After months of planning and executing a UHD/4k upgrade to
my home theater, it was time to implement the final piece of the puzzle: a
firmware update to my Yamaha RX-A2050 AV receiver that enables two key
- HDMI 2.0a (for HDR)
Originally promised in 2015, this firmware update covers
AV preamp processor, as well as the company’s AVENTAGE RX-A3050, RX-A2050 and
RX-A1050 AVRs. HDMI 2.0a provides support for High Dynamic Range (HDR)
video, specifically the HDR10 standard that is part of the Ultra High Definition (UHD)
specification. I have been using a Yamaha AVR as the heart of a Dolby Atmos
enabled home theater for months, and with the recent addition of a UHD player,
was eager to add DTS:X and true 4k functionality to my system that includes:
- Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-Ray
- Yamaha RX-A2050 AVENTAGE AV Receiver
- LG 65EF9500 4K OLED TV
- Speakers: Polk Monitor 10B (floor)/Monitor 4
Figure 1. Advanced Setup Menu
The Update Process
Immediately after reading Yamaha’s firmware update
instructions, I knew something was different. Typically updates are done from
the setup/information/system menu, but Yamaha requires that this update
be performed from the advanced setup/firmware update menu (shown above in Figure 1). I
believe the reason for this strict procedure has to do with the HDMI 2.0a
firmware update that is applied to the HDMI chip set; the advanced setup
mode is the only way to ensure that none of the unit’s input/output ports are
active, which in turn guarantees the HDMI ports are not powered while the new
firmware is applied (which ultimately means you only have the front panel
display to navigate). Once the update is completed, you can then go into
the setup/information/system menu
(Figure 2) to verify the correct firmware version (1.77).
Figure 2. Latest Firmware
all that remains is a few configuration changes:
Set Object Decode Mode to “Enable” (setup/sound/object
Adjust DTS Dialog Control if desired
(option/dialog) (Figure 4). Note: this parameter adjustment is source
material dependent and is typically “locked” (no adjustment). Currently, the
only titles I have found that allow this adjustment are on the DTS 2016 Demo
Disc (which is not available to the general public).
Set DSP mode to “Straight”.
Pop in a DTS:X source and verify
that you are in fact decoding a DTS:X audio (setup/information/audio signal).
Figure 5 also yields two important pieces of information about the source
(7.1.4) and my system (5.1.2): the AVR is translating 7 base channels and 4
overhead channels into 5 base channels and 2 overhead channels from
input to output.
Figure 4. Dialogue Control (left pic) ; Figure 5. Audio Format (middle pic)
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Unlike Denon and Marantz (who are actually owned by the same
company), Yamaha has chosen not to implement a “Chinese Wall” between
Dolby and DTS up-mixing (the two AVR manufacturers use different DSP engines).
That means you can compare Dolby Surround Up-mixing (DSU) and Neural:X on any
lossless audio track, which is exactly what I did for the helicopter fight
scene near the beginning of Spectre. The significant overhead activity
during this scene makes for a good contrast between the two formats. While DSU
exhibits a more balanced mix, Neural:X tends to be more aggressive in the
overheads. I can see where someone may prefer one or the other depending on
source material. For example, a more aggressive mix may be appropriate for
heavy action but not for calmer material. That’s the nice thing about having a
choice, and why I waited a year for AVR models that would support both
Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as demonstrated in Figure 7.
Since there are very few native DTS:X discs currently
available, I thought I’d take a different approach by sampling Dredd
(2013). This was one of the few mixes ever optimized for 11.1 Neo:X and plays
well in Neural:X. Dredd speaking to Mama on the PA system (chapter 12) is very,
very cool, as is the incendiary explosive he shoots shortly thereafter. The
overhead channels make for great atmosphere throughout the rest of the movie.
It’s hard to believe it took DTS another 3 years to standardize this level of
immersion for the home theater. In my opinion, there has yet to be a native
DTS:X release this good.
There is a known “bug” that results in center channel
distortion when up-mixing a 2-channel source (like music) with Neural:X. First
discovered on Denon and Marantz AVR’s, this “bug” has been confirmed on Yamaha
AVR’s, suggesting its origin traces back to the original DTS code provided to
AVR manufacturers. Since I don’t apply a lot of DSP processing to 2-channel
music, it isn’t much of an issue for me. However, I fully expect another
firmware update for all AVR’s supporting DTS:X when DTS corrects the issue in
their original source code.
Do You See What I See?
Trust me: there’s nothing finer than seeing the “HDR is now
on” message displayed on your TV! My first UHD purchase was The Martian,
and it doesn’t disappoint (OK, I wish it had an immersive soundtrack).
Right from the start, you know this is not your typical Blu-Ray. From the
opening sunrise in the black of space…to the glistening sand…to the space
suit helmet reflections, the contrast is stunning. Without going too far
off topic, close attention should be paid to some of the new settings that come
along with HDR, like Wide Color Gamut and Deep Color. While the “more
pixels” portion of UHD/4K (UHD signals
contain 4 times as many pixels as HD signals) tends to get all the attention,
the secret sauce of the UHD standard is increased dynamic range (the difference
between the brightest and darkest portions of the screen) and more colors (UHD’s
Rec.2020 standard can reproduce colors not even present in HD’s current Rec.709
The Long and Winding Road
There are many pathways to UHD nirvana, but as of now one
thing is for sure: they all go through HDMI 2.0a / HDCP 2.2. Without this
end-to-end signaling functionality, you may not be able to enjoy all the
benefits of 4k HDR video and immersive audio. You may get video and no audio,
or audio and no video (trust me, I’ve seen it all). Even worse, you may get “The
content will be played in HD because the display or the HDMI input port does
not support HDCP 2.2” message! At least for me, the hype of 4k has finally
been delivered with the arrival of UHD. Those patient enough to wait for the
UHD standard and new HDMI chip sets have been rewarded with 4k and HDR
compatibility regardless of other implementations brought to market (Dolby
Vision, Philips/Technicolor, etc.). My impression of the DTS:X portion of this
firmware update is much the same as it was for Dolby Atmos: native DTS:X
material delivers immersive sound as advertised. The Neural:X up-mixer is good,
but I still like the Yamaha DSP modes (like Sci-Fi and Adventure) for
non-immersive material (both lossless and lossy). One last thing: don’t forget
to make a backup of your settings (advanced setup/recov&backup)
after installing new firmware and/or making major configuration changes. You
don’t want to lose all that time and hard work!
gene posts on April 12, 2016 14:05
This article takes you through the process of the firmware upgrade and summarizes my experiences and listening tests of the new DTS:X format and how the upmixer compares to DSU and Yamaha’s own DSP modes.
Read: Yamaha AVENTAGE AV Receiver DTS:X Firmware Listening Test Results