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Panasonic was one of the first companies to launch an all-in-one Blu-ray home cinema system in the UK with last year's SC-BT100, a typically feature-rich 3.1-channel bundle with powerful but flawed sound quality and awesome hi-def pictures.
The company has followed it up this year with the SC-BT205, a full 5.1 system equipped with all the tasty features found on Panasonic's latest standalone players, the DMP-BD60 and BD80. It's one of three new Blu-ray systems in the current range - the others are the SC-BT200, which features bookshelf-style speakers, and the SC-BTX70, a style-led 2.1-channel system with a new vertical-standing main unit.
The SC-BT205 uses a set-top style control unit, which combines a Blu-ray/DVD/CD player with a 1,000W (RMS)/470W (DIN) multichannel digital amplifier, and it doesn't strive for wafer-thin sexiness - it's portly and proud. The unit is fitted with Panasonic's customary mirrored fascia, a bit of glitzy eye-candy that makes up for the flimsy plastic flap below, which covers a set of inputs and a few buttons. The display panel is a good size and the ring of green light surrounding the volume dial makes it unmissable in the dark.
These front-mounted sockets include an SD card slot, a USB port, an input for the supplied setup microphone and a headphones jack, and you'll also find a source select button and a pair of buttons for radio tuning and chapter skipping. But the most compelling feature on the front is a hidden iPod dock, which can be pulled out when required. With an iPod attached, you can browse lists onscreen as well as view videos and photos.
On the back the socket selection is solid enough, but we're disappointed by the lack of HDMI inputs, which would have allowed you to switch between other HDMI sources (like Sky+ HD or the PS3) with only a single cable connected to your TV.
Instead, external sources have to be connected to the two optical digital inputs or analogue cinch connections if you want to take advantage of the system's audio decoding. The HDMI 1.3 output sends 1080/24p pictures to a TV as well as HD audio bitstreams, should you ever want to upgrade to a separate AV receiver. An Ethernet port, component/composite video outputs and an FM antenna input are also provided. There's also a terminal for adding the optional SH-FX70 transmitter and receiver kit for a wireless rear-channel connection.