Well...I said new equipment was coming, and it's here, in the form of the Emotiva XMC-1 pre-pro and my long-ago-ordered-almost-forgotten NEEO remote control (via Kickstarter). In addition, after I put up the custom artwork acoustic panels, I used leftover Linacoustic to add a little bit of treatment on the ceiling right in front of the screen, as well as just to the left and right of the screen. I still need to frame out those panels, but they've opened up my front soundstage a bit.
The UMC-200 was my first processor/amp separates experience, and I was very impressed at the immediate improvement it made. The XMC-1 matched that level of improvement, and possibly exceeded it. This was a BIG upgrade. Much bigger than I was expecting.
Everything I observed with the UMC was repeated on a grander scale with the XMC. Bigger surround stage, more airy, better steering. And the Dirac room correction is phenomenal. I have not yet purchased the Dirac upgrade for the XMC-1, I'm still using the basic version that was included with the processor. Honestly, I haven't heard a reason to upgrade. I assumed I would want to tweak the custom house curve, and run the setup for the larger seating arrangement, but quite frankly, I have heard nothing lacking.
This past weekend I had a handful of local AVSers over and we watched the De-Specialized version of Star Wars "A New Hope." Hardly great AV test material, we watched the opening sequence of John Wick: Chapter 2 after Luke blew up the Death Star. It just sounds phenomenal in there right now. And the Panasonic AE-8000U continues to be a star as well.
Regarding the NEEO, after spending a couple weeks with it, I'm pretty content. The hardware is very well-built. It's a quality piece of hardware.
I have a very convoluted network setup, so it took a bit of trying and testing, and finally just taking the brain up to my office where the primary router is to do the initial setup, then moving it back down to the theater. It's worked flawlessly since.
Initial setup, as others have noted, is not as clear as it could be with even a small amount of documentation. I was easily able to get all my equipment loaded into the system (Panasonic projector, AppleTV, TiVo Mini, Roku 3, Oppo BD103, Emotiva XMC-1, Lutron Maestro, Dyson AM09), I got all the wiring figured out in the app, and everything powered up and selected the correct inputs perfectly.
Powering down was where I was confused. With a hardware "Power" button on the remote, as well as a "Power" symbol listed on each active recipe, I wasn't sure what to use. Either way, it didn't like my projector and wanted me to power it down manually. Well, it seems like it still tries to power it down as part of the recipe even after you power it down manually. I was getting a little fed up with my bulb being shut down and immediately powered back up.
I sent a note to them on Planet.neeo.com and within about 4 hours they had fixed and updated the Panasonic projector's driver. I tested it when I got home and it has worked flawlessly since. I'm very pleased with the response, and with the basic operation of the NEEO.
Now it's just a matter of customizing it, and learning to think like a programmer to create custom recipes.
It's not perfect, but I think it could be with some time and a little more development, which seems to be happening.