- Review Price: £543.00
With so many hardware issues surrounding Blu-ray’s HD audio formats, it can be a confusing job putting together a high-definition home cinema system. So if you’re keen to avoid all the hassle and expense of buying suitably-equipped separates, then it’s worth considering an all-in-one Blu-ray system like this one from Panasonic. The SC-BT100 isn’t the first Blu-ray system on the market – Samsung’s HT-BD2R and Sony’s HTP-BD2RSF beat Panny to the punch – but it is the world’s first Profile 1.1 home cinema system, capitalising on the success of the fantastic DMP-BD30 standalone player.
The BT100 is a 3.1-channel system, which may come as a surprise given the eight-channel possibilities of the HD audio formats from Dolby and DTS, but fear not – the system allows you to add two pairs of SB-HS100A wireless rear speakers (as well as SH-FX67 wireless transmitter and receiver) to create a full 7.1 setup. But if you don’t have the space, cash or permission to add extra channels, then the 3.1 configuration makes a neat and compact way of experiencing the Blu-ray format.
Style conscious consumers can rest assured that the SC-BT100’s main unit is attractive, sporting an all-black finish with some tasteful green lights and flashes of silver. The front-mounted flaps feel a little plasticky to the touch but the middle one conceals some exciting stuff, namely an iPod dock and card slot that supports regular SD and SDHC cards. The wall-mountable front/centre speakers and Kelton subwoofer look unremarkable but feel chunky and robustly built.
The system’s HDMI output is version 1.3, and will support Deep Colour should anyone ever decide to release any content, plus Viera Link. The all-digital port is joined by component, S-video and composite video outputs, as well as optical digital audio output and input, the latter enabling you to play back surround sound from a Sky box. Finally there are minijack outputs that connect to the wireless rear channel transmitters and an FM antenna input for the built-in radio tuner.
As with most of its products, Panasonic packs the SC-BT100 with more features than you can shake a stick at, which on paper makes it look like good value for money despite its fairly steep price tag. Aside from its Profile 1.1 spec, which among other things includes the ability to view picture-in-picture commentaries, the most significant feature is decoding of lossless Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks, as well as Dolby Digital Plus, DTS HD, Dolby Digital and DTS.
Also on board are Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS Neo:6, which are useful for turning stereo sources into convincing surround sound, and if you don’t fancy forking out for the rear speakers then Dolby Virtual Speaker technology is on hand to deliver pseudo 5.1-channel sound.
On the video side, the system outputs Blu-ray pictures in the cinematic, judder-free 1080/24p format, and can upscale DVDs to 720p, 1080i or 1080p. The system’s video capabilities are boosted by the presence of the proprietary UniPhier chip, which features a suite of picture processing technologies developed by Panasonic Hollywood Labs designed to bring out the best in Blu-ray and upscaled DVD pictures.
Among these technologies is the PHL Chroma Processor, which upsamples colour information from 4:2:0 to 4:2:2 in order to more faithfully recreate the nuances of Blu-ray pictures, plus P4HD, which processes more than 15 billion pixels per second to deliver smooth movement, clean diagonal lines and enhanced hi-def detail.
The use of bamboo in the woofer and tweeter speaker cones allows Panasonic to ‘panda’ to the needs of audiophiles (sorry) with a responsive, detailed sound that suits Blu-ray’s high-resolution audio formats. Meanwhile the passive Kelton subwoofer features two internal chambers, with the front chamber acting as a filter that reduces unwanted noise.
It’s great to see that the BT100 supports a healthy range of compressed AV formats, too, including MP3, JPEG and DivX, plus AVCHD video captured on a compatible HD camcorder can also be played via the SD card slot or from recordable DVDs.
The operating system uses a similar design to its recorders, which is good news given how easy to use they are. From the setup menu to playback banners, every single onscreen display is sensibly structured, colourful and easy to read, which makes this system a joy to use. The iPod control screens are very impressive, displaying song lists with the same level of clarity as the other menu screens.
The remote is terrific, sporting Panasonic’s usual large buttons arranged in a confusion-free layout, with most of the important functions and menus given their own keys. Particularly noteworthy are the PIP and Secondary Audio keys which enable you to turn BonusView features on and off instantly.
Unsurprisingly, the SC-BT100’s Blu-ray picture quality is immaculate. Viewed on a 1080/24p capable Toshiba LCD, Sony’s ”Spider-Man 3” disc looks absolutely sensational, boasting picture quality so intensely sharp and vibrant that it almost sucks you into the screen. What grabs you first is the astonishing amount of detail packed into the image, which the P4HD processing brings to the screen with no noise whatsoever – there are loads of excellent examples during the movie but stand-outs include the scene in which Sandman first gathers himself together, or the shot of The Daily Bugle building at the start of chapter 14.
The BonusView functionality is flawlessly integrated. With the ”Resident Evil: Apocalypse” disc, the picture-in-picture commentary pops up instantaneously and when secondary audio is switched on the main movie sound volume dips when the commentary starts (something that didn’t always happen on the DMP-BD30). Also pleasing is the deck’s effortless handling of tricky Java content (like ”Spider-Man 3’s” swooping enhanced main menu).
The system can also produce sweet, cohesive sound quality that convincingly conveys the extra resolution of lossless movie soundtracks. But while the extra top-end detail on offer gives ”Spider-Man 3’s” Dolby True HD track a pleasing level of clarity, the digital amplifier at the heart of the system occasionally makes it sound a bit harsh.
We’re impressed by the amount of power on tap (rated at 1,000W, 250W per channel), which allows the front and centre speakers to get nice and loud while maintaining an element of control. And although the subwoofer’s bass output is satisfyingly fulsome, it can get a bit boomy at loud volumes so it pays to keep the level set fairly low if you don’t want it to overpower the other speakers. We also tried out the wireless rears and they deliver surround effects and ambience with pleasing clarity, plus the wireless connection seems robust.
With Peter Jackson’s ”The Frighteners” DVD in the tray, we were pleased by the quality of the unit’s upscaling, making this visually complex movie look terrific thanks to its accurate, focused detail and natural colour reproduction. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack also sounds great.
For good measure we tested the system’s musical chops with the remastered version of Marvin Gaye’s ”Trouble Man” soundtrack and the results were enjoyable, particularly its warm reproduction of the emotive strings of ”Poor Abbey Walsh”, but it lacks the finesse and transparency of a good separates system.
There’s no denying the sheer quality of the SC-BT100, which dazzles with a superb feature list, sublime hi-def picture quality and a satisfying sound performance. On the downside, it’s a shame that it’s not a 5.1 system as standard, as having to fork out for extra wireless speakers and the relevant gear is a bit rich given the already high price. Also, the lack of BD Live as found on the DMP-BD50 is a minor disappointment, but these minor gripes aside this is yet another killer proposition from Panasonic.
Score in detail
|Number of Speakers||5.1|
|Power (Watt)||1250 (RMS)W|