From the perspective of a reviewer, 2007 was like one huge party. New, exciting toys just kept on arriving. The AV performance envelope was not only pushed, it was been sealed up, stamped and sent into the stratosphere.
To put that into perspective, I use a four-year-old £4,500 AV processor as 'reference'. The Yamaha RX-V3800 on test here trashes it in almost every aspect of performance, adds seven channels of 140W power, three-zone multiroom ability and the sort of video processing that only a couple of years back the BBC would have been proud of.
It scales every input video signal you care to throw at it, from composite to HDMI, up to 720p, 1080i or 1080p, and offers a host of refresh rates from 120Hz right down to 24Hz. This is the same as 35mm movie film (er, do they still use that?) and means a frame-for-frame transfer from 24Hz Blu-ray discs without any compression or extension of the film length or pitch.
The receiver supports 30/36bit DeepColor pass-through (and hence colour range in the billions' of tones), which will prove useful when players and displays of this ilk start appearing on a regular basis.
And then there's DTS Master Audio and Dolby True HD, formats the RX-V3800 laps up seamlessly, certain in the knowledge that all your standard DVD sound formats are never, ever going to sound the same again. And while I'm having a touch of the vapours about the RX-V3800, the user interface is a fabulous full-colour vista of easy-access menus.
A faultlessly logical, beautifully-crafted visual treat that makes good ol' block text menus look very shonky indeed. The paper instruction manual is the size of the Birmingham telephone directory but you are unlikely to need it and I would suggest the paper manual becomes a download Acrobat file next year. Go on Yamaha - save some trees!
This is a fully-networked machine featuring an iPod dock port and both USB and Ethernet connection, although Wi-Fi would have been even better, of course. That said, it hooks up quick despite having to navigate my convoluted wireless-G Ethernet bridged network and the Net Radio menus populate relatively quickly.
If the thought of compressed audio fills you with audiophile angst, Yamaha's Compressed Music Enhancer DSP mode is the best available and makes the flattest of stations or 128kbps MP3/AAC tracks quite listenable. I ended up listening to the Netherland's Kink Aardschok station for hours and will probably never be the same again.
The neat operation is slighly hammocked by Yamaha's remote control. This continues to have a side-mounted switch to toggle between Amp, Source and TV control, and the damn thing foils me every time. Features like Network access are not available without switching to 'Source'... I eventually discovered.
I guess you would get used to it in everyday use but neither of the two supplied Yamaha remotes can hold an IR-emitter up to the excellent pair supplied with Denon's rival AVR-3808. And of course, no Yamaha AV amp or receiver would be complete without the YPAO Room EQ system and a heinously complex and comprehensive DSP feature, that creates a menagerie of sound fields from Movie Spectacle to the Freidburg Church. I generally give both EQ and DSP modes a wide berth, particularly as Yamaha's DSP system really requires two extra front 'presence' speakers, but a long review period allowed much experimentation.
The effects of Yamaha's YPAO system will very much depend on your room, but in my 18ft x 11ft rectangular electronics warehouse masquerading as a domestic environment, it removed much of the room-borne mid-bass congestion.
This allowed the soundtrack to breathe even better without making it sound overly bright or bass-shy. All of the EQ parameters can be tweaked and adjusted manually if you want to fine tune. YPAO remains the most successful of all the RoomEQ systems I have tried in my home cinema and is well worth spending some time with.
The Yamaha's DSP modes are a different matter. Over in mainland Europe they apparently wouldn't entertain an AV receiver that didn't replicate the acoustics of the Vienna Opera House or added additional spatial effects to soundtracks but I remain sceptical.
Running through the 22 DSP programs is an interesting and largely eyebrow-raising experience, but I still prefer standard stereo and multi-channel sound without the post-processing as, let's face it, that is what the musician or director intended.
One exception to this is Yamaha's 'dialogue lift' mode. On the downside, this not only requires two additional front effects speakers for 'presence', but you also have to sacrifice rear-back channels to power them. However, if you have a large projector screen with a centre-speaker underneath, the dialogue lift mode pulls voices nicely up to mid-screen and gives a much greater sense of cohesion of action and sound.
