The Panasonic SC-BTT400 defies its low price tag with an entertaining performance. You can hear traces of its budget origins when pushed, making us hanker after the clarity and finesse of a separates system, but its energy and enthusiasm more than compensate.
It also reproduces movie soundtracks on a larger scale than you’d expect given the size of the speakers. As a result, the climax of The Amazing Spider-Man is a thrilling watch. As Spidey and The Lizard battle it out, effects like clanging gas canisters, explosions and tinkling glass are tossed around the soundstage forcefully and accurately, with tonal consistency across the system.
There’s plenty of high-frequency detail to be heard, thankfully presented without excessive brightness, while dialogue is audible and the smoothly-rendered score drives the scene along well.
We’re pleasantly surprised by the subwoofer’s performance too – yes you have to be careful with the levels, but when adjusted properly it injects punchy bass into the mix, demonstrated by the police chief’s tight and forceful gunshots.
Soundstage width and height is audibly increased by 3D Cinema Surround, which also makes everything sound fuller and louder. You may prefer not to meddle with the traditional 5.1 arrangement, but we actually like what it does to the sound.
Although the Panasonic SC-BTT400’s sound is decent, it’s certainly not home cinema at its finest – there’s an inevitable lack of sophistication, particularly when you crank up the volume. The Lizard’s roars are a tad raspy, there’s a shrill tone at times and it lacks that extra level of smoothness and subtlety you’d get from superior compact speakers. But we’re being picky here – for under £200 it’s still better than you have any right to expect.
The Panasonic SC-BTT400 also makes a decent music player for casual day-to-day use, with a variety of listening options to suit your taste (including one that plays stereo from all five speakers) although a bit of subwoofer lag spoils the timing of dance tunes, while jazz and classical don’t sparkle like Panasonic’s step-up systems.
On the visual side, the SC-BTT400’s performance is exemplary with both 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs. Lashings of fiercely rendered detail, luscious colours and super-deep blacks combine to make these pictures truly jaw-dropping.
If you only have a meagre budget to play with and think you could live without built-in Wi-Fi and an iPod dock then the SC-BTT400 has enough going for it elsewhere to make it a good purchase. All of the components look stunning, the compact dimensions will make a minimal impact on your living space and on the whole its performance is impressive, offering a lively and dynamic sound with only occasional hints of its budget price tag.
There are loads of sound modes to play with too, and should you invest in Panasonic’s Wi-Fi dongle or hook up via Ethernet, you’ll unearth some tasty features like DLNA streaming and Viera Connect – although you may find that rival systems from the likes of Samsung, LG and Sony offer a better choice of online content and more obliging format support via DLNA.
The Panasonic SC-BTT400 is a stylish, compact 5.1 system with a full-spec Blu-ray deck and some attractive features, making it excellent value for £200, but there’s no Wi-Fi or iPod support. And despite a few rough edges, performance is generally enjoyable, making this a terrific first step into the world of home cinema