From the moment you first fire up Hellboy II’s best action scene, the battle with the Elemental by the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s clear that the SC-BTT590 is a cut above the usual all-in-one system fare. There’s a smoothness and maturity to its sound that helps justify the price tag. We’re not saying it matches the levels of insight and authority you’d get from a separates system, but you can certainly hear the benefits of those higher quality components inside the speakers.
With a claimed 1000W in the tank, the system has plenty of power, which is apparent every time the Elemental stomps on the ground with a satisfyingly hefty thump, or Hellboy blasts the giant plant with his gun. Even with the volume pushed half way, it’s loud and expansive enough to fill the room. The scene is played out with a convincing sense of scale, making the action sound big and exciting, not thin and poky like the SC-BTT182.
Imaging is excellent too – the placement of effects around the stage is precise and plausible, from the voices of the fleeing crowd to cars tumbling past the camera, while whirring helicopter blades are smoothly steered between speakers. Activate 3D Cinema Surround and the soundstage feels fuller and more immersive – vertically as well as horizontally – although you lose some of that precision and it’s impossible to tell if there are in fact 25 virtual speakers at work.
With high frequencies the SC-BTT590 is smooth and easy on the ear, lacking that hard, screechy edge that often besets budget systems. As the Elemental lobs a car at a helicopter in mid-air, the high-pitched squeal doesn’t shatter your ear drums, while crashing and tinkling glass is clean and realistic. As it rips the hotel sign off the wall, the crunching and cracking is crisp without sounding abrasive.
As the chaos dies down and the Elemental slumps back against the building, there’s a gorgeous mixture of thumping bass and crisp, twinkling high-frequencies. The delicate rustle as plants grow up the sides of buildings and the subtle hiss as the wind blows pollen through the air sounds lucid and textured. Dialogue is consistently audible too – you can easily make out Hellboy’s quips over the carnage.
The SC-BTT590 is surprisingly assured with music. It handles Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches with a light and delicate touch, teasing out hi-hats and the wispy edge to saxophones and trumpets, but injecting everything with pleasing warmth in the mid and low frequencies (especially when Digital Tube Sound is activated). Saxophone solos and vocals sound smooth and rich but never harsh. More uptempo dance tracks sound a little boomy, but remain enjoyable.
A cracking performance then, but not a perfect one. The subwoofer blends well with the satellites, but sounds a little too resonant at times. You also need to keep it set to the mid-way ‘2’ setting as it starts sounding muddy when set any higher.
However, there are absolutely no complaints with the SC-BTT590’s picture quality. 2D images are stunning, boasting a depth and clarity that makes it hard to look away, while its 3D pictures are even more spectacular, particularly the detail-rich landscapes of Pandora. Colour reproduction is faultless, from subtle skin tones to full-on blues and greens, while panoramic landscapes are reproduced with beautifully composed and finely detailed layers. It’s as good a 3D picture as you’re likely to see. It also makes a good fist of the Silicon Optix HQV disc, with only a little flicker on Film Resolution Loss test.
We also checked out Viera Connect’s web videos from iPlayer and YouTube and naturally the quality ranges from good to awful. When converting YouTube clips into 3D, the processing adds a subtle but ultimately disappointing sense of depth to the picture. It’s better with 2D Blu-rays and DVDs but still no match for a proper 3D disc.
Finally, the system took 43 seconds to load Terminator Salvation, which is a typical time for this disc.
The SC-BTT590 might just be the best-sounding cinema system Panasonic has ever produced. It boasts a smooth and mature sound that’s a cut above the vast majority of one-box systems. It’s not perfect, with an over-enthusiastic passive sub and a little less detail insight than you’d get from a separate speaker system, but its crisp, evenly balanced sound and powerful amp make it worth the price tag.
On the downside, the speakers feel a touch plasticky for a premium system and Viera Connect isn’t as good as Samsung’s Smart Hub, but its comprehensive feature range, excellent operating system and rock-solid picture performance make this a system that deserves a place on your shopping list.