A thoughtful and fairly neat solution - but sound quality is as important a part of the cinema experience as picture qualityWrite your own review
- Extensive specification
- fine Blu-ray images and effective DVD upscaling too
- Sound is unyieldingly hard
- conspicuous speakers
There's a fair bit to get through here, so we'd better crack on. Panasonic's new 'home cinema in a box' features Blu-ray and DVD playback, FM radio, an iPod dock and SD card reader, and comes in three versions.
The entry-level model is a 3.1 system (comprising front-end unit, front speakers, centre speaker and subwoofer) for £700. next up is a 5.1 specification for £850, and here we have the top-of-the-range model which includes two pairs of Panasonic's SB-HS100 'wireless' rear speakers, bumping the price up to £1000.
Setting up is easy – in some ways, easier than it should be. Certainly the colour-coded outputs for the front three speakers and subwoofer make it child's play to get the system functioning, but we'd like a bit more adjustability to picture and sound.
The on-screen menus are up to Panasonic's usual standards, though, and the remote control is surprisingly light on buttons when you consider how many different functions the SC-BT100 can perform.
Picture quality is its strongest asset
Without doubt, picture quality is the where the Panasonic is at its strongest. It's no surprise that Blu-ray images, delivered at 1080p/24fps, show the SC-BT100 to best advantage: from the coal-hole ambience of Batman Begins to the super-vivid Cars, the Panasonic impresses.
Pictures are stable and sharp – only very rapid motion causes alarms – and carry plenty of detail in all but the darkest scenes. Those dark tones are deep and lustrous, whites are acceptably clean and the overall palette is nicely judged.
A switch down in quality – both literally and figuratively – to a DVD of Knocked Up brings the inevitable erosion of picture quality, but the Panasonic generally holds up well.
There's some picture noise evident in particularly testing scenes, and black detail becomes less abundant more impenetrable, but edge definition, depth of field, motion tracking and upscaling are all competitive with budget-orientated DVD players.
Sadly sound quality isn't up to much
So far, so good, but now we get to the vexed question of sound quality. Put simply, the Panasonic isn't up to much. Those speakers aren't the most discreet or attractive ever to grace a cinema system, and their unsubtle dimensions are mirrored in their unsubtle treble reproduction.
Whether listening to top-of-the-shop Dolby TrueHD sound, or music via the neatly integrated iPod dock or FM radio, the top of the frequency range is harsh, thin and abrasive – percussive sounds are particularly painful at higher volumes.
The midrange and bottom end is more successful (especially considering the subwoofer's discouraging dimensions), and the multichannel soundstage the Panasonic generates is persuasive, but the malignant treble ruins any hint of composure.
The SC-BT100 has the specification and picture quality to push for a five-star review. So it's a measure of how marginal its sound is that it must make do with three.