To get the V2600, take an RX-V4600, cut out the i.Link inputs to save a few shekels on the retail price, and add in a full-fat 1080i/720p video scaler. As both models are still current, the differentiator is one of price - and the RX-V2600 comes in £100 cheaper at £900. So, considering its heritage and features, this latest model has all the right credentials to be an absolute first-class bargain before it's even out of the box.

The V2600 comes with a shiny THX Select 2 badge, full-bandwidth HDMI switching and seven channels of 130W measured into 8O across the entire audio spectrum.

In addition to traditional 7.1 mode, you can configure the rear-back channel output as a powered Zone 2 option, leaving you 5.1 in the main room. If you just can't compromise on 7.1, you also get a line-level, independently switched Zone 3 output for serious multiroom flexibility. Yamaha's bonkers 'presence' channels - above and behind the main left/right speakers - are still included, although you will still need to sacrifice 7.1 channel amplification in favour of 5.1 plus presence channels to drive them. Similarly, I still don't recommend it.

The onscreen GUI is by far the nicest OSD to look at and use of the AV receiver genre to date. There is full auto setup and Room EQ, thanks to Yamaha's well-respected YPAO parametric equaliser and a dinky little mic supplied in the box. This simplifies the setup and installation routine, but if you are feeling brave enough to 'tweak', there is a mind-boggling array of frequency, gain and Q-Factor adjustments to seven equalizer bands across each of the main seven channels. Phew

Composite, S-video and component video signals entering the V2600 are up-converted to HDMI output with a combination of an Analogue Devices video encoder/decoder and a highperformance deinterlacer and scaler from Oplus. The upshot is that no matter what input, the RX-V2600 can convert it to 720p or 1080i and chuck it out as an HD signal through the HDMI output. One HDMI cable to your TV or projector is all you are ever going to need for HD resolution video from DVD, Sky, Freeview or even your old VCR.

Performance

The default setup routine is great, but it engages the YPAO room EQ automatically, meaning you have to manually turn it off.

With all the EQ shut down the V2600 is sonically indistinguishable from the V4600, with a big, boisterous and robust sound and enough drive to fill the very biggest home cinema room. With five channels driven, it delivers 105W apiece. It would be ideal for an action-movie fan with floorstanding speakers and a penchant for realistic sound pressure levels.

Engaging the YPAO is like throwing the RX-V2600 away and replacing it with a nimbler, faster and crystal-clear alternative more akin to a good processor/power amp combo.... Exactly what we said about the RX-V4600. There is a clarity and sparkle around effects that brings any movie to life, backed with rock-solid bass and a huge dynamic range. The soundstage gains several metres in every direction, even making your room feel perceptibly larger. The big open factory in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is sonically crafted with a great sense of space and scale, while dialogue retains a fine sense of presence in the foreground.

Move up to a fast-paced action fest like Sin City and the RX-V2600 steps up to the challenge. The combination of tactile high-frequency effects and taught bass is an intoxicating mix that adds layers of enjoyment to the movie without detracting from the dialogue. All this emerges from a silent background blissfully free of hiss - making the RX-V2600 a firstclass home cinema entertainer.

Of course, its final trump card is the video scaler - and that is very, very good indeed. Using a variety of sources, it happily scales anything you throw at it with better clarity and less pixelation than the scalers native to the majority of HD Ready plasma and LCD TVs.

Fast-moving scenes cause it no problems at all; panning and scrolling are smooth and there is notable improvement in detail on standard broadcast and DVD inputs. If you have a TV with a good scaler (Philips Pixel Plus 2 for example) the benefits of the Yamaha's own scaling may be negated or diminished, but the simplicity of one-cable connection to your display is reason enough to give this feature a glowing recommendation.

Conclusion

I raved about the RX-V4600 and the only thing to disappoint was its lack of video scaling. So here we have the issue addressed and one of the best value sub-£1,000 receivers on the market. The remote controls still won't win style awards, the build could still use more aluminium and less plastic, and orange displays still fill me with angst - but these foibles don't detract from the RX-V2600's stunning audio and video abilities.

So an RX-V4600 with iLink connection or an RX-V2600 with HD scaling for all inputs and £100 in the bank? No contest, pass me an RX-V2600 please... Richard Stevenson