By David Ponce
[ The following article is sponsored by Yamaha. The device was provided free of charge, and I am being compensated for the time I took to review the product. The opinions expressed are entirely my own. -Ed. ]
Yamaha’s pretty excited about their new Yamaha NeoHD line of media controllers, and for good reason: it works as advertised. If you’re a certain kind of consumer this device will make you smile. If you’re not, (as I am) it might make you wince but it’s not Yamaha’s fault at all. I’ll explain everything in detail in the review, but out here suffice it to say that the NeoHD media controller does a great job of getting rid of your panoply of remotes and replaces them with a simple graphic-based user interface for controlling just about any media source you decide to plug into the device… and one single back-to-basics remote.
The idea is simple: plug your DVD player, your Playstation or Xbox, your cable box and your DVD player into the machine and relinquish their individual control to NeoHD. The device will communicate with them all via IR blasters attached directly to their IR ports. It’ll also take care of your surround sound, whether it be through your own 5.1 set of speakers, or the included (in my package at least) 2.1 virtual surround set. There are enough connections at the back to accommodate just about any setup.
You might say “Hey, but I got a Harmony remote that does all that!” And I’d say sure, but you’d be missing the point. Read on for all the details, plus find out how to win one of these systems (an $800 value!).
Aside from being a media controller, the NeoHD packs a bunch of technologies meant to enhance your viewing and especially listening experience. It’ll decode Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS 96/24 and DTS. It has Adaptive Dynamic Range Controlling to make movies easier to hear at low volumes and YPAO (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) for automatic speaker setup (more on that in a bit). It’s like a home theater system that helps you get rid of all your remotes.
So, does it work? Well, yes it does. But like I said earlier, this unit is meant for traditional media viewers with DVD boxes and satellite or cable boxes. I had neither, relying entirely on a PC turned media server and Boxee. I download all my media. TV? Download that too. So to test this unit I had to go over to a friend’s house and borrow his stuff for a day. That being said, most people still have DVD or Blu-Ray boxes as well as satellite or cable boxes. For them, the NeoHD is great.
Here’s how it went down. First you unpack everything and discover a large diagram. And I mean large. It’s meant to make it simple to hook everything up while giving you the best possible connections (HDMI vs. component vs. whatever else). Thing is… I think the NeoHD achieves simplicity later by bunching up all the complicated at setup. That diagram isn’t simple by any stretch of the word. But heck, you sludge through it and get it done. You connect your speakers and attach the IR blasters to your various devices IR ports. Finally, you unfurl the YPAO mic.
The YPAO mic is great. You place it pretty much where your head is going to be while you watch stuff. And then you turn everything on and proceed with initial setup. If you’re using the 2.1 setup, the device will start emitting a bunch of sounds for a few minutes. What it’s doing is determining the acoustics of your room, listening through the YPAO mic. After that’s done, it’ll be able to bounce sounds off walls, effectively mimicking a 5.1 setup. Sure, it’s not perfect, but let me tell you it sounds pretty darn close.
After that’s done, there are two more steps. The first is to set the TV IR codes. Through on-screen menus you’re prompted to select the brand to help it find the right code, and to test it. This will allow the NeoHD to turn the TV on when you power it on. And the final step is similar to the previous one, but it’s done to the connected devices. So for the DVD player, you select a brand, find a code and test until it works. Same for the cable or satellite box.
Once you’re setup, you can control everything with the one simple remote pictured above. You get on-screen menus that look just like the image below, which are written in an intuitive language: “Watch, Listen or Play” and you then are able to do just that.
So that’s really it. The device works. Audio is great even from a 2.1 setup. There’s no need for all those remotes as you can control everything from just one dumb-proof one. It makes everything really, really simple and adds a number of features that aren’t found in all-in-one remotes like the Harmony.
But there are drawbacks. The initial setup is complicated. The IR blasters attached to your devices might ruin your carefully arranged home theater area. And if you have no need for DVDs and cable boxes… the NeoHD might seem obsolete.
So, you want to win one of these boxes, an $800 value? It’s easy as pie, just follow the below steps:
Who can enter? US residents, 18 and over only.
How to enter? Leave a comment on this article explaining why you need this (be patient for your comment to load, it must be moderated). One entry per reader; we check IPs.
How is the winner determined? Through a random number generator.
When is the winner selected? In one month, on August 24th, 2009 at 11:59EST.