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Panasonic SC-BT100 review

Panasonic's SC-BT100 Blu-ray home cinema in a box system has been arousing a lot of interest on our Forums, so we thought it was time to try it out Tested at £1000.00

Our Verdict

A thoughtful and fairly neat solution - but sound quality is as important a part of the cinema experience as picture quality

For

  • Extensive specification
  • fine Blu-ray images and effective DVD upscaling too

Against

  • 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.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, New York and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.


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