputs, because one of the component video inputs is permanently assigned to a coaxial-digital-audio input. In the real world, this will probably be an issue only if you have many analog video sources, but it's an annoying drawback that isn't present on other receivers in this price range.
|Line level 2nd zone outputs||No||Line level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|Speaker-level 2nd zone outputs||No||Speaker-level 3rd zone outputs||No|
|2nd zone video output||No||2nd zone remote||No|
The YHT-791BL lacks multizone capabilities, but that's perfectly normal for an HTIB. If you only plan to use the YHT-791BL in a single room, don't worry about it; if you need multiroom capability, you'll have to step-up to a separates-based system.
We also appreciated that Yamaha includes the YDS-11 iPod dock in the package. Again, the YDS-11 is the same iPod dock that Yamaha sells separately to add functionality to the company's AV receivers, using Yamaha's proprietary "universal port." We had no problems plugging in the YDS-11 and browsing our iPod's music using the onscreen menus. That being said, the Yamaha's onscreen display is rough-looking and you won't get any niceties like album art; it's a strictly utilitarian affair. We also didn't have any luck viewing photos or videos using the YDS-11.
The YHT-791BL immediately impressed with its clean and clear sound. We attribute some of that to the two-way speakers' quality; they're a big a step up from what you get with Panasonic, Samsung, or Sony HTIB speakers. The Yamaha speakers and subwoofer integration was also well above average, and even when we cranked up the volume a bit the YHT-791BL didn't protest or sound harsh.
We started with the "Ratatouille" Blu-ray Disc and the sound was spectacular. We especially enjoyed the scene where Remy, a French rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) finds himself coursing through the Paris sewer system. The barrage of rushing water, echoing through the sewer pipe provided a truly immersive surround experience. The film's rich orchestral score had a luscious sensuality, and the speakers' clarity was well above par.
Next, Bruce Springsteen's "Live in Dublin" DVD demonstrated another side of the YHT-791BL's skill set. We accidentally started listening in stereo, but even with just two speakers and the subwoofer, the soundstage was deep and wide. The speakers almost disappeared as the sound spread across the front of the CNET listening room.
Switching over to Dolby Digital 5.1 was even better, of course. The mostly acoustic performances were exceptionally clear, and when each singer in the band soloed on "Further On (Up the Road)" it was easy to hear how distinctive each vocal was. The guitars, violins, and piano sounded wonderfully natural. The only downside was the bass; definition was sorely lacking. The subwoofer provided a solid foundation for the music, but it was muddy and thick sounding. We're usually less enthusiastic about HTIBs' sound when playing CDs, but the YHT-791BL was just as strong a performer with two-channel music as it was with movies.
Unfortunately, we didn't have what we consider the best-sounding HTIB on the market, Onkyo's HT-S9100THX, on hand for a direct comparison. That system has significant size and power advantages over the YHT-791BL. For one thing, it has a 290 watt, 12-inch powered subwoofer, so the HT-S9100THX's bass went deeper, and was much better in terms of pitch definition. Other than that, we'd judge the overall sound of the two systems as more or less comparable.
As with the HT-S9100THX, the YHT-791BL's modular design allows you to improve the sound by swapping out its speakers and subwoofer with superior models from Definitive Technology, Aperion, Klipsch, Energy, etc. Actually, we'd recommend first jettisoning the Yamaha subwoofer for something better. It's the weakest part of the YHT-791BL system.
To finish up, we listened to the YHT-791BL's receiver with our reference Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD 5.1 speaker/subwoofer system. The Yamaha/Aperion sound was much improved, and the bass fullness, texture, and detail were dramatically better. Overall dynamics and liveliness were more vividly presented. So, while the YHT-791BL can be pretty terrific on its own, it can be improved upon. Few HTIBs offer that level of versatility.
The YHT-791BL's receiver is capable of upconverting analog signals to its HDMI output, so we put it through our video-testing suite. We connected the
Our video testing started with Silicon Optix's HQV test suite, and the HTR-6250 did not pass the first resolution test. Areas where we should have seen detail were instead just a solid color, and we could see image instability and strobe-like effects elsewhere on the image. Next up were a couple of jaggies test patterns, and again the HTR-6250 came up short, showing as many jaggies as some of the worst Blu-ray and DVD players to which we've administered this test. The HTR-6250 didn't pull through on the 2:3 pull-down processing test either, as there was plenty of moire in the grandstands of a clip with a race car. From test patterns, the HTR-6250's performance was not promising.
We put the test patterns away and switched to actual program material, but the HTR-6250's performance didn't improve. The introduction to "Seabiscuit" is a torture test for video processors and the HTR-6250's processor was sufficiently pained, as the image was obviously soft and, at times, jaggies marred nearly the entire screen. The opening sequence of "Star Trek: Insurrection" wasn't any better, with jaggies all over curved lines like the boat hulls and roofs of the huts. Even those not particularly sensitive to image quality will most likely notice these quality issues.
To be clear, the problems we saw were only on 480i analog signals upconverted to 1080p over the HDMI output. If you're only planning on using the HTR-6250 for HDMI sources, you won't run into these issues at all. It's also worth pointing out that the HTR-6250 can pass through analog signals to the HDMI output at their original resolution, leaving your HDTV to do the converting. In our experience, this produced a better image on the Samsung LN52B750, and we imagine it would on almost all HDTVs. The bottom line is: don't expect the HTR-6250 to offer pristine quality on upconverted analog signals.