In a strangely low-key way, the first audio video receivers equipped to support the new HDMI 2.1 connection specification and/or its Enhanced Audio Return Channel feature have emerged from a pair of manufacturers.

Yamaha introduced this week its value-oriented $299.99 suggested retail RX-V385 AV receiver, which according to the Yamaha web site, is expected to be among the first receivers to support the new HDMI 2.1 connection format. It also lists support, through a future firmware update, for the spec’s Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) feature, which brings greater bandwidth to send robust lossless compression formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio signals.

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Yamaha posted materials for the RX-V385 on its web site where HDMI 2.1 and forthcoming eARC are clearly called out. The company also confirmed the capabilities to HD Guru.

Similarly, Denon has said that it plans to add eARC capabilities to its current high-end model AVR-X6400H and new flagship AVR-X8500H audio video receivers through a firmware update planned for the middle of July. However, Denon did not call out the HDMI 2.1 specification number in its specs.

The timing of the announcements was interesting since the HDMI LA disclosed during CES 2018 that the first of the HDMI Compliance Test Specifications (CTS) for HDMI 2.1 were not expected until the second quarter of 2018.

Caveat emptor: According to a spokesman with HDMI LA: “The CTS has not been released yet, and their website messaging remains: `The HDMI 2.1 Compliance Test Specification (CTS) will be published in stages starting in Q2 2018.’ ”

Yamaha’s owner’s manual does not list the HDMI version number and the supported feature listings indicate only “ARC support,” but a company representative confirmed that a firmware update bringing eARC is planned.

The inclusion of HDMI 2.1 will make the Yamaha RX-V385 and Denon receivers great values, as they will be among the first AVRs that are forward compatible with the next-generation digital interface. Among the benefits will be support for certain implementations of dynamic metadata for high dynamic range (HDR) profiles that could be selected for use by broadcasters transitioning to the new ATSC 3.0 terrestrial TV broadcast platform in coming years.

The new HDMI 2.1 also adds the benefit of a shielded twisted pair for Ethernet that eliminates interference from things like HDCP 2.2 copy protection signaling that can introduce noticeable pops. In addition, the older form of ARC can be enhanced through eARC; Instead of passing approximately 1 Mbps (it was intended to be 384 Kbps but that can be stretched to 1 Mbps) will be able to deliver a 38 Mbps ARC (8 channels, 192 kHz, 24 bits). That covers everything requiring a high bit rate, including uncompressed Dolby True HD plus Dolby Atmos along with DTS HD Master Audio plus DTS:X.

Another comfort is that most of the disconnects that once plagued ARC should be eliminated in eARC, including the ability for an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, for example, to send a full signal to the TV as the TV sends back a signal with very high-bit rate audio.

The audio over the 2-pin link in HDMI 2.1 also includes a “discover mechanism.” Today ARC performs discovery in CEC, which has famously suffered from brand-to-brand interoperability issues. The issue is related to a very low-speed BUS (around 1Kbps) in CEC. When using many different HDMI-CEC devices, or even one rogue device, the BUS can become plugged and stops ARC from working. This was designed to go away in HDMI 2.1 through the new eARC spec.

The Yamaha RX-V385 is planned to hit retail stores in April at a $299.95 suggested retail price. It will come with four HDMI inputs and one output with support for HDCP 2.2 copy protection, HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR formats, plus up to the BT.2020 color gamut.

The receiver is also equipped with YPAO calibration, a proprietary Yamaha technology which analyzes the room acoustics and automatically adjusts various audio parameters for optimum sound.

Other features include support for wireless music streaming via Bluetooth, a discrete 5.1-channel amplifier, and a discrete 5.1-channel amplifier design.

Additionally, the RX-V385 incorporates Cinema DSP technology, which supports the playback of realistic HD surround sound codecs like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

The RX-V385 also brings the ability to bi-amp the front speakers in 2.1-channel or 3.1-channel setups, which drives the treble and bass ranges with independent amplifiers. In addition to providing greater power, it also prevents interference between the high and low ends, further improving the sound of the front speakers.


By Greg Tarr


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