For most home theater enthusiasts, midrange AV receivers represent the best value. They offer superior sound over underpowered entry-level models, include the most important features available on the high-end models, and they still manage to cost between AU$800 and AU$1,200.
The Yamaha RX-V663 falls right into the midrange class, and if your main concern is sound quality, it's one of the better AV receivers we've heard, outperforming the Sony STR-DG920 in our head-to-head matchup. Unfortunately, we ultimately found it hard to recommend given its drawbacks. For example, there are only two HDMI inputs, while every other midrange receiver includes at least three — several include four. Most competitors also offer 1080i or 1080p analog upconversion, but the RX-V663 is limited to 480p and its video processing is below average. We also ran into some other quirks, such as an incorrect autosetup warning and the poorly designed rear panel layout. As much as we liked the RX-V663's sound, overall we felt like most buyers would be better off with the competing Pioneer VSX-1018AH or the Onkyo TX-SR606.
The RX-V663 has a basic, boxy AV receiver shape, with only some slight angling in the middle to break it up. On the top half, there's a centred orange LCD display, which we found easily readable from about 8 feet back. Directly beneath that are several small buttons, allowing access to less frequently used functions such as "Memory" and "Zone 2 control." On the far right is a large volume knob, and underneath is a front panel input that includes both S-Video and an optical digital audio input. On the bottom half, under the LCD display, are four "Scene" buttons (which we'll explain shortly), along with a couple of additional knobs for selecting a source or a DSP (digital sound processing) mode. It all comes down to personal preference, but we preferred the glossy look of the Pioneer VSX-1018AH over the RX-V663.
AV receiver remotes are often a cluttered mess, but the RX-V663's clicker is actually pretty good. There's a direction pad in the center and just to the right are the main controls for volume. Source buttons are nicely separated, as are Yamaha's "Scene" buttons. All in all, it's one of the better remotes for a receiver.
Yamaha clearly puts a lot of focus on its "Scene" functions, and although the idea has promise, we didn't find the current implementation to be that useful. The idea is that you choose a preferred DSP mode for specific listening scenarios, such as watching a DVD. Since we generally prefer to leave the DSP modes off, we didn't find this helpful. We'd prefer if the Scene functions also let us set a default volume level for each scenario.
Your TV might be high-def, but your RX-V663's menus are straight out of the VCR era.
The onscreen display of the RX-V663 is just white text on a black background (think VCRs, circa 1991). That's pretty much the standard at this price point, although it's worth pointing out that the competing (and cheaper) Sony STR-DG920 includes a basic graphical user interface.
One design annoyance is the abnormal back panel layout of the RX-V663. For some reason, the audio and video inputs for each device are separate, so, for example, you'd run the yellow composite video cable from your Nintendo Wii to the far right-hand side, while the red and white analog audio cables would go on the far left. It's likely to cause a rat's nest of tangled wires on many home theater systems, as well as forcing you to separate many cables that bundle video and audio connections together.
Yamaha's Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) autosetup system determines speaker sizes and volume levels, 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 the speakers.
Starting the autosetup program is as easy as plugging in the included mic, but note that we got an inaccurate error warning during out tests.
Plugging in the (supplied) Optimizer microphone automatically brought up the Auto Setup menu on our display, so it was easy to get to started. After the YPAO ran its series of tones it presented us with a "Warning" message. We initially couldn't figure out what the problem was, but after consulting the owner's manual we made our way through the onscreen menus to see that the YPAO had determined our left front speaker was wired out-of-phase (red/+ and black/- connections were reversed).
Checking the connections at the speaker and receiver ends we found that the wires were, in fact, correctly placed. We have no idea why the YPAO made a false reading, but that didn't seem to otherwise affect the results of the setup. We completed the setup without any further hassles, but we bet less-experienced users would have been confused.
The RX-V663 is under-featured compared with the competition. For key features, that means that instead of getting analog upconversion to 1080p or 1080i — which nearly all of its competitors have — you're stuck with simple 480p upconversion. And as mentioned before, the RX-V663 only has a simple text-based onscreen display, rather than the simple GUI on the Sony STR-DG920.
The connectivity of the RX-V663 comes up short as well. There are only two HDMI inputs, while the competing Onkyo TX-SR606 and Sony STR-DG820 both offer four; the Denon AVR-1909 and Pioneer VSX-1018AH offer three. Sure, you can add HDMI connectivity easily with an HDMI switcher, but we expect a bare minimum of three inputs at this price level.
We were also surprised to find that we could only connect five video devices at the same time to the RX-V663. Sure, it has more inputs and outputs for additional devices, but there are only enough input "slots" (such as DVR or DVD) for five devices. On the upside, it's worth noting the RX-V663's AV inputs include S-Video, unlike the Sony STR-DG920 and Pioneer VSX-1018AH.
