Although Panasonic still lags behind Samsung in the disc loading stakes (Terminator Salvation takes 85 seconds), when you get there it’s worth the wait. It’s been well documented how faultlessly Panasonic’s standalone players transfer pixels from disc to screen, and this system is no different.
For example, its reproduction of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen left us gazing at the screen with wide-eyed amazement. The amount of detail this system dredges up is astonishing – the smallest minutiae, like fine skin textures, or scuffs and scratches on beat-up robots, is clearly and precisely reproduced. Shots of the Egyptian desert look particularly striking.
The SC-BT330 backs up these superb pictures with loud, entertaining sound quality, which lacks refinement in core areas but makes the movie’s battle scenes undeniably exciting, particularly to undiscerning ears.
The soundstage is wide and enveloping, with metallic pings, gunshots and all manner of other effects pinging back and forth between the speakers. The sound isn’t excessively bright either, often a shortcoming of budget one-box systems, and there’s a pleasing homogeneity of tone between the front, rear and centre speakers.
Those bamboo cones live up to Panasonic’s claims too, allowing the centre speaker to communicate speech with directness and intelligibility, cutting through the movie’s constant carnage. The emotive strings and brass in the score are also delivered with pleasing warmth.
However, there are a couple of shortcomings. The first is the subwoofer – its bass output is loose and cumbersome, as opposed to taut and punchy. The overpowering drone during action scenes isn’t a patch on the nimble, well integrated low-end support you get from a good quality powered sub. There are three settings, and only the lowest offered a satisfactory balance.
We’d also like to hear the system attack sharp sudden sounds a little more aggressively, and although it picks out some subtle background detail, much of it gets lost in the mix.
Although the Panasonic SC-BT330 is by no means the perfect one-box system, there are certainly more pros than cons. Its feature list is terrific, the highlights of which are media streaming, Viera Cast and a built-in iPod dock – plus the HDMI audio return channel will be a welcome addition for those with compatible TVs.
Panasonic’s picture processing also works its usual magic to deliver stunning Blu-ray pictures, and despite a few flaws the sound quality just about passes muster.
But aside from the speaker’s shonky build quality, the biggest let-down is the need to purchase optional extras to enjoy the wireless functionality. Factor the Wi-Fi dongle and wireless speaker kit into the cost and it ends up being more expensive than the Samsung HT-C6930W, which not only comes with those extras as standard, but also throws in 3D support, built-in Wi-Fi, 7.1 speakers, faster disc loading, built-in memory, wider-ranging format support and more appealing looks. Sounds like a no-brainer to us.