CEDIA and IFA news is filling up my inbox, but one press release jumped out at me. I've seen similar features from other manufacturers (Onkyo immediately comes to mind), but the emphasis on digital media features in a new receiver from Yamaha was a big enough shift for me to write about it. Here's the headline:
NEW YAMAHA RX-Z7 7.1 CHANNEL HOME THEATER RECEIVER EXPANDS ON YAMAHA’S HIGHLY ACCLAIMED Z-SERIES, OFFERING SOPHISTICATED HOME ENTERTAINMENT AND BEST-IN-CLASS HD PERFORMANCE
Well that sounds like any other high end super receiver. But wait, here's the subhead:
Following the Lead of the Company’s Flagship RX-Z11; The RX-Z7 Integrates iPod, Bluetooth, HDRadio, Satellite and Internet Radio, and Rhapsody Playback with Pure HD Sound and Picture in a Versatile Multi-Zone Digital Media Hub
If this makes it seem like Yamaha is not trying to differentiate the receiver with amplifier channels or surround sound decoding -- the traditional reasons to buy a receiver -- you'd be right. Here's the third paragraph of the release:
Offering DLNA support and compatibility with Windows Vista, the RX-Z7 can stream music files (WAV, Mp3, WMA, AAC) stored on locally networked PCs and other devices, as well as Internet radio streams (Mp3, WMA). In addition to supporting SIRIUS Internet Radio*, the unit offers full compatibility with Rhapsody, giving users unrestricted, on-demand access to the subscription music service’s enormous selection of content spanning virtually every genre, style and taste. The RX-Z7 also integrates with Yamaha’s MusicCAST system, providing access to as many as 40,000 songs that can be stored on that system. The AV receiver can display album artwork through its GUI to take user engagement to a new level.
That sounds like a PC media extender, not a receiver. The fifth paragraph really takes it above and beyond:
The RX-Z7 is the ultimate AV receiver for iPod users. It easily connects to Apple iPods via the optional iPod docking station (Yamaha YDS-11; MSRP $99.95). Once docked, the iPod can be operated via the receiver’s remote controls. A one cable connection allows users to view the iPod’s operating status (song title, artist, album with cover art), as well as video and pictures on a television monitor. Docked iPods charge automatically, so they’re always ready for a road trip. Giving users even more ways to access their music, the RX-Z7 boasts two USB ports that adhere to the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) for playback of Mp3, WMA, WAV and AAC audio files from a portable player or USB drive.
For those who keep music stored on their phones or other Bluetooth-enabled devices, the RX-Z7 is compatible with Yamaha’s optional YBA-10 Bluetooth Wireless Audio Receiver (SRP $129.95), which enables wirelessly streaming audio to the AV receiver.
... The RX-Z7 also supports iTunes tagging, so when users hear a favorite song on HD Radio, they can instantly bookmark it to their iTunes account.
XM Radio and HD Radio support are also on board, as are multiple channels of amplification, video scaling, HDMI switching, and multi-room support. Still, the differentiating features are all about managing PC-derived digital media.
High end receivers have always been about offering lots of features and flexibility. But when you emphasize streaming media, Vista support, Bluetooth, and extensive iPod integration, it sure sounds like a PC to me. Why not just put an HDMI switch and amplification unit in a PC? All the digital media management is already on there as is video scaling and surround sound decoding. Yes, the inside of a PC is an electrically noisy place, and putting amps inside would require a different power supply. But these are design issues that can be (and already have been) overcome in other contexts.