The Panasonic SC-BTT290 spins 3D Blu-ray discs, as well as DVDs (upscaling them to 1080p) and CDs. You can also play your music, video files and photos from USB storage devices hooked up to the front port, and there’s decent format support too, with a list that includes DivX, MKV, MP4, JPEG, MPO, FLAC, MP3 and WAV. From SD cards, you can play AVCHD, MP4, MPEG-2 (SD Video), JPEG and 3D MPO photos.
The system is also DLNA-certified, which means you can stream content from Windows 7 PCs on your home network without having to physically plug in a device (except MKV, which can only be played from USB devices). With built-in Wi-Fi, accessing these features is much simpler – simply search for your router in the list, punch in your encryption key and you’re good to go.
You can stream from non-DLNA devices like NAS drives using the separate Network Drive function, while owners of Panasonic DIGA recorders can even stream TV recordings. Smartphone or tablet owners can stream content to their device from a server using the Panasonic SC-BTT290 as a renderer.
The SC-BTT290 will decode Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, which can be spiced-up with Panasonic’s 3D Cinema Surround, which attempts to expand the 5.1-channel soundstage using 25 virtual speakers that expand the soundstage horizontally and vertically using something called ‘direction perception control technology’. A simpler 7.1ch Virtual Surround setting creates pseudo surround back channels.
Other sound modes include Digital Tube Sound (designed to replicate the sonic characteristics of a vacuum tube amp); a range of EQ settings; H.Bass; subwoofer level presets; Centre Focus and High Clarity Sound Plus, which shuts down video circuitry to improve audio performance. There’s even a bunch of presets and enhancements for finding the perfect picture, including some specifically for 3D playback.
The Panasonic SC-BTT290 also offers Viera Connect, an internet content portal that brings BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Skype, Acetrax, Facebook and Twitter to your TV. Other portals offer better content, such as the Sony Entertainment Network, but on the whole this is an impressive group of apps – plus you can add new ones from the integrated Market. Our only gripe is the layout, which splits apps over several pages and feels long-winded.
That said, the rest of the onscreen menus are impressive, particularly the Home menu, which arranges all the key functions into a grid of cute icons. Panasonic’s standalone players arrange these icons into a cross, which correspond to the direction pad on the remote, allowing you to simply press up, down, left or right to select the option. That system is missing here because there are nine options in the grid, so you have to select the one you want and press ‘OK’.
The Multi-User Mode allows different users to personalise the look by adding photo icons and wallpaper and registering smartphones. You can select users with the coloured buttons, by detecting registered smartphones or through facial recognition with the communication camera connected.
Not all of the menus are as pretty – the grey/yellow media playback menus could do with sprucing up, but in their favour they’re clear and easy to follow. The Options menu is a very useful tool, allowing you to make setup changes without stopping the movie. You’ll have absolutely no problems rigging up the system for the first time thanks to the colour coded cables and the onscreen menus that guide you through all the key settings when you first power it up.
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Using the remote is child’s play, with the large rubber buttons, clear labelling and a foolproof layout making navigation feel intuitive. And the best part is that there’s no touchpad to complicate matters.