After giving the system a grilling with a selection of Blu-ray discs, one thing is clear – the SC-BTT370’s sound quality is a marked improvement on last year’s equivalent model. The new subwoofer and Anti-Distortion speakers deliver a sound that feels cleaner and more solid than before, with less of a tendency to strain when conveying high-pitched sounds. And although the subwoofer still shows the hallmarks of its cost-cutting passive design, it does a much better job with bass sounds than we expected, keeping boominess at an agreeable level.
The action scenes of Avatar really show off the system’s skills. The frenetic ‘Assault on Home Tree’ chapter is a riot of whizzing arrows, thumping explosions and clear dialogue, all handled with admirable smoothness and clarity. High frequencies are crisp without sounding excessively bright, and there’s enough power and width here to convey a convincing sense of scale. It’s an engaging, lively sound that will certainly blow your mind if you’ve been used to flatpanel TV speakers.
Cinema Surround Plus also does a decent job of filling out the soundstage with those extra virtual speakers. When activated you can certainly detect that certain effects, such as the sound of army helicopters as they attack the Na’vi, are coming from a higher position than usual, and there’s a sense of all-round envelopment that you may or may not find agreeable – some listeners may prefer to have a sense of exactly where surround effects are coming from.
On the downside it’s not quite the all-out eardrum assault you might be hoping for. It could do with just a bit more potency and bite to up the adrenalin levels even further. If you’re tempted to crank the volume up high to compensate, it loses some of that smoothness and composure, making some of the effects seem slightly harsh. If you’re after greater power and better high-volume handling, try a separate receiver and speaker system, such as the wonderful Tannoy HTS-101. But if you’re prepared to compromise for the sake of saving money then the SC-BTT370’s sound quality still has a lot to offer. Musically the system is better than expected too, delivering smooth, well-balanced renditions of our test CDs, with the Digital Tube Sound feature adding a touch of extra warmth if needed.
We’re also impressed by the system’s picture quality, which benefits from the same sumptuous detail, radiant-yet-natural colours and cinematic solidity we experienced with Panasonic’s other players and systems. That’s largely thanks to Panasonic’s excellent on-board picture processing, which really brings out the best in both 2D and 3D pictures.
The SC-BTT370 is a wonderful Blu-ray home cinema system, offering a terrific range of features and a stylish external design. Its sound quality might not match the punch and poise of a decent separates system but there’s still a lot to like, such as the levels of detail, cohesion and openness within the soundstage and the effective new Cinema Surround Plus mode. It’s also good to hear it side-stepping the usual all-in-one uglies like an excessively boomy sub and harsh high-frequencies (if you keep the volume to a respectable level, that is). One or two things stick in the craw, such as the limited Viera Cast content and the pricey Skype camera, but that aside, the SC-BTT370 comes recommended.
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