The SA-BX500 was launched alongside the DMP-BD50 BD-Live Blu-ray player, and with a comprehensive range of cutting-edge features on board it’s the perfect partner for Panasonic’s flagship hi-def deck – or any Blu-ray player, for that matter.
The receiver’s spec sheet reads like a home cinema fan’s wish list, but of greatest interest to Blu-ray buffs is its ability to decode all of the HD audio formats – Dolby True HD, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD and multichannel linear PCM – at a much lower price than you might have expected (compared with the sky-high prices of the BD50 and SC-BT100 anyway).
Crucial to its HD audio capabilities is the inclusion of HDMI v1.3 inputs (three to be precise, alongside one output), which make bitstream transfer of these formats possible. It also means that you can use the receiver as a full 1080p video switcher for your hi-def kit, and all of the sockets support Deep Colour, x.v.Colour, Lip Sync and Viera Link technology.
Another reason that the SA-BX100 is perfect for Blu-ray is that it offers 7.1 decoding with 130W per channel and the ability to transmit the surround and surround back channels wirelessly. To do this, you need to buy the SH-FX67 wireless speaker kit, or two sets if you want to achieve 7.1-channel sound with all-wireless rears. Alternatively, you can use the wireless speakers for multi-room listening.
As for design, the unit is dressed in black from top to toe and is remarkably chunky but surprisingly light – a result of the digital amplifiers used inside. On the front are two huge dials for volume and input selection and a row of buttons that let you control most of the functions without need for the remote. The central display panel is large and conveys the relevant details clearly, plus a row of lights to the left indicates which format is currently being decoded.
Among its other features is a virtual 7.1-channel mode for 5.1 speaker setups and a raft of Sound Field Control DSP modes, plus Dolby Digital, DTS, Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6 decoding. It even supports Dolby Digital Surround EX, DTS-ES and DTS 96/24, which is phenomenal format support by anyone’s standards. The only thing missing is a 5-channel stereo mode for making two-channel music fill all the speakers.
It’s fairly easy to install, helped by the fact that you don’t break your back lifting it out of the box. The speaker cables clamp into binding posts on the back, and if desired the front speakers can be bi-wired, using separate amps for the high and low frequencies.
There’s also a superb selection of sockets to house your audio and video equipment – three sets of component video inputs and one output, five S-video/composite inputs and two outputs, four digital audio inputs (three optical, one coaxial), more analogue stereo ins and outs than you’ll ever need, and a set of 7.1-channel analogue inputs for Blu-ray or DVD-Audio/SACD players. You’ll also find a slot for the wireless transmitter and a port for the optional SH-PD10 iPod dock.