I got the Ref 70 on Wednesday, it replaces an Anthem AVM-2. I've hooked up a Sony BDP-S550 blu ray player and a Pioneer Elite plasma TV, both over HDMI. I also connected a DirecTV (SD) DVR over S-Video. I'm using a 5.1 setup. I performed quick setup on Wednesday night and have been running the system (with TV off) non-stop until this morning to let everything warm up.
The on-screen menu made setup pretty easy, once I got the hang of the navigation and with a little common sense all was easily configured using the remote. The on-screen menu is a bit sluggish, and sometimes page transitions are not smooth (showing an extra page momentarily); overall no big deal. Setup done in under 15 minutes!
Having read a ton about the 'hiss' this processor produces, I decided to compare what I heard from all 5 speakers in 3 scenarios: Power amps on only with inputs shorted, Power amps connected to Anthem AVM-2 turned on in 6 channel direct mode with no audio input and volume set to 0dB, connected to Ref 70 turned on in 8 input direct mode with no audio input and volume set to 0dB. As you would expect, there's a little noise in all three situations, slightly less with inputs shorted. I could not hear more noise from the Ref 70 vs AVM 2. Plugging in a tester in the center channel balanced output on the AVM2 shows -82dBu, on the Ref 70 I get -86dBu. Good enough for me.
I used 'The Matrix Reloaded' blu-ray disk to make an initial assessment of how the Ref 70 sounds. The player is connected over HDMI to the Ref 70. After the time it took to load the disk and get through the pre-ambles, I was impressed with the dynamics and clarity; imaging is quite good and overall the experience is pleasant. At no point did I find myself unhappy with the processor's audio performance while playing this movie. As has been noted, True HD decoding is not yet supported, consequently I didn't bother trying to get it to work. I swapped in the AVM2 next (Connected over optical S/PDIF), while that unit still sounds good, the Ref 70 sounds better. So far, so good.
I did notice some of the 'click and pop sounds' mentioned earlier in this thread when I started playback of the disk I was using to test when playing through the Ref 70, they seem to coincide with format switches in audio and/or video. Not jarring, but noticeable. I played the same startup sequence through the AVM2, and heard no click and pops. Just to double check I connected the audio through S/PDIF to the Ref 70, still clicks and pops when there are audio and/or video format switches on the disk. I can live with this, but it does feel a little sloppy to me.
I noticed that video looked different with the Ref 70 sitting in the chain (previously I had the blu ray machine connected directly to the TV). Things seemed a little darker and some of the low level detail seemed to be gone. A quick check with the test disk and a spider confirmed my suspicion: The video levels do materially change when I run through the Ref 70. try as I may I cannot get them right: Below video black seems to be gobbled up by the Ref 70 and high luminance seems to be clipped as well. Still looking for what settings to change where to address these issues; I was surprised that below black is clipped on a high end device like this, and can't imagine anything else but that I have a setting wrong somewhere. The 24 frame pass-through works flawless from what I can see.
Of course I couldn't help myself and had to check some of the resolution and phase test patterns on my test disk. As I would expect, the full resolution makes it from the disk to the TV with no visible problems. I did not observe a change in those aspects of image quality with or without the Ref 70 between the player and the TV.
Next I tried my DirecTV DVR, which is an SD device. Using the one included S-Video adapter and a component cable I connected it to the Ref 70, and used an optical S/PDIF connection to get audio into the processor. The 1080/p upconversion looks good, I turned on many of the noise reduction and enhancement features and got the best picture yet I have seen from that machine. (I know, I should upgrade to HD...). It took me a little while to figure out how to turn of the Pro Logic decoding that's on by default and then what to do to get just 2 channel stereo, after that was done I will say the sound I got again is quite good. In this configuration I had a little line of 'static' on the top of the screen, using the zoom adjustment in the processor that was easily dealt with. I like the result of the ref 70 in this setup better (subjectively) than plugging the DirecTV box straight into the TV.
Since the Blu ray disk was still running, I switched back to blu ray using the remote, and this is where life became interesting. The combination of the Blu Ray player, Ref 70 and Pioneer TV took a long time to sync everything back up. During that time I got snow images on TV, pops and clicks galore, then sound and finaly the image appeared. After getting out the stopwatch I switched back and forth a couple more times: Switching from the Blu Ray machine to S-Video takes 11 seconds, switching from S-Video to the Blu Ray disk takes... 22 seconds. When I plug the video cables into the TV and the audio cables into my Anthem, either switch takes less than 3 seconds, and there are no loud pops and clicks and no snowstorms on my TV. This is also not the end of the world, but I was surprised that these switches were not more smooth. (In case you care: BD was 1080/24p over HDMI with Dolby Digital audio on HDMO, pass-through of 24p on the Ref 70 enabled; S-Video was 480i with audio on TOSLINK)
In summary, I like what the video processing does to SD video, I am impressed with the audio quality once the processor locks on to the source. I am going to have to chat with tech support about the black level issue I am seeing to get a hold of the right setting to change, I assume HD video will look good when that's fixed. That'll get me to the place where 99.9% of the time things are working right. And then there's the switching problem, I assume that will get solved in future software updates...