The Panasonic SC-BTT190 does everything you’d expect of a 5.1-channel Blu-ray system. It spins 2D and 3D hi-def discs, as well as DVDs (upscaling them to 1080p) and CDs. You can also play your music, video files and photos from USB storage devices hooked up to the front port, and there’s decent format support too – the list includes DivX, MKV, MP4, JPEG, MPO, FLAC, MP3 and WAV. From SD cards, you can play AVCHD, MP4, MPEG-2 (SD Video), JPEG and 3D MPO photos.
And if you’ve invested in that wireless LAN dongle, or hooked up the Ethernet port to your router, this DLNA-certified system will let you stream the same content from Windows 7 PCs on your home network without having to physically plug in a device (except MKV, which can only be played from USB devices). You can stream from non-DLNA devices like NAS drives using the separate Network Drive function, while owners of Panasonic DIGA recorders can even stream TV recordings from those. Smartphone or tablet owners can stream content to their device from a server using the SC-BTT190 as a renderer.
As you’d expect, the Panasonic SC-BTT190 will decode Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, but for added immersion Panasonic’s 3D Cinema Surround attempts to expand the 5.1-channel soundstage using 25 virtual speakers that ping sound horizontally and vertically through something called "direction perception control technology". It’s the sort of thing that home cinema purists have nightmares about, but for casual listeners looking for added aural excitement it could be very welcome indeed. A simpler 7.1ch Virtual Surround setting creates pseudo surround back channels.
Naturally there’s a cavalcade of other sound modes to fiddle with, including Digital Tube Sound, designed to add extra depth and body to music; a range of EQ settings; H.Bass; subwoofer level presets and Centre Focus. High Clarity Sound Plus shuts down the video circuitry in a bid to stop to interfering with the audio signals. There’s even a bunch of presets and enhancements for finding the perfect picture, including some specifically for 3D playback.
Last but by no means least is Viera Connect. Panasonic has upgraded all its new Blu-ray players and systems to this improved version of Viera Cast, adding BBC iPlayer and Netflix to the line-up as well as a Market that lets you add any new apps that become available. The quality and quantity of content still can’t live up to the Sony Entertainment Network, and there are fewer games and puzzles than Samsung’s Smart Hub or LG’s Smart TV – but that might be a blessing. The layout could do with a tweak too, as the apps are split over several pages.
But Viera Cast is the only onscreen display we have a problem with. The rest are superb, particularly the Home menu, which arranges all the key options (Setup, Music, Photos, Radio, Network etc) into a grid of icons, all presented in crisp HD graphics. Because there are so many options in the grid, you lose the one-press navigation system of Panasonic’s Blu-ray players, but having to press ‘OK’ instead is no great hardship.
One nice touch is the Multi-User Mode, which allows different users to personalise the look by adding photo icons and wallpaper and registering smartphones. You can select users with the coloured buttons, by detecting registered smartphones or through facial recognition with the communication camera connected.
Elsewhere, menus like DLNA/USB playback and setup are functional rather than fancy with their basic colour schemes, yet they’re clear and easy to follow. The Options menu is a very useful tool, allowing you to make setup changes without stopping the movie. The system is a breeze to setup thanks to the colour coded cables and the onscreen menus that guide you through all the key settings when you first power it up.
We’re also fans of the remote, which again looks like it’s been designed with children in mind. Hence the large rubber buttons, the large capital letter labelling and the foolproof button layout, which allows you to navigate without having to glance down every few seconds.