As we've witnessed with the stellar performance of the DMP-BDT310 and 110, Panasonic has unquestionable pedigree when it comes to picture quality. Its Hollywood-based laboratory works closely with the film industry to ensure that it's making movies look as faithful as possible through the use of advanced picture processing technologies.
The one that makes the biggest difference to the Blu-ray picture is Adaptive Chroma Processing (the improved version of last year's High Precision 4:4:4), which up-samples colour data in the vertical and horizontal planes to make colours look more faithful and reduce artefacts like aliasing.
As a result, colours and textures subjectively look cleaner and more nuanced than rival systems. That applies to colour reproduction on 2D and 3D pictures, both of which look natural yet incredibly vibrant. Images also look incredibly sharp, and when watching the 3D version of Avatar the faultless composition of the image layers, alongside the smooth, blur-free motion tracking, make it very easy to get lost in the Panasonic's pictures.
On the downside, its 2D conversion doesn't really convince with most of the discs we tried. There's a sense of layering but it's too subtle to really draw you in. And we found that the screen frame feature distracts more than it helps.
Sonically, the SC-BTT262 is hugely impressive. The Battle For Pandora chapter â€“ a stern test for any home cinema system â€“ is handled with surprising power given the modest 520W power rating, and skilfully sidesteps some of the problems suffered by previous Panasonic systems, all thanks to the newly developed Clear Sound Digital Amplifier.
First of all the subwoofer doesn't seem to dominate the soundstage like many passive subs do. As helicopters roar into battle and the robo-suits leap from the cargo bay with a thud, the bass on offer is pleasingly restrained, underpinning the effects without sounding boomy.
Select level 4 of the subwoofer settings and it's too much, but on 2 or 3 there's a really nice balance. Some will crave a little more depth, tightness and punch, but as one-box system subs go we really can't complain. The SC-BTT362 switches to a downfiring subwoofer, so it will be interesting to see how it compares.
Another bonus is that the system handles high frequencies at loud volumes without making them sound harsh or screechy. Whining helicopter blades and metal hitting metal won't make you wince and subtle top-end detail is crisp. The sound isn't quite as airy as it could be â€“ a good separates systems will dig out more detail and open up the sound a little better.
Elsewhere, dialogue sounds clear and although the 7.1 Virtual Surround comes nowhere near real surround, it does make the overall sound seem fuller and more expansive than regular 2-Channel Stereo mode.
We tried playing music from an iPod and CD, and with both the results are enjoyable. The staccato guitar at the start of Rolling In The Deep by Adele is sharp and natural-sounding, while her voice is conveyed with a rich, smooth tone. There's plenty of top-end detail too, with the hi-hats losing none of their rhythmic sparkle. The Digital Tube Sound modes will come down to taste, but we liked the extra sense of warmth it brings to the overall sound.
The SC-BTT262 demonstrates that you needn't compromise on features just because you can't accommodate a full 5.1 system in your living room. It brings a decent amount of tricks to the table, including DLNA networking, Viera Cast and 3D playback, and although it won't bring you the optimum home cinema experience, its 2.1-channel sound quality still has the power to excite. Add to that stellar 2D and 3D picture quality and the SC-BT262 is starting to look like a decent purchase, although be sure to check out the extra features offered by the step-up SC-BTT362 before making your final decision.