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The SC-BFT800 is the UK’s first 3D-ready Blu-ray soundbar, incorporating a 3D capable Blu-ray player, a two-channel 180W amplifier and stereo speakers into a single slimline unit, which is paired with a separate wireless subwoofer to provide some low-end oomph. It’s a wonderfully practical, convenient solution for people who want 3D but prefer not to clutter up their living room with boxes and speakers – and like the majority of soundbars the SC-BFT800 is wall mountable, making it a stylish solution if your 3D-ready TV is already on the wall.
If you choose not to wall mount, the soundbar can be placed free standing on a tabletop. Either way, it’s an attractive and sturdy unit, boasting sleek lines and a fetching black finish, and along the top you’ll find a row of buttons – hit the Blu-ray open/close key and the central plastic panel slides to the left to reveal the disc mechanism, while the iPod open/close button uncovers an iPod/iPhone dock on the opposite side, definitely one of the system’s most eye-catching features. A small but easy to read display panel shines through from behind the panel.
Unsurprisingly there’s a sparse selection of sockets on the back due to the limited space – there’s an HDMI v1.4 output (which supports the Audio Return Channel feature, as well as 3D), a single optical digital audio input, composite video output, an Ethernet port to take advantage of the unit’s networking features and an aerial input for the FM radio. They’re joined by a second USB port reserved for Panasonic’s optional Wi-Fi dongle (DY-WL10) and a slot for the transmitter card that’s supplied with the subwoofer.
Setup is a cinch thanks mainly to the compact wireless sub, which is styled in a snazzy gloss black finish. Once the card is plugged into the back of the soundbar, the two communicate automatically and form a robust connection, with a small light on top telling you that they’ve hooked up. There are no controls or sockets on the back of the sub – it’s all governed by the soundbar. The sockets on the back of the soundbar are easy to access despite facing sideways, and wall-mounting using the supplied brackets seems like a fairly straightforward process if you have the right tools, although we didn’t try it out for obvious reasons.
As is the norm for Panasonic’s Blu-ray gear, the SC-BFT800 is bursting with features. 3D is of course the headline-grabber, supplying Full HD 1080p images to each eye when viewed on a compatible TV with active shutter glasses (in our case, a Sony KDL-60LX803). But the range of networking features is also a nifty bonus, including the ability to stream music, video and photos from connected PCs running Windows 7, as well as recordings stored on compatible Panasonic recorders.
You can also browse a limited selection of websites through the Viera Cast portal, including YouTube, Picasa, Bloomberg and Dailymotion. As with Panasonic’s standalone players and systems, this web portal looks great and works very well indeed over an Ethernet connection, loading clips quickly and playing them back with minimal hesitation, even with modest broadband speeds. Buying the 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi dongle provides a much more convenient way of getting online, but with a price of around £80 it’s a luxury that some buyers can no doubt do without.