If you're craving surround sound but can't quite shoehorn a 5.1 channel speaker system into your lounge room, you may want to check out the latest sound projectors from Yamaha, which beam rays of audio around the room to create the illusion that you're sitting smack-bang in the middle of speaker central.
The YSP-900SW and YSP-1100B/SSW models are the latest releases in Yamaha's single-unit sound projector range, which began with the YSP-1 early last year. In our 2005 Consumer Electronics Show roundup, we labelled the YSP-1 a Next Big Thing due to its buzz factor, slick look and promising audio quality.
Last week we cleaned out our ears and settled in for a preview of the YSP-900SW at Yamaha's Australian headquarters. The projectors use the same technology as their predecessor (discrete beams of audio are steered to specific points in a room), and have the same choice of beam modes -- 5-beam for 5.1 audio sources, 3-beam and stereo for front-on sound, and "stereo plus 3-beam" mode for when you want a little more oomph. A new feature is the "My Beam" mode, activated by pressing a dedicated button on the remote control. The My Beam feature pinpoints your position in the room and aims sound directly to where you are.
The most obvious upside to investing in a sound projector is the simplicity of the form factor. With just one slimline unit (with a built-in digital amplifier) to install instead of a family of speakers, you won't have to worry about cluttering up your lounge room, calibrating multiple components or tripping over wires.
The projectors have been designed to complement shiny new TVs, with the measurements of the YSP-900SW and YSP-1100B/SSW corresponding to 32-inch and 42-inch flatscreen models. So if you've just spent up big on a piece of plasma perfection, you need not worry about the designs clashing.
For those totally addicted to bass, both projectors ship in Australia with a subwoofer included.
While we got a kick out of pressing the My Beam button and having the unit tailor audio to our location, Yamaha's claim that doing so will prevent you from bothering other family members in the same room just isn't realistic. To someone around five metres away, audio will be quieter and muffled, but there's no way you could settle down with a mug of cocoa and read some Jane Austen undisturbed while Nine Inch Nails' greatest hits are being beamed direct to your brother.
Although it couldn't quite match the immersive audio of genuine surround sound, the YSP-900SW put out some pretty full-bodied audio. We were impressed by the projector's performance during a scene from Hero, in which Jet Li picks up his sword, goes to town on the ropes binding a circular stack of bamboo, and nonchalantly saunters off as the massive pile collapses in a crackling cacophony. The sound encircled us without losing clarity or vigour, and knowing that the audio originated from a slim speaker at the front of the room messed with our heads a little.
If you have limited space for speakers, or limited time for installing them, Yamaha's sound projectors are worth considering. Both models will be available in November; the higher-wattage YSP-1100B/SSW, which also features component video-switching and IR connections, hits the market at $2299.