|Min OS X: Any Version|
First, a disclaimer: I am reviewing this Yamaha Personal Receiver RP-U200 from a Macintosh gaming point of view, and no other. A review from a PC or audiophile-oriented perspective might be radically different, as alternative sound options for PC users and home theater enthusiasts are both numerous and extremely varied. That being said, the RP-U200 CAVIT is an unusual device from any perspective – it is intended to bridge a gap between the Mac or PC and home entertainment systems that might not even exist, for many users.
CAVIT stands for Convergence of Audio/Video and Information Technology, and defines a line of stand-alone “external soundboards” available in four models. As the use of the buzzword “convergence” might tell you, the RP-U200 is a marriage of two different technologies into a single unit: Dolby Digital 5.1 amplification and USB digital audio. The CAVIT line is intended to allow a user to truly make their Mac (or PC) the center of their home entertainment system, adding home theater capabilities and a level of quality usually only found in high-end stereo equipment.
The CAVIT is essentially a normal stereo receiver and power amplifier, to which has been added the ability to pipe sound directly from your Mac via USB. Only Mac models made and/or sold after July of 2000 have this capability; these machines shipped with Mac OS 9.0.4, but the CAVIT system itself requires Mac OS 9.1 or later. It also supports Mac OS X – partially – but I’ll get to that later.
There are actually 5 models of CAVIT, four designed for Mac/PC use (USB) and one with analog input designed to work with a home console system such as a Playstation 2. The DP-U50 ($249), AP-U70 ($349), RP-U100 ($349) and RP-U200 ($449) differ in many ways besides their very unfriendly product names. Of all the models only the RP-U200 actually does true 5.1 sound via front and rear pairs of speaker jacks; the others simulate Dolby 5.1 through just two speakers, using special sound imaging techniques. The DP-U50 ships without an amplifier installed, so it must be used with a powered set of speakers. More details on the other units and their features can be found on the Yamaha web site.
The SetupYamaha loaned me the RP-U200 model, and was kind enough to include a NS-P220 5.1 home theater speaker set. The primary difference between the RP-U200 and the other CAVIT models (DP-U50, AP-U70, RP-U100) is its ability to actually drive a five-channel set of speakers: a center speaker, two front speakers, two rear speakers and a subwoofer. Yes, that does add up to six speakers – the subwoofer counts as “0.1.”
Setup and installation couldn’t have been easier, and I have to say the RP-U200 was one of the most pleasant setup experiences I have ever had with external hardware. It fits the definition of “plug and play” perfectly – just plug the USB cable in, and boom! You are done. The Mac automatically switches to USB sound output on the fly (under both 9.x and OS X) and you get Dolby Prologic-quality audio pouring out in five channels of sound.
Attaching the 5.1 speaker system was very much like installing any other kind of audio component; the upright position of the CAVIT itself actually made this slightly easier than it is with a normal stereo receiver, because you could reach around the back easily and see what you are doing from both sides. The only thing left to do was install the software (an installer on the CD does this with a click) and I was ready.
The CAVIT functions without any software or drivers. Whether due to thoughtful engineering on Apple’s part or some very Mac-friendly work at Yamaha, the CAVIT is instantly recognized and selected as an audio output and input device. The software included is actually an alternate interface for the CAVIT which lets you tweak many of the settings as well as program certain functions for the remote control.