Image-wise, unless you have a top-flight DVD player, simply set it to standard PAL output and let the RXV3800 do the scaling, because it has a first class Anchor Bay scaler built-in. The picture is rich, deep and thoroughly saturated without looking cartoon-like, and big action pans are first-class.
An A-to-B comparison between the RXV3800 scaling a DVD of Spider-Man 3 and a PlayStation 3 playing a Blu-ray of the same movie was eye-opening - the Yamaha is smoother by miles, even if it lacks the BD detail! It handles all video inputs well, so if you have an HDTV and some legacy standard-def kit in your system, the Yamaha is a one-stop picture upgrade.
Crank up the volume and the sound really comes to life. The days when receivers were all bulging bass muscles and less-than subtle effects have long gone, and the Yamaha is firmly of the new breed of offering genuine hi-fi quality audio.
The opening sequences of Spidey 3 show it to be detailed and expressive, with a delicate touch and pin-point channel separation. The sound is wide open and leaps clear of the speakers with ease. When Parker and M.J get all mushy beneath the stars in a woodland glade, it's almost like you're a squirrel listening in.
This ability to craft ambience with such natural ease does wonders for Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride too, despite the fact that the BD only contains a Dolby Digital EX mix rather than True HD. The dialogue in this movie has a very clean, unprocessed character and the Yamaha turns this into unbelievably realistic-sounding voices. The very first words of dialogue had my dog skidding into the room barking, thinking we had a visitor.
Like AV reviewers the world over, I have seen The Phloston Opera House Scene (Chapter 14) of The Fifth Element so many times I have a personal relationship with every pixel. It is a seminal mix of visual spectacle and stunning surround sound that I have developed a contemptuous familiarity with....until now, that is, and the PCM audio lurking on the Blu-ray release.
The combination of the PCM soundtrack and Yamaha's natural, dynamic scale is jaw-dropping. There are elements of the score I have missed about a million times with the Dolby Digital DVD and the Diva's Aria sent shivers down my spine like hearing it for the first time.
As the stunning score ups its tempo and acts as a backdrop to an extended fight sequence, the uncompressed PCM sound rips around the room with an urgency and passion that leaves the original Dolby soundtrack sounding lacklustre and lifeless. The Yamaha constructs the gun shots with a deep metallic resonance, every thrown punch lands with sledgehammer weight, and the Diva's voice simply soars above the scene.
Okay, much of this audio splendour is the PCM soundtrack but you can take nothing away from the Yamaha's handling of it - it is fast, tight, detailed and comes across with truly immense presence. By the end of the scene you are left gasping for air and emotionally right there with Bruce Willis.
Watching the BD via the Yamaha for the third time (I was too transfixed to write the review before...) this receiver seemed to get better and better, growing on me with every new effect and nuance that the soundtrack revealed. Never has Milla Jovovich's voice sounded quite so, well, sensual. I'm off for a cold shower...
Having to wheel out my pickiest journalistic skills to find genuine fault with the RX-V3800, I would say that it runs a little shy on power at high volumes and its balance is not what you would call 'safe'. It may prove a little forward or aggressive with glassy-sounding speakers, although it didn't trip up my often quite ebullient Tannoy Dimensions.
Of course, the bigger power supply, the greater headroom and even more detail and clarity are promised by the RX-V3800's bigger brother, the DSP-Z11. As that model is going to be way more expensive, the RX-V3800 will just have to be content with the accolade of 'the best £1,300 AV receiver ever'.
Only one other comes close, and I mean really close - Denon's AVR-3808. It's similarly specified, similarly priced (the Yamaha is £100 more) and equally entertaining. Both are fabulously equipped, flexible, deliver quality upscaled video and are as future-proof as they come.
The Yamaha is marginally cleaner- and tidier-sounding while the Denon is a smidgen more muscular when the going gets tough - more a difference of flavour than ultimate quality. Both models represent state-of-the-art at the price and an enormous leap forward in technology and performance.
Unaccustomed as I am to sitting on the fence, on this occasion I am suffering the splinters in the bottom of outrageous indecision... I love them both. But maybe this Yammy just edges it.