Review Price £169.99
As we've discovered with the other Panasonic's players and systems we've reviewed so far, this year's range is absolutely packed with features. There aren't quite as many here as say, the step-up SC-BTT370, but what's left is a satisfying range of tricks to keep you entertained.
Away from its main Blu-ray playback responsibilities, the headline act is DLNA networking, which makes it a complete breeze to access any media content trapped on a Windows 7 PC or NAS drive. It works over Ethernet or wireless LAN and the list of supported file types includes DivX HD, MKV, MP3, WMV and JPEG. Browsing through your files is surprisingly simple thanks to the straightforward layout of folders and files, with useful onscreen instructions to help you along.
And while you're hooked up to the web you can also explore a number of internet applications from the comfort of your armchair through Viera Cast. Here you'll find YouTube, Picasa, Twitter, Dailymotion, Bloomberg, Euronews and Acetrax, as well as several foreign language sites. This still pales in comparison to rival services like Sony's BRAVIA Internet Video.
It's a modest selection with only one or two sites that we could envisage wanting to visit regularly, which is why it's a shame Panasonic's improved Viera Connect service hasn't yet made it to the Blu-ray range. But we can't fault the layout, which is eye-catching yet logical, laying out the sites as thumbnails advertising the content within, and there are no pesky delays when using it.
Then of course there's Full HD 3D playback and the new range of 3D features. You get 2D-to-3D conversion, potentially turning your entire movie collection into 3D at the push of a button, plus a range of 3D effect controls. These include the ability to adjust the layering depth and Screen Frame, which inserts a border around the sides of the picture to blend it more gently with the surrounding TV bezel. We don't really like having our precious picture eaten up in this way but some people may find the resulting picture more comfortable to watch.
Panasonic has also introduced a few new audio features, the most interesting of which is Cinema Surround Plus. This new and improved version of last year's Cinema Surround attempts to expand the soundstage to make it sound more like a real cinema.
It does so by creating 11 virtual speakers in the horizontal plane and 11 in the vertical plane, surrounding you around and above the listening position. It does so using fairly complex acoustic theories like 'head-related transfer function', playing on the human brain's perception of the direction in which the sound is coming from, as well as creating a phantom image using sound lag and level control.
Also on board is 7.1 Channel Virtual Surround, although quite how that works with Cinema Surround Plus isn't clear, as they can both be activated at the same time. High Clarity Sound shuts off analogue video circuitry for a cleaner audio signal; Digital Tube Sound aims to replicate the warmth of a vacuum tube amp; 96kHz Surround Re-master provides 'brighter' high frequencies; Subwoofer Level and H.Bass boost low frequencies; and there's a bunch of picture tweaks too, available when you hit the 'Display' button on the remote.
Elsewhere you get all the other goodies you'd expect, such as media playback from USB memory devices and SD/SDHC/SDXC cards (required for BD Live downloads) and HD audio decoding.
We had no problems rigging up the system thanks to the colour-coded plugs attached to the supplied speaker cables, which slot securely into the terminals on the rear. Unlike the SC-BTT370 there's no provision for wireless rear speakers so unfortunately you'll have to find a way of concealing the lengthy cables.
It's similarly easy to setup onscreen too - trickier stuff like wireless setup are handled through step-by-step guides, while 3D pictures can be tweaked using clear, legible dialogue boxes.
The main Home menu's brilliant layout makes it easy to find your way round, even though you lose the one-touch navigation we loved on the standalone players. The icons are cute, the colour scheme is dazzling and the Settings menu couldn't be more straightforward. Add to that a busy-but-intuitive remote and you've got one of the most user-friendly systems around.
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