It took 69 seconds to load our Terminator Salvation Blu-ray disc, which isn’t super-fast but quick enough to ward off frustration. And in terms of picture performance, the SC-BTT350 does a fantastic job, thanks in part to the Panasonic Hollywood Labs-developed picture tech (such as P4HD and PHL Reference Chroma Processing Plus) that has now been applied to 3D images. 3D performance is every bit as good as the SC-BFT800, offering a crystal-clear presentation of Monsters Vs Aliens’ intricately layered backgrounds, characters and objects. A shot of asteroids floating in space is particularly well handled; keeping blur at a minimum and making it feel like you’re about to bump into one.
We’re also fans of its 2D performance. Every last scrap of Avatar’s complex CG detail is dragged from the disc and displayed on screen, giving the image wonderful depth, sharpness and vibrancy. Everything from skin textures to patterned jungle flora is rendered with almost hypnotic sharpness; evoking the exact sense of wonder that Blu-ray was designed to deliver, while Pandora’s psychedelic colour palette looks as good as it’s ever done. Clean, stable upscaled DVD images complete an excellent picture performance.
If only the system was able to replicate that sense of wonder in the sonic domain – sadly the sound is too unrefined to confound our expectations. With Avatar’s busy action scenes, the cacophony of effects is a little sharp and shouty for our liking, and lacks the levels of dynamism and oomph needed to really get things going. Although the subwoofer’s presence is felt, it’s too low in the mix to make a telling impact, even at its highest setting – greater tautness and potency would have taken it to the next level.
But let’s put things into context. Criticising a system like this for not sounding like pricier separates is like berating a bicycle for not going faster than a car; it’s simply not designed to. The BTT350’s aim is to deliver 5.1-channel surround at a bargain basement price and as such, it does a terrific job, despite the inevitable sonic sacrifices.
In fact, for the money there are actually a lot of things to admire. There’s impressive steering and integration between the channels, achieving a consistent unified tone across the soundstage; dialogue is clearly and authoritatively delivered and it manages to dig out lots of detail from HD audio soundtracks. Music also sounds crisp and well balanced, which is particularly good news for iPod owners.
After coming to terms with the fact that the SC-BTT350 doesn’t offer world-beating sound quality – and only a fool would expect it to at this price – you can focus on its many virtues, such as hi-def 3D playback, a packed feature list and exceptional ease of use. So if you’re looking for a cost-effective, convenient way of getting 3D, hi-def and surround sound in one fell swoop, then the SC-BTT350 deserves a place on your shortlist, if not necessarily at the top.