Perhaps this system’s most attractive feature is the built-in iPod dock, located under a flap on top of the unit. All types of iPod are supported (including the iPhone) with the relevant dock insert and you can play music, videos and photos using the system’s interface. Additionally, there’s a USB port on the front that allows you to play MP3, WMA, DivX, MPEG-4 and JPEG without having to load everything onto disc first. It’ll also play the same file types from DVD and CD, plus it spins most recordable DVD formats except DVD-RAM.
Elsewhere on the spec sheet, the system musters a quoted total power output of 1000W, and features a range of surround sound modes. These include Dolby Pro Logic II Movie/Music and S.SRD, which outputs sound from all speakers even with stereo material. Additionally there’s Center Focus, which shifts centre channel information to sound like it’s coming from the TV; H.Bass, which enhances low frequencies; Whisper Mode Surround for late-night listening; and a range of EQ modes (Flat, Heavy, Clear, Soft). These features all have their own dedicated buttons on the remote, which makes it easy to switch between them.
But that’s not all. If you hit the Functions button during playback, you’ll uncover even more picture and sound tweaks. These include a range of picture presets (Cinema, Dynamic, Animation and Normal), Panasonic’s ever-present Dialogue Enhancer and HD Enhancer. Using this Functions display, you can also check the status of the HDMI output and access a wide range of other helpful info relating to the current disc. Whether you find them useful or not, it’s good to see Panasonic packing in as many features as possible for the money.
Setup is a breeze. All of the cables are provided, and each one is colour coded not only to correspond with the terminals on the back of the main unit, but also to ensure that the exposed ends are plugged into the correct clips on the speakers – this is important to ensure that they’re not rigged up ‘out of phase’. You even get little stickers to label the cables for future use. As for speaker positioning, you can arrange them in the traditional layout or put them all at the front of the room and use the on-board audio processing to create an expansive soundstage.
The onscreen layout is a tad disappointing. Hit the Start key to access the main menu and the displays are a slightly more rudimentary version of Panasonic’s Blu-ray player menus, using the same blue and yellow colour scheme. Although they’re not complicated, the layout initially seems a bit muddled and the cursor moves around some areas of the setup menu sluggishly. You’ll get used to it after a while but in general this isn’t Panasonic at its user-friendly best.
That said, the remote is up to Panasonic’s usual standards. The chunky buttons, clever segregation of the different sections and foolproof labelling make it the sort of zapper even a five year old could master.