- Excellent hi-def pictures
- Friendly operating system
- 3D Cinema Surround
- Plasticky front panel and speakers
- Clumsy Viera Connect layout
- Sounds a bit coarse at loud volumes
- Lacks HDMI inputs and Wi-Fi
- Review Price: £360.99
- 3D Blu-ray playback
- 3D Cinema Surround
- DLNA certified
- Viera Connect
- 1000W power output
We’ve been absolutely bombarded by Panasonic products recently, testament to the breadth of its home cinema range and the proactiveness of its PR team. The latest product we’re having a gander at is the Panasonic SC-BTT190, the entry-level 5.1-channel Blu-ray system which combines a 1000W Blu-ray receiver with five compact satellites and a passive subwoofer. Think of it as the 2.1-channel SC-BTT182 expanded to a full 5.1 system.
As an entry-level system it lacks some of the embellishments found on the step-up SC-BTT290, but if you can live without them you save yourself £49, which you can spend on a couple of Blu-ray discs. And even with those omissions, the Panasonic SC-BTT190 is still a solid one-box system that gets you all the home entertainment basics in one go at a much lower price than separates.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190 brings nothing new to the table aesthetically, but won’t let your living room down either. The gloss-black finish of the Blu-ray receiver’s fascia gleams nicely in the light and looks neutral enough not to clash with other black components in your system, while the 47mm height keeps it nice and slim. The aluminium bodywork elsewhere is pleasing, bringing a sense of solidity to the back end, yet up-close that fascia has an element of cheapness about it, which isn’t the case on systems higher up Panasonic’s range.
For starters, there’s no flap – the USB port and SD card slot are exposed the whole time – and unlike the Panasonic SC-BTT290, there’s no integrated iPod dock, which leaves a large blank space where it would have been. Instead, the USB port provides a direct connection for Apple devices, and these can be controlled onscreen. There are a few buttons dotted along the top, while an LED display gives pertinent information in large digits.
The rear panel houses a limited line-up of sockets, again reflecting this system’s entry-level position. Most telling is the lack of HDMI inputs, which makes it more difficult to run other components like digital TV boxes and games consoles through the system. You do get optical digital and analogue stereo inputs, but you’ll have to connect the video separately, which is less convenient than hooking up a single HDMI cable. Of course, there is an HDMI v1.4 output, which supports Full HD 3D pictures, an Ethernet port and aerial input for the FM radio.
You also get a second USB port, which has to be shared between the wireless LAN dongle and Skype communication camera (both optional extras) as Wi-Fi isn’t built in. Working out what goes where might get a bit tricky – if you want to use Skype via Wi-Fi, the camera has to go in the front port – so if you don’t like faffing about then this might be a compelling reason to upgrade to the model-up SC-BTT290.
The speakers are incredibly compact, each one measuring just 139mm high. That’s great news if you want to place them around the lounge without impinging on your living space. The gloss black finish is also very alluring, likewise the circle surrounding the 6.5mm full range driver. The centre speaker is longer and horizontally configured to fit in front of your TV, with a Piezo type super tweeter to accompany its full range driver.
But on a more negative note they also feel light and hollow, lacking the heft you’d get from a dedicated speaker package, but that’s par for the course.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190 does everything you’d expect of a 5.1-channel Blu-ray system. It spins 2D and 3D hi-def 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 – the list 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.
And if you’ve invested in that wireless LAN dongle, or hooked up the Ethernet port to your router, this DLNA-certified system will let you stream the same 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). 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 from those. Smartphone or tablet owners can stream content to their device from a server using the SC-BTT190 as a renderer.
As you’d expect, the Panasonic SC-BTT190 will decode Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, but for added immersion Panasonic’s 3D Cinema Surround attempts to expand the 5.1-channel soundstage using 25 virtual speakers that ping sound horizontally and vertically through something called “direction perception control technology”. It’s the sort of thing that home cinema purists have nightmares about, but for casual listeners looking for added aural excitement it could be very welcome indeed. A simpler 7.1ch Virtual Surround setting creates pseudo surround back channels.
Naturally there’s a cavalcade of other sound modes to fiddle with, including Digital Tube Sound, designed to add extra depth and body to music; a range of EQ settings; H.Bass; subwoofer level presets and Centre Focus. High Clarity Sound Plus shuts down the video circuitry in a bid to stop to interfering with the audio signals. There’s even a bunch of presets and enhancements for finding the perfect picture, including some specifically for 3D playback.
Last but by no means least is Viera Connect. Panasonic has upgraded all its new Blu-ray players and systems to this improved version of Viera Cast, adding BBC iPlayer and Netflix to the line-up as well as a Market that lets you add any new apps that become available. The quality and quantity of content still can’t live up to the Sony Entertainment Network, and there are fewer games and puzzles than Samsung’s Smart Hub or LG’s Smart TV – but that might be a blessing. The layout could do with a tweak too, as the apps are split over several pages.
