The biggest surprise is how good the system sounds with movies. We have to admit that our expectations are fairly low when it comes to inexpensive one-box systems like this, but the SC-PT480 easily exceeds them with a smooth, confident performance.
With Lord of the Rings back in the spotlight due to its Blu-ray release this month, we thought it apt to test this system with the DVD version of The Two Towers. And the breathtaking action scenes in this fantasy classic sound superb – the stomping footsteps of the Uruk-hai armies fill the room with a loud, meaty rumble, while the chaotic battle of Helm’s Deep is reproduced with a sharp, zesty energy as arrows swish from front to back, and swords meet with a crisp, controlled clank. The speakers don’t distort greatly at loud volumes and there’s little of the harshness that usually blights systems at this price, which is a real bonus.
What’s more, dialogue is cleanly articulated from the centre channel, even during the frantic battle scenes. The sound is also a lot bigger than the size of the speakers would suggest, and although its not the most powerful we’ve ever clapped ears on, the neighbours will certainly know it’s movie time chez vous.
The weak link is the subwoofer, which certainly makes its presence felt but doesn’t gel particularly well with the satellites, making the bass sound detached and boomy. And while we’re on a negative note, the SC-PT480’s speakers lack the sort of forensic detail insight and transparency you get from pricier speakers, which is demonstrated by the hard-to-hear ambience during quieter scenes. Nonetheless as one-box systems in this price range go, this is certainly one of the better examples.
Music playback from CDs isn’t particularly sophisticated but will sound fine to undemanding ears. There’s no distortion, a decent balance across the frequency range and a healthy dollop of bass, although the sub’s boomy quality will have you reaching for the level control. MP3 and WMA files also scrub up well, rounding up a decent audio performance.
As for pictures, we can find very little to fault. Upscaled to 1080p, the detailed landscapes of Middle Earth are reproduced with pleasing clarity, while colours look eminently natural and nuanced. We couldn’t spot any artefacts like blocking, mosquito noise or edge jaggies and motion is tracked with impressive fluidity – even during The Two Towers’ incredibly busy climax. The picture boasts depth and sharpness during bright and dark scenes, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
On the face of it, the SC-PT480 is a fairly unremarkable one-box cinema system, with an old-school DVD deck, understated looks and a seemingly basic spec sheet. But take it for a test drive and it’s full of surprises – sound quality is highly enjoyable, picture quality is terrific and there’s a clutch of decent features to play with, including a built-in iPod dock, USB media playback and loads of sound modes.
What’s more, build quality is a vast improvement on some Panasonic systems we’ve encountered and the compact speakers are a breeze to install – all of which makes it a decent choice if you’re on a tight budget and don’t fancy upgrading to Blu-ray just yet.