- Space-saving speakers
- Built-in iPod dock
- Easy installation
- Fiddly springclips on speakers
- Disappointing subwoofer
- Poor onscreen layout
- Review Price: £299.97
- 1080p Up-Conversion
- Passive subwoofer
- HDMI output
- DVD player/receiver unit
- 5 satellite speakers
Panasonic continues to push the boundaries of Blu-ray with its cutting-edge players and systems, but that doesn’t mean the company is turning its back on DVD just yet. And why should they? With discs going for peanuts in supermarkets and the nation’s shelves heaving with standard-def discs, there’s plenty of life left in the format yet. So if you’re looking for an affordable all-in-one home cinema system but aren’t quite ready to upgrade to Blu-ray, then the SC-PT480 might be just the ticket.
As systems go it’s as simple as they come – five bookshelf style satellite speakers, a combined DVD player/receiver unit and a passive subwoofer. The DVD/receiver is a straight-laced set-top box, which lacks glamour but is by no means an eyesore. It’s adorned with a glossy plastic front panel, part of which drops down to reveal the disc tray, and there’s a nicely-sized display panel on the right. This shows the running time by default, but switches to the current Title and Chapter when you press a button on the remote. Pleasingly, Panasonic has squeezed all the electronics into a very slim case, which won’t take up much space under your TV.
The rear panel is sparse but covers the essentials. You get an HDMI output, which allows you to take advantage of the deck’s 720p, 1080i, and 1080p upscaling, as well as a Scart output for older TVs. On the audio side there are analogue stereo and optical digital inputs, which will come in handy if you want to channel your Sky or Freeview box through the system. Otherwise that’s it, apart from the FM radio aerial and speaker terminals.
The supplied speakers are ideal for rooms with very little space to play with. The identical fronts and rears stand just 119mm high, which makes it easy to perch them on shelves or cabinets, while the horizontal centre channel is equally compact. What’s more, they’re a lot more robust and attractive than we expected (based on our experience with some previous Panasonic systems), sporting a fabric mesh over the front and subtly curved corners. The springclip terminals on the back of each one are a bit fiddly but overall these are impressive little speakers.
They’re joined by a subwoofer that’s equally living-room friendly in terms of size, measuring 289mm high and 145mm wide. But its build quality is more indicative of the price tag – it’s light and hollow, with an ugly exposed MDF back panel. It’s also passive, which means you’re not likely to get the same sort of tight, powerful bass punch as you would from a powered sub, but then that’s par for the course at this price.
Perhaps this system’s most attractive feature is the built-in iPod dock, located under a flap on top of the unit. All types of iPod are supported (including the iPhone) with the relevant dock insert and you can play music, videos and photos using the system’s interface. Additionally, there’s a USB port on the front that allows you to play MP3, WMA, DivX, MPEG-4 and JPEG without having to load everything onto disc first. It’ll also play the same file types from DVD and CD, plus it spins most recordable DVD formats except DVD-RAM.
Elsewhere on the spec sheet, the system musters a quoted total power output of 1000W, and features a range of surround sound modes. These include Dolby Pro Logic II Movie/Music and S.SRD, which outputs sound from all speakers even with stereo material. Additionally there’s Center Focus, which shifts centre channel information to sound like it’s coming from the TV; H.Bass, which enhances low frequencies; Whisper Mode Surround for late-night listening; and a range of EQ modes (Flat, Heavy, Clear, Soft). These features all have their own dedicated buttons on the remote, which makes it easy to switch between them.
But that’s not all. If you hit the Functions button during playback, you’ll uncover even more picture and sound tweaks. These include a range of picture presets (Cinema, Dynamic, Animation and Normal), Panasonic’s ever-present Dialogue Enhancer and HD Enhancer. Using this Functions display, you can also check the status of the HDMI output and access a wide range of other helpful info relating to the current disc. Whether you find them useful or not, it’s good to see Panasonic packing in as many features as possible for the money.
Setup is a breeze. All of the cables are provided, and each one is colour coded not only to correspond with the terminals on the back of the main unit, but also to ensure that the exposed ends are plugged into the correct clips on the speakers – this is important to ensure that they’re not rigged up ‘out of phase’. You even get little stickers to label the cables for future use. As for speaker positioning, you can arrange them in the traditional layout or put them all at the front of the room and use the on-board audio processing to create an expansive soundstage.
The onscreen layout is a tad disappointing. Hit the Start key to access the main menu and the displays are a slightly more rudimentary version of Panasonic’s Blu-ray player menus, using the same blue and yellow colour scheme. Although they’re not complicated, the layout initially seems a bit muddled and the cursor moves around some areas of the setup menu sluggishly. You’ll get used to it after a while but in general this isn’t Panasonic at its user-friendly best.
That said, the remote is up to Panasonic’s usual standards. The chunky buttons, clever segregation of the different sections and foolproof labelling make it the sort of zapper even a five year old could master.
The biggest surprise is how good the system sounds with movies. We have to admit that our expectations are fairly low when it comes to inexpensive one-box systems like this, but the SC-PT480 easily exceeds them with a smooth, confident performance.
With Lord of the Rings back in the spotlight due to its Blu-ray release this month, we thought it apt to test this system with the DVD version of The Two Towers. And the breathtaking action scenes in this fantasy classic sound superb – the stomping footsteps of the Uruk-hai armies fill the room with a loud, meaty rumble, while the chaotic battle of Helm’s Deep is reproduced with a sharp, zesty energy as arrows swish from front to back, and swords meet with a crisp, controlled clank. The speakers don’t distort greatly at loud volumes and there’s little of the harshness that usually blights systems at this price, which is a real bonus.
What’s more, dialogue is cleanly articulated from the centre channel, even during the frantic battle scenes. The sound is also a lot bigger than the size of the speakers would suggest, and although its not the most powerful we’ve ever clapped ears on, the neighbours will certainly know it’s movie time chez vous.
The weak link is the subwoofer, which certainly makes its presence felt but doesn’t gel particularly well with the satellites, making the bass sound detached and boomy. And while we’re on a negative note, the SC-PT480’s speakers lack the sort of forensic detail insight and transparency you get from pricier speakers, which is demonstrated by the hard-to-hear ambience during quieter scenes. Nonetheless as one-box systems in this price range go, this is certainly one of the better examples.
Music playback from CDs isn’t particularly sophisticated but will sound fine to undemanding ears. There’s no distortion, a decent balance across the frequency range and a healthy dollop of bass, although the sub’s boomy quality will have you reaching for the level control. MP3 and WMA files also scrub up well, rounding up a decent audio performance.
As for pictures, we can find very little to fault. Upscaled to 1080p, the detailed landscapes of Middle Earth are reproduced with pleasing clarity, while colours look eminently natural and nuanced. We couldn’t spot any artefacts like blocking, mosquito noise or edge jaggies and motion is tracked with impressive fluidity – even during The Two Towers’ incredibly busy climax. The picture boasts depth and sharpness during bright and dark scenes, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
On the face of it, the SC-PT480 is a fairly unremarkable one-box cinema system, with an old-school DVD deck, understated looks and a seemingly basic spec sheet. But take it for a test drive and it’s full of surprises – sound quality is highly enjoyable, picture quality is terrific and there’s a clutch of decent features to play with, including a built-in iPod dock, USB media playback and loads of sound modes.
What’s more, build quality is a vast improvement on some Panasonic systems we’ve encountered and the compact speakers are a breeze to install – all of which makes it a decent choice if you’re on a tight budget and don’t fancy upgrading to Blu-ray just yet.
Score in detail
|Number of Speakers||5.1|
|Power (Watt)||1000 (RMS)W|
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