For the front and surround speakers, Panasonic has opted for slim tallboy columns that boast 65mm cones made from rigid, low-density bamboo, which (according to Panasonic) has a few sonic advantages over regular cones. Each speaker comes in three parts and when assembled stands just over a metre high. Build quality is underwhelming – the speakers feel hollow and unsubstantial plus the springclip terminals on the back are fiddly, but from a distance they look attractive enough.
Oddly the compact, horizontal centre speaker doesn’t share this lightweight build quality. It’s heavy, solidly bolted together and also uses bamboo cones, which is particularly good at reproducing dialogue, apparently. The passive Kelton subwoofer is pleasingly compact and internally it’s divided into two completely sealed spaces, with a drive unit mounted in the back space that causes the air in the front space to vibrate. This causes an ‘Acoustic Filter’ effect, which absorbs unwanted noise while vibrating the 250mm passive radiators.
So on to features and the SC-BT205 is positively bursting with them. The integrated Blu-ray player is Profile 2.0 compliant, which means you can hook up to the web and download bonus movie-related content – provided you have at least 1GB of memory loaded into the SD card on the front. The deck also features Viera Cast, which provides access to YouTube and Google Picasa, plus other forthcoming services like Bloomberg, The Weather Channel and Eurosport.
You’d feel pretty short-changed these days if you bought a home cinema system that didn’t play all the main digital media formats, and while the BT205 won’t let you down, it’s not as obliging as it could be. It accepts DivX (including VOD files), JPEG and MP3 from DVD, CD and USB, but ask it to play WMA, WMV or DivX HD you’d have more luck getting John Prescott to leave an all-you-can-eat buffet.
You can play AVCHD, SD video and JPEG from SD cards, and disc support is sound – it spins every type of recordable DVD, CD and Blu-ray disc.
The system decodes Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD, plus regular Dolby Digital and DTS. Like any system worth its salt, there’s a wide range of sound settings, including Dolby Pro Logic II Movie and Music, S. Surround (which plays stereo sources through all speakers) or you can leave it up to the system to decide according to the type of material. There’s also a range of EQ settings (Flat, Heavy, Clear, Soft), Centre Focus, which re-directs dialogue to make it appear to emanate from the TV, and Whisper-mode Surround for late-night listening.
Setup is easy. The clear colour-coded terminals on the back of the main unit let you know exactly where to stick all the speaker cables, and you don’t have to spend hours tweaking all the levels and distances yourself – the Smart Setup mode (which runs when you first boot up the system) sets them automatically by running though a series of test tones, which are picked up by the microphone. The process takes no more than 30 seconds.
The initial start-up sequence also runs through language, aspect ratio and the speaker position options – by the time you get to the main menu, you’re all set.