Nobody buys a £240 system like this expecting to get the ultimate in home cinema performance, but as long as it delivers clean, exciting sonics that put your TV to shame then you’re onto a winner. On that score the SC-BT222 delivers.
When playing Avatar on Blu-ray, pivotal scenes like the Battle for Pandora and Assault on Home Tree sound lively and engaging thanks to the robust midrange and crisp high-frequency reproduction. Helicopter blades chop the air with fast, forthright beats, while rattling gunfire is relayed with a respectable amount of potency. These scenes don’t sparkle as they would through a more expensive set of speakers, plus the hissing and shrieking of the banshees is a little too sharp on the ears, but as entry-level 2.1 systems go this is an above-average performance.
It also copes quite well at loud volumes and dialogue is remarkably clear, despite the lack of a dedicated centre speaker. During quieter scenes, like Jake’s first sortie through the jungle, little scraps of detail flutter from the speakers – the rustle of leaves and distant animal cries and two good examples.
7.1-channel Virtual Surround is a bit hit and miss. You can certainly sense a little extra width and spaciousness across the front soundstage, but surround effects aren’t distributed with enough distance to convince, plus it flattens the dynamism of the sound compared with two-channel stereo mode.
And as is so often the case with all-in-one systems, disappointing bass reproduction is the main tell-tale sign of the system’s budget price tag. It’s not a disaster, but the boomy, undisciplined way it handles explosions undermines their impact. Keeping the subwoofer level setting at 1 is the best way to tame it, but that makes it much harder to hear ambient bass during quieter scenes.
As for Blu-ray pictures, there are no problems whatsoever – Panasonic’s P4HD and PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus with 4:4:4 upsampling keep those pixels looking pristine. The pictures are so sharp they’ll have your eye out, while colours look vibrant without seeming garish – quite a feat when tackling Avatar’s kaleidoscopic palette. Shadow detailing, black level and noise reduction are all first-rate.
There’s much to like about the SC-BT222, such as its excellent pictures, enjoyable sound and generous multimedia support in the form of a USB port, SD card slot and iPod dock – hugely convenient features that aren’t to be sniffed on an entry-level system.
But while its price tag gives the impression of good value, it’s not quite the outstanding bargain we expected, due to the amount of missing features – namely BD Live support, media streaming and Viera Cast. Shop around online and for a similar price you can get the Sony BDV-E370, a 5.1-channel system with all the features above plus 3D and Wi-Fi dongle support, or Panasonic’s 5.1-channel SC-BT230. Both are different propositions entirely, but illustrate the fact that the SC-BT222 is a little overpriced for what it is.