- Review Price: £485.99
The SC-PTX7 is a novel home cinema system that rips CDs onto a built-in 80GB hard-disk drive, turning it into a music juke box as well as a kick-ass movie machine.
However, with two front channel speakers and a subwoofer it’s not a full 5.1-channel system – but it’s not really 2.1 either. It’s actually a 3.1-channel system, with the two front speakers using clever technology to project dialogue into the space where a centre speaker would be. Meanwhile, Dolby Virtual Speaker is on board in a bid to make up for the lack of proper rear channels.
The system’s chunky yet compact main unit will upscale DVDs to 1080p via the HDMI output on the rear. The HDMI output is joined by an Ethernet port, which allows the unit to be hooked up to the Internet to download song and album names from the Gracenote CD database. The Ethernet port also lets you transfer digital music files onto the unit’s hard-disk from a PC, or stream them live.
If LAN isn’t your connection of choice, then you can also stream music wirelessly using the optional SH-FX570KE Bluetooth USB receiver, available for around £100.
Other connections include an RGB SCART, component, composite and S-video outputs, alongside analogue and digital audio inputs for connecting external sources. When ripping songs from external sources, Gracenote’s clever MusicID system recognises songs from their waveforms and tags them accordingly.
Astonishingly, there are even more sockets on the front panel. There’s a USB port for flash drives, MP3 players and the like, plus a 3.5mm line input (dubbed Music Port) for hooking up MP3 players in an analogue way. You can even connect Panasonic’s optional iPod dock and play music that way – the possibilities are endless.
Songs can be ripped from CD in high-quality LPCM or the more efficient AAC format, and when using the latter they can be ripped in one of three quality settings (XP, SP and LP). Tracks can be converted to a lower quality retrospectively to save space on the hard-disk, which holds roughly 39,000 songs in LP mode.
Not only does it play DVDs and CDs but also DVD-Audio, DivX, MP3, WMA and JPEG files. When playing music files, the Music Shuffle feature categorises your songs automatically according to their tempo, and then plays back songs to suit a certain mood, such as ‘mellow’.
The system’s amp generates a respectable power output of 330W, 100W of which is channelled to the slim passive subwoofer. The unit decodes Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, plus it offers Dolby Pro Logic II processing and a range of EQ modes.
The sheer amount of features on board means there’s loads to explore, but Panasonic’s canny menu design makes it a joy to navigate. Bold, bright colours and large text are the order of the day, with sensible submenu structures helping you find the right option in no time. The remote is very cluttered but the buttons are organised into helpful sections, and the main controls are pleasingly intuitive.
If you’ve never dabbled in networking before don’t worry, because set-up is very easy. But it helps if you’ve already installed a router with DHCP, as you can simply plug in the LAN cable and you’re ready to go.
In action, the SC-PTX7 is an impressive performer. Give it a decent disc to play with, such as ”Revenge of the Sith”, and it pumps out the sort of sharp, noise free pictures that we’ve come to expect from Panasonic DVD players. The use of 1080p upscaling helps of course, particularly on a Full HD TV, ensuring that every speck of detail is groomed and preened before being thrown on screen in all its glory.
As a result, the movie’s opening CG-heavy space battle looks magnificent, with well-resolved detail on spaceship close-ups, smoothly tracked movement and powerful colour reproduction. The blackness of space looks suitably deep, and try though we might we couldn’t spot a single trace of MPEG block noise. Thumbs up all round.
As for sound, the so-called Twin Centre technology does a fine job of projecting dialogue in between the two front channels, though Dolby Virtual Speaker mode fails to generate anything approaching surround sound – but at least it lends the soundstage a greater sense of space and width than regular stereo playback.
As a result, ”Sith’s” opening space scrap doesn’t immerse you in the action like it does on a 5.1-channel system, with no real sense that the action is taking place all around you. But the system makes up for it in other ways – the sub delivers well-controlled bass that injects drama into the proceedings, and the front speakers’ output is sharp, direct and undistorted at loud volumes.
And as a music player the SC-PTX7 excels. Songs ripped in LPCM sound every bit as detailed as they do when played from CD, and compressed AAC files are equally enjoyable. It does its best with DVD-Audio too, reproducing the extra sonic detail with ease – but once again our enjoyment of 5.1-channel discs is curtailed by the lack of rear speakers.
Under normal circumstances, a 2.1-channel system for over £450 would be considered expensive (some sites are even selling it for as much as £800, and don’t confuse the SC-PTX7 with the lower-specced SC-PTX5), but with so many unusual value-adding features on board that amount of cash feels strangely justified, especially if you don’t have the space (or permission) to install a full 5.1 setup.
We’re particularly keen on the jukebox feature, which is a godsend for those who use their home cinema system to play music as much as movies. Having network capability and Gracenote access on board makes ripping and organising music a hassle-free experience too.
Performance is also pleasing, with top-notch 1080p picture quality and a pseudo centre channel that sounds convincing. Only Dolby Virtual Speaker lets the side down, failing to generate the promised ‘5.1-channel effect’ – but then again, we’ve yet to hear a virtual surround mode that does.
Score in detail
|Number of Speakers||3.1|
|Power (Watt)||300 (RMS)W|
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