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Digital media support is decent if not all-encompassing – it’ll play DivX Plus HD, MP3 and JPEG files from USB devices, DVDs and CDs, as well as AVCHD from DVD and MPEG-2 SD Video from SD, SDHC and SDXC cards. With a card in the slot, the system uses it as local storage for BD Live as the required 1GB of memory isn’t built-in.
Even though you don’t get the full multichannel benefits, the SC-BFT800 happily decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio tracks, and if you like your stereo sound with a little bit of extra flavour then the system’s range of modes might fit the bill.
To compensate for the lack of rear speakers, Dolby Virtual Speaker Reference/Wide and 7.1CH Virtual Surround expand the sound field to create a surround effect. These are backed up by a choice of Equalizer modes – Flat, Heavy, Clear and Soft – plus H.Bass for extra low-end punch. Clear Mode Dialog, meanwhile, aims to make speech sound like it’s coming from the screen and Whisper Mode Surround narrows the dynamic range, which helps when watching movies at night when the kids are in bed. The levels of the front speakers and sub can be adjusted using the dedicated controls on the remote, plus there’s an extra three-level Subwoofer setting in the sound modes menu.
The SC-BFT800 is easy to use thanks largely to the bubbly, responsive onscreen menus, which use cartoony icons and bright shades of blue and yellow. The setup menus are simple lists on a blue background, a far cry from Sony’s slick system but easy to follow nonetheless, and that goes for the MP3 and DivX playback menus too, which list files in a table. The setup menu offers quite a lot to fiddle around with, and functions like Internet connection and speaker optimisation are mercifully easy to find and adjust. 3D settings include a choice of Full HD and side-by-side output, as well an option to play 3D discs in 2D. And as expected the supplied remote is a wonderfully intuitive device, sporting perfectly placed menu and playback controls and emphatically clear lettering.
A couple of extra in-playback menus can also be accessed – the Option key offers an onscreen virtual remote and aspect ratio control, while Display brings up a banner containing other playback modes and picture/sound tweaks.
Disc loading speeds are acceptable – Hellboy II fired up in 29 seconds while the trickier Terminator Salvation took one minute and eight seconds, plus the fast boot-up mode also cuts down the time it takes to start watching a movie. When you get there, the system’s picture quality is fantastic. There really is nothing to dislike – the Panasonic’s P4HD and PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus do a stunning job with those precious pixels, delivering exceptionally crisp and punchy detail, strong colours with plenty of subtle, smoothly blended shading and the sort of depth and contrast that makes movies look instantly cinematic.