There are a couple of worthwhile features that don't show up on the chart. One is that the RX-V663 includes two switched AC outlets, for powering other components. The other is that the RX-V663 includes a proprietary port for connecting either a Yamaha YDS-10 iPod Dock or Yamaha YBA-10 Bluetooth adapter. With the YDS-10, you'll be able to use the onscreen interface to browse your iPod music collection. You're still stuck with the old-school blocky white text, but it gets the job done.
Multiroom support is right in line with the competition. There's second zone functionality either using the line level outputs or the powered speaker-level outputs. Note that using the second zone speaker-level outputs require you use the would-be surround back channels of a 7.1 configuration; you can't have a 7.1 setup and a second zone.
We use the World War II naval battle scenes on the U-571 DVD as a torture test for receivers. The massive power demands required to play the sounds of a series of depth charge explosions have humbled lesser receivers, but the RX-V663 sailed through the challenge with ease. The receiver sounded more powerful than its 95 watts per channel specification would normally indicate; the Yamaha had the sort of big, gutsy sound we associate with more expensive receivers.
ZZ Top's Live From Texas concert Blu-ray was also a cakewalk. We pumped up the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to take in the trio's full throttle rock and roll, and again the RX-V663 took it all in stride. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill's raucous guitars had plenty of grit, and the surround ambiance of the hometown crowd wrapped seamlessly around the CNET listening room.
A shootout with a Sony STR-DG920 receiver put the RX-V663's strengths in perspective. We used the Sunshine Blu-ray for these listening tests. The film about a space mission to reignite our dying sun was a good excuse to put both receivers through the wringer. The massive spaceship's rumbling presence had a bigger, weightier throb over the Yamaha, and the score's delicate percussive accents were also cleaner and clearer as well. When we cranked the movie really loud, the Yamaha sounded more powerful, and we sensed a little more strain from the Sony. The film's surround mix was more coherent and three-dimensional through the Yamaha.
Finishing up with Shemekia Copeland's new CD, Never Going Back, the V663's clarity was exceptional, but we never felt it was overly bright or aggressive. Ms. Copeland is a terrific blues shouter, but on this CD she's also a great storyteller. The Yamaha's naturalistic sound, with just the Aperion 4T tower speakers in stereo and no subwoofer, let us focus on her gorgeous vocals. The RX-V663 is one of the best sounding receiver's we've heard of late.
The Yamaha RX-V663 is capable of upconverting analog signals to its HDMI output, so we put it through our video testing suite. We connected the Panasonic DMP-BD35 via component video to the RX-V663, with the DMP-BD35 set to 480i output. The RX-V663 was set to output at 480p (which is the highest resolution for upconverted signals) over its HDMI output, connected to the Panasonic TH-65VX100U.
As soon as we had the RX-V663 upconverting analog signals, we could see significant image instability, as even the setup menus of the DMP-BD35 looked pretty shaky. We loaded up Silicon Optix's HQV test suite in DVD, and the RX-V663 performed very poorly on the initial resolution test, compressing both vertical and horizontal resolution, which caused flickering and shakiness all over the image. The next two video-based tests were just as bad, as we observed a rotating white line full of jaggies, and the same thing on three pivoting lines. It also failed the 2:3 pull-down test, as we could see signal moire in the grandstands as the racecar drove by. AV receivers often struggle with video performance tests, but the RX-V663 was definitely below average.
The RX-V663 seemed to be reducing resolution more than normal, so we also took a quick look at our Avia test disc on DVD. We fired up its main resolution test pattern and the issue became clearer (or fuzzier, depending on how you look at it). The RX-V663 reduced horizontal resolution to about 400 lines, but vertical resolution was reduced all the way to somewhere between 300 and 350 lines of resolution. That's severe enough that even nonvideophiles will probably notice something isn't right.
Moving on from test patterns, we fired up the opening scene to Star Trek: Insurrection. As you'd expect from the test patterns, it looked pretty rough as it failed to kick into 2:3 pull-down processing mode, and the reduced resolution was readily apparent. Next up was the difficult introduction scene from Seabiscuit. Again, the RX-V663 struggled, with jaggies filling nearly the entire screen during the pans of black and white photographs. It's hard to recommend this receiver for upconverting analog video signals.
On the upside, it's worth pointing out that the RX-V663 also does not scale incoming HDMI video signals, and instead passes them perfectly through to the display. This means that if you only intend to use the HDMI video inputs on the RX-V663, you can ignore the previous comments on video performance, as they only apply to analog signals. Additionally, if you don't use any of the video upconversion features, the aforementioned issues don't apply, either, although you'll be running additional wires, and you're at the mercy of your HDTV's video processing.