For surround sound, you normally need either a home theater in a boxcombo DVD player/sound system with a bunch of speakersor a DVD player connected to an audio/video receiver that's in turn connected to the five speakers and subwoofer of your choice. The primary tasks of the receiver are to decode the surround-sound information coming from the DVD player (or cable/satellite set-top box), and to power the speakers to which it routes that sound.
The YSP-800 has 23 "sound beam drivers," little speakers that work in conjunction to bounce sound at different angles all around a room. It also has 23 tiny digital amplifiers providing 82 watts of power. Since it also decodes the surround-sound data coming from the DVD player or set-top box, a separate a/v receiver isn't necessary. You do, however, need to plug in a subwoofer for the full effect. Yamaha sells an affordable matching companion sub, the YST-FSW100 subwoofer ($180).
Connecting the YSP-800 is about five times easier than connecting a standard home-theater receiver. I plugged in my DVD player and cable box; there's room for three digital audio inputs and two stereo analog inputs, like a CD player or iPod. Then I connected the included microphone, placed it on a cardboard tripod on my couch, and selected the menu option called "Auto Setup". After a few minutes of blips and whooshes, the system had aligned itself around the microphone, which had been standing in for me and my ears.
Using a DVD of Constantine (surprisingly watchable, by the way), I compared the YSP-800 to a mid-priced surround-sound setup with Acoustic Research speakers powered by Pioneer's VSX-72TXV receiver (more on the Pioneer receiver in the coming weeks). I was impressed by how well the sound projector could replace the five speakers that are carefully positionedugly exposed wiring and allaround my TV room. The speakers give a little more midrange than the sound projector, but when it came to the tinkling of glass or rushing of wind in the surround channel, both rigs gave me a satisfying feeling of immersion.
Fortunately, my TV room is ideal for sound projection: almost perfectly square, with little on the walls that might absorb sound. In that case, I highly recommend the YSP-800. In a more cavernous room, the YSP would have no way to bounce sound and would lose a certain amount of depth. If that's your situation, you might want to try a speaker such as Polk Audio's SurroundBar ($950), which does require an amplifier, but replaces five unsightly speakers in a way that's not dependent on the shape of the room.