A product flexible enough to satisfy the A/V cognoscenti will often—as a matter of course—be too complex for normal mortals to use or enjoy.
None of this, sadly, has much to do with how components actually perform—that is, how they look and sound when playing movies or multichannel music. The problems I’m talking about all have to do with the hurdles people have to jump before they ever get to the fun part of home theater.
A note about our illustration photographs: We include photos of the remote controls and setup menus of three very good products: NAD’s M55 Masters Series universal player, Sony’s BDP-S550 Blu-ray player, and Yamaha’s RX-V3900 A/V receiver. Even where the components provide controls that address similar issues, the button layouts on the remotes and onscreen menu layouts are very, very different. Now imagine how confusing (and daunting) all that “diversity” might seem to a newcomer trying to get his/her components to play well together—or to play at all…
A possible solution: why not standardize set-up and basic playback controls across the industry?
Right now, home theater component manufacturers are is in roughly the same position that makers of CD players (and before that, makers of cassette decks) were in back in the bad old days before we had standardized markings for Play, Pause, Track Forward, Track Backward controls, etc. If you can remember back that far (and man am I ever dating myself in mentioning the distant past), then you may remember how frustrating the situation could be; you knew what you wanted a component to do, but not how to get the component to do it. The same situation occurs with certain AVRs and disc players today, only multiplied by layers of complexity. What’s the answer? Industry standards, that’s what.
Realistically, all AVRs require set-up procedures, so why not standardize set-up and basic playback menus to look something like this:
These are just some very rough ideas that could, no doubt, be improved upon if an industry-wide consortium put its collective brainpower to the task. But my point is that we would all benefit if certain basic, everybody’s-got-to-do-‘em tasks were handled the same way across all brands of gear. After a time, then, home theater experts and newcomers alike would have a comfortable, shared, working knowledge of how to operate home theater gear—at least at a level sufficient to get high-quality movie and music playback going, which is what this sport is all about.