As we’ve found with most of Panasonic’s all-in-one systems this year, the Panasonic SC-BTT190’s sound quality is highly enjoyable without ever blowing our socks off. It’s quite capable of making Blu-ray movies sound exciting, throwing effects around the room with a pleasing level of dynamism and vigour that keeps you engaged. Yet the budget construction of the speakers and a general lack of polish when it really counts stop it reaching the heights of a good separates system with dedicated compact speakers.
Super 8’s dramatic train crash sequence is a perfect way to demonstrate the system’s strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the scene’s top-end detail is crisply reproduced. As the train passes by the kids on the platform, there’s a gentle jangling of metal that the Panasonic picks out beautifully, accompanied by the sound of rushing wind and the gentle ding of the bell in the background. It’s the separation and clarity of this sort of detail that can really draw you into a movie.
The soundstage is also impressively organised, with the rear effects emerging clearly and accurately from the surround speakers and dialogue pinned firmly to the centre. 3D Cinema Surround enhances the soundstage surprisingly well, making it feel richer and fuller, with greater expansion and height – turn it off and the sound seems flat.
When the train hits the van, there’s a decent amount of aggression and pace during the barrage of bangs and crashes that follows, mainly thanks to the sterling efforts of the subwoofer. It contributes a thick layer of bass to these effects, making them sound suitably deep and threatening, and it also integrates nicely with the satellites. A good active sub would get you a tighter and more authoritative bass but as passive subs go it’s not bad.
But here the scene shows up one of the system’s weaknesses. You have to crank the system up fairly high to make an impact – anything below half way doesn’t get the pulse racing. But doing so causes the more forceful effects to sound a bit coarse and raspy, such as the white van crashing into the train or the huge shards of metal raining down around the soundstage. Prolonged listening at these volumes makes you feel like you’ve gone a couple rounds with Klitchko.
Better systems present these effects with more smoothness without compromising on attack, but for ‘better’ read ‘more expensive’, and that’s the whole point of a system like this – offering decent sound quality at an affordable price, and for that reason it would be churlish to complain.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190’s picture performance is less mixed. Whether you’re savouring the 3D delights of Avatar on a suitably equipped telly, or a plain 2D disc like The Dark Knight, the system displays the 1080p pictures with real panache. With the former, the colours and CG detail of the exquisite Pandoran backdrops are rendered with an entrancing level of clarity and depth, augmented by expertly handled stereoscopic layers. Objects move without blur or crosstalk and edges are clean as a whistle. Yes your TV plays a bigger part in the quality of 3D images but the deck does nothing to spoil the effect.
With The Dark Knight, the system’s superb contrast keeps the image well defined even during its many night scenes, backed up by punchy detail and an organic colour palette. The SC-BTT190 also loads discs relatively quickly, plus its network performance is excellent, streaming music, video files and apps without any fuss over an Ethernet connection.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190 is a solid Blu-ray system but not one of Panasonic’s best. Aesthetically it doesn’t inspire the same levels of excitement as an LG or Samsung, its sound quality loses polish at volumes other speakers take in their stride, and the lack of HDMI inputs and built-in Wi-Fi makes the step-up SC-BTT290 a more appealing prospect.
But the inclusion of DLNA, Viera Connect, iPod support, Skype and the impressive 3D Cinema Surround are not to be sniffed at, plus it’s incredibly easy to setup and use. So if all you want is an all-in-one system that does the basics with minimum fuss then it might be worth a look – otherwise check out the SC-BTT290 or similarly-priced systems with more features for the money.