But Viera Cast is the only onscreen display we have a problem with. The rest are superb, particularly the Home menu, which arranges all the key options (Setup, Music, Photos, Radio, Network etc) into a grid of icons, all presented in crisp HD graphics. Because there are so many options in the grid, you lose the one-press navigation system of Panasonic’s Blu-ray players, but having to press ‘OK’ instead is no great hardship.
One nice touch is the Multi-User Mode, which 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.
Elsewhere, menus like DLNA/USB playback and setup are functional rather than fancy with their basic colour schemes, yet 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. The system is a breeze to setup thanks to the colour coded cables and the onscreen menus that guide you through all the key settings when you first power it up.
We’re also fans of the remote, which again looks like it’s been designed with children in mind. Hence the large rubber buttons, the large capital letter labelling and the foolproof button layout, which allows you to navigate without having to glance down every few seconds.
As we’ve found with most of Panasonic’s all-in-one systems this year, the Panasonic SC-BTT190’s sound quality is highly enjoyable without ever blowing our socks off. It’s quite capable of making Blu-ray movies sound exciting, throwing effects around the room with a pleasing level of dynamism and vigour that keeps you engaged. Yet the budget construction of the speakers and a general lack of polish when it really counts stop it reaching the heights of a good separates system with dedicated compact speakers.
Super 8’s dramatic train crash sequence is a perfect way to demonstrate the system’s strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the scene’s top-end detail is crisply reproduced. As the train passes by the kids on the platform, there’s a gentle jangling of metal that the Panasonic picks out beautifully, accompanied by the sound of rushing wind and the gentle ding of the bell in the background. It’s the separation and clarity of this sort of detail that can really draw you into a movie.
The soundstage is also impressively organised, with the rear effects emerging clearly and accurately from the surround speakers and dialogue pinned firmly to the centre. 3D Cinema Surround enhances the soundstage surprisingly well, making it feel richer and fuller, with greater expansion and height – turn it off and the sound seems flat.
When the train hits the van, there’s a decent amount of aggression and pace during the barrage of bangs and crashes that follows, mainly thanks to the sterling efforts of the subwoofer. It contributes a thick layer of bass to these effects, making them sound suitably deep and threatening, and it also integrates nicely with the satellites. A good active sub would get you a tighter and more authoritative bass but as passive subs go it’s not bad.
But here the scene shows up one of the system’s weaknesses. You have to crank the system up fairly high to make an impact – anything below half way doesn’t get the pulse racing. But doing so causes the more forceful effects to sound a bit coarse and raspy, such as the white van crashing into the train or the huge shards of metal raining down around the soundstage. Prolonged listening at these volumes makes you feel like you’ve gone a couple rounds with Klitchko.
Better systems present these effects with more smoothness without compromising on attack, but for ‘better’ read ‘more expensive’, and that’s the whole point of a system like this – offering decent sound quality at an affordable price, and for that reason it would be churlish to complain.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190’s picture performance is less mixed. Whether you’re savouring the 3D delights of Avatar on a suitably equipped telly, or a plain 2D disc like The Dark Knight, the system displays the 1080p pictures with real panache. With the former, the colours and CG detail of the exquisite Pandoran backdrops are rendered with an entrancing level of clarity and depth, augmented by expertly handled stereoscopic layers. Objects move without blur or crosstalk and edges are clean as a whistle. Yes your TV plays a bigger part in the quality of 3D images but the deck does nothing to spoil the effect.
With The Dark Knight, the system’s superb contrast keeps the image well defined even during its many night scenes, backed up by punchy detail and an organic colour palette. The SC-BTT190 also loads discs relatively quickly, plus its network performance is excellent, streaming music, video files and apps without any fuss over an Ethernet connection.
The Panasonic SC-BTT190 is a solid Blu-ray system but not one of Panasonic’s best. Aesthetically it doesn’t inspire the same levels of excitement as an LG or Samsung, its sound quality loses polish at volumes other speakers take in their stride, and the lack of HDMI inputs and built-in Wi-Fi makes the step-up SC-BTT290 a more appealing prospect.
But the inclusion of DLNA, Viera Connect, iPod support, Skype and the impressive 3D Cinema Surround are not to be sniffed at, plus it’s incredibly easy to setup and use. So if all you want is an all-in-one system that does the basics with minimum fuss then it might be worth a look – otherwise check out the SC-BTT290 or similarly-priced systems with more features for the money.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7
|Number of Speakers||6|
|Audio Processing||3D Cinema Surround|
|Dolby Pro Logic II||Yes|
|DTS Master Audio HD||Yes|
|Composite Video In||No|
|Component Video In||No|
|Component Video Out||No|
|S/PDIF Optical In||Yes|
|S/PDIF Coax In||No|
|Stereo Line In||Yes|
|Stereo Line Out||No|
|iPod Dock||No (via USB)|