- Quality and quantity of features
- Stunning picture quality
- Detailed, engaging sound quality
- Sound suffers at loud volumes
- Viera Cast content
- Pricey Skype camera
- Review Price: £430.00
- 5.1-channel Blu-ray system
- Full HD 3D playback
- DLNA networking
- DivX HD and MKV playback
- Built-in iPod dock
The SC-BTT370 is also the 5.1-channel version of the SC-BTT362 2.1 system we tested recently, which impressed us with its state-of-the-art features and hugely enjoyable sound quality. So how does it fare when stretched to a 5.1 system?
Unsurprisingly the design is the same as the SC-BTT362. The two front speakers stand 404mm tall, which is actually quite large compared with the dinky sats you get with most all-in-one systems, but still manage to stay the right side of imposing. Their visual appeal is heightened by the slightly curved edges and circular stands, which are detachable and allow you to channel the cable inside them for maximum tidiness. Of course, the de rigueur gloss-black finish makes everything look as snazzy and modern as ever.
Also in the box are two rear satellites, which at 117mm high are so small you can plonk them on shelves or cabinets without the need for a major reshuffle. The centre speaker is equally easy to accommodate, measuring a dinky 145 x 81mm, while the passive subwoofer is styled in a fetching gloss black finish and is reasonably unobtrusive. All the relevant cables are supplied in the box, each one with a differently coloured plug that corresponds with the terminals on the back of the receiver.
As for the SA-BTT370 Blu-ray receiver, it looks identical to the other three Blu-ray systems we’ve covered. Measuring 38mm from floor to top panel it satisfies the modern-day clamour for all things slim, while there are plenty of treats to be found on the front panel, chief among which is the iPod dock tucked away in a pop-out tray on the right. Slot your iPod or iPhone onto this and you can listen to your music library through the system, all controlled using its remote and onscreen menus. It’s joined by a USB port that lets you connect other makes of MP3 player and devices, plus an SD card slot for multimedia playback and BD Live storage.
A very helpful array of sockets awaits on the rear panel, including two HDMI inputs that allow you to pass AV signals from external sources through the system to your TV – essential if your TV only sports a couple of inputs, or if you want to listen to TV shows in surround sound, for example. Even more pleasing is that the system will pass on signals when it’s in standby, so it doesn’t consume unnecessary power.
You also get a single HDMI output (a 3D-compatible v1.4 port no less), optical digital and analogue stereo inputs, composite video output, an Ethernet port, a second USB port for the Skype communication camera and a slot for the optional transmitter kit (SH-FX71), which facilitates wireless rear speakers.
We’ve covered Panasonic’s 2011 features extensively in our other recent reviews, but if you missed them here’s a recap. All of Panasonic’s Blu-ray systems are 3D-ready and will play the few discs that exist in glorious Full HD, supplying 1080p frames to the left and right eyes. However, you’ll need a compatible 3D TV to watch them on as well as a set of active shutter glasses, which in Panasonic’s case cost around £100. All of Panasonic’s systems and players also provide a range of adjustments for tweaking the look of the 3D image, including a controversial screen frame feature that puts a diffused border around the picture. It’s supposed to make it more comfortable to watch but we found it encroached on the image too much – thankfully it’s optional. You’ll also find depth and screen type adjustments.
The new Viera Connect internet portal found on Panasonic’s latest TVs has been shunned in favour of the Viera Cast system from last year, which counts YouTube, Picasa, Bloomberg and Twitter among its limited range of sites, but its entertainment value has been boosted considerably by the addition of Skype video calling. You’ll need the pricey TY-CC10W communication camera to use it (which costs as much as £120 from some online retailers) but it’s totally worth it – not only can you talk to family and friends through your TV, but other people can record messages onto an SD card and an auto answering message responds when you’re not there. It’s exceptionally easy to use thanks to the simple menus.
These online features are made possible by the built-in Wi-Fi adapter, a hugely convenient feature that eliminates the need for a cumbersome dongle (which in turn allows you to use the rear USB exclusively for the Skype camera). Once connected you can stream media content from networked PCs, as well as recordings sitting on the hard-disks of any web-enabled Panasonic recorders around your home. The list of supported formats isn’t as comprehensive as say, Samsung or LG, but should suffice for most users. It includes DivX HD, MKV, MP3 and JPEG, and the same formats are supported from USB devices, while JPEG, AVCHD and SD Video MPEG-2 are supported from SD cards.
On the audio side, the key feature is Cinema Surround Plus, which uses acoustic trickery to generate six virtual speakers in each of the horizontal and vertical planes, resulting in 22 speakers that provide a fuller and more encompassing soundstage. Another key feature is the use of a downward-firing subwoofer (as opposed to the side-firing subs used lower down the range) which uses the floor to generate more bass oomph. Those front speakers also utilise Anti-Distortion cones with an uneven thickness on the rear surface.
Like all of this year’s Panasonic Blu-ray kit, the SC-BTT370 features a newly revamped user interface, which makes it exceptionally easy to use. The main menu is presented in warm, welcoming colours and friendly icons. Sadly the number of functions it contains means Panasonic has had to abandon the ‘one-press’ navigation system found on its standalone players but even without it this is still one of the best menu systems around.
The settings menu contains a comprehensive array of tweaks laid out in a straightforward list format, while the more complex features are simplified by graphics-based wizards and plain English instructions. The remote certainly doesn’t make life complicated, as its big, clearly-labelled buttons and thoughtful layout almost makes it possible to navigate with your eyes closed. You don’t have long to wait for discs to load either, as Panasonic has made huge strides this year – it’s dependent on the disc of course, but expect Terminator Salvation to fire up in 40 seconds and Inception to get going in around 30 seconds.
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.
Score in detail