Although the SC-BTT262's sound could have done with a little more oomph during hectic action scenes, we were still impressed by what it had to offer. So we’re hoping that the upgraded speakers and subwoofer used by this step-up system can take its performance to the next level.
To find out, we pushed it in at the deep end with chapter 12 of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, a frenzied battle between Hellboy and a massive CG plant near Brooklyn Bridge. And sure enough, its reproduction of this spectacular scene is a real treat, making up for its lack of rear speakers with a fast, forceful and surprisingly smooth two-channel performance.
The first thing that we noticed is the crispness of the overall sound. The use of a separate tweeter inside the front speakers allows high-frequency effects to materialise with greater clarity than the full-range speakers of the BTT262. You can hear it in the elegant, undistorted reproduction of smashing glass and cars being crunched in the creature’s tentacles, which really fizz, while subtle top-end sounds like the delicate rustling of growing plant life in the wake of the battle are clearly audible. This has the effect of making the sound feel airy and natural at all times.
It also handles Avatar’s pivotal action scenes with panache – the Battle for Pandora scene is an explosion of piercing effects, solid bass and clearly audible dialogue that doesn’t get swamped by the sounds going on around it.
The action is also bolstered by a decent performance from the subwoofer, which delivers pounding bass that doesn’t overpower the other speakers. It also seems more controlled and tighter than most passive subs. You’ll need to up the sub’s setting to level 2 or 3 to really make its presence felt, but when you do, it melds cohesively with the fronts and provides satisfying depth – not only with obvious stuff like explosions, but it also pads out subtler ambience and music.
The only major flaw is that it’s not particularly happy with the volume up high. We cranked it up to over 70 per cent and it loses its admirable composure, with some of the effects in the scenes above sounding harsh and whiny. Keep it to a more reasonable level though and you won’t have much cause for complaint.
The system also makes a terrific music player. We tried out music from CD, a USB devices and an iPod, and it conveys tunes with pleasing balance and agility. We don’t recommend using it without the subwoofer though, as the front speakers alone don’t deliver the necessary bass depth or warmth to hold it all together. The six(!) Digital Tube Sound modes add a pleasing sense of 'fullness' to music playback making it a worthwhile feature if you’re a big fan of vacuum tube amps but can’t afford your own one.
Picture quality is astoundingly good. The arsenal of on-board picture tech – primarily Adaptive Chroma Processing, which gets colours looking life-like and nuanced – come up trumps yet again, producing natural, crystal-clear hi-def images with superb shadow detailing, smooth shading and no artefacts. 3D pictures share these qualities but look even more absorbing thanks to the excellent layering effect and complete lack of crosstalk and blurring. But as noted on Panasonic’s other systems and players, the 2D-to-3D conversion tech is hit and miss.
There are several reasons why you might opt for a 2.1-channel system over 5.1 – spatial constraints or a deep loathing for clutter being two of them. Whatever the reason, we don’t think you’ll find many better 2.1 systems than the SC-BTT362. It boasts a phenomenal feature list, which gives even Samsung a run for its money – 3D playback and Skype are the star turns, but DLNA networking, wide format support, Viera Cast and a built-in iPod dock is a pretty decent supporting cast. It also boasts one of the best operating systems in the business and its sound and picture performance are impressive – certainly superior to the cheaper SC-BTT262.
Our only reservations are that the system struggles at high volumes, the selection of sites on Viera Cast feels limited next to its rivals and the fact that the Skype camera adds over £100 to the price tag. But these things don’t greatly detract from the quality of the overall package and as such it earns two thumbs up.