Having been blown away by the sheer quality of Panasonic's standalone players, the DMP-BDT110 and DMP-BDT310, we're champing at the bit to see how the company's systems are shaping up this year. Combining the plentiful features and superb performance of its players with a sound system in a single box sounds like a recipe for success, although competition in the Blu-ray systems category is always fierce â€“ Samsung has already hit us for six with the innovative HT-D6750W, while forthcoming systems from the likes of LG and Sony are also likely to be contenders for your cash, all of which means Panasonic needs to offer something special to stand out from the crowd.
The SC-BTT262 gets it off to a good start. It's a 2.1-channel system, which makes it better suited to smaller living rooms or bedrooms where it's not possible to install rear speakers. It's also the lowest-specced of Panasonic's 2.1 Blu-ray systems (the SC-BTT362 adds several features missing here) but that doesn't mean it's a completely no-frills affair. Like all of Panasonic's 2011 Blu-ray systems, the BTT262 boasts Full HD 3D compatibility, the newly introduced 2D-to-3D feature, DLNA networking, access to web content and loads of other stuff designed to keep you entertained.
It's also quite a looker. Not in a slap-you-round-the-chops, Bang & Olufsen sort of way, but the main unit, which carries out Blu-ray playback, audio decoding and amplification, is tastily styled. It's remarkably slim and compact for an all-in-one unit, measuring just 38mm from top to bottom, and looks very much like Panasonic's players with an alluring black finish and drop-down panel on the front that conceals all the clutter. This includes an SD card slot, USB port, play and stop buttons and disc tray.
Perhaps the most alluring feature on the front panel for Apple devotees is the built-in iPod/iPhone dock, placed on a drawer that pops out when pressed. On last year's systems this was placed under a flap on top, but Panasonic moved it to the front to avoid any problems when stacking other components. Audio signals are passed to the system in the digital domain, which keeps audio quality â€˜faithful to the original' due to the removal of unnecessary digital to analogue conversion stages.
On the back, you'll find a half-decent set of connections â€“ if you don't want to run external components though the system, that is. If you do, then all you get are analogue stereo and optical digital audio inputs, but no HDMI inputs. Elsewhere you get an HDMI v1.4 output â€“ compatible with 3D and Audio Return Channel â€“ composite video out, and an Ethernet port. The step-up SC-BTT362 adds two HDMI inputs and a second USB port for the Skype camera.
As for the speakers, the front pair looks effortlessly attractive thanks to that glossy black finish so ubiquitous among all-in-one systems, and the angled stand is a striking feature. Unusually, you can position them vertically or remove the stands and place them horizontally â€“ a godsend for those who want to squeeze them into awkward spaces on their AV rack. They're a little light and plasticky but that's par for the course with systems trying to hit an attractive price point. Likewise the subwoofer, which has ugly exposed MDF on the rear panel, but it looks gorgeous from the front thanks to the gloss black finish and curvy port at the bottom.