The Panasonic SC-BTT262 is a 3D-capable home-cinema kit that includes a Blu-ray player, a 2.1-channel speaker system and an iPod dock. It's aimed at people who are fed up with the sound that their TV produces, but don't have the space for a full 5.1-channel speaker system.
The SC-BTT262 will be out soon for around £350, so let's find out how it performs.
The SC-BTT262 is a pretty compact package, but it still packs in tonnes of features. Among them is an iPod dock, which means you can have instant access to all your favourite music without having to faff about connecting a laptop to external speakers. It folds away neatly when not in use and slides out when you want to listen to music. The dock also supports video, which is excellent news if you have iTunes video purchases that you want to watch on a TV.
With the advent of the HDMI 1.4 specification came a new system called Audio Return Channel (ARC). It allows a TV to send its audio to an AV receiver via a single HDMI cable. This means you can take the audio from your TV and amplify it using the SC-BTT262. It's incredibly simple to set up.
The SC-BTT262 includes Panasonic's Viera Cast Web portal. Eagle-eyed readers may notice that the company is in the process of moving to a new system, called Viera Connect. None of this year's Blu-ray players will have the new service, however. That's bad news for one particular reason -- the lack of iPlayer on Viera Cast.
We've never much cared for Viera Cast, as it really just offers a portal to YouTube and other short-form video content. We don't object to Viera Cast's presence, but we wouldn't go out of our way to hook this player up to our network to use it. There's no wireless option on this player either -- wired Ethernet is the only connectivity option.
We were surprised by this home-cinema system's incredible bass. The subwoofer is tiny, but, like a baby, it makes a large amount of noise for its size. Its low-end punch has surprising authority.
After watching a couple of test discs, it became clear that the SC-BTT262 actually overdoes the bass slightly. This isn't a problem, though, because knocking the subwoofer level down from four -- the maximum -- to three makes everything much more measured and less booming.
The SC-BTT262's audio is excellent overall. It's a massive improvement on the sound you'll get from your TV's speakers, and it has incredible range, given the system's compact size.
Likewise, video looks clean and crisp, with plenty of magnificent fine detail. We always expect that from an Blu-ray player, but sometimes we're still left disappointed. That's really not the case here, though. The player lives up to Panasonic's reputation for impressive picture quality.
The system's new-look menus also impress. They look well-polished and are a great improvement on the company's older menus. They were functional but dull.
Missing centre channel
The problem with 2.1-channel systems is always that the most important part of the sound isn't given the prominence it deserves. We're talking about the centre channel, which carries all of the dialogue in movies and TV shows that are made in surround sound.
With the SC-BTT262, the centre audio is sent to the stereo speakers. That's fine, and the resulting sound is clear in most circumstances. But, if there are plenty of sound effects, explosions or music in the soundtrack, speech can sometimes be drowned out slightly. This happens far less if you have a dedicated centre channel.
Ideally, Panasonic would make a 3.1-channel system and include the precious dialogue channel. Still, for most purposes, the lack of such a channel isn't a huge problem.
We really like the Panasonic SC-BTT262. It has a great 3D Blu-ray player, and the 2.1-channel speakers and iPod dock are very handy. If you're sick of your TV's speakers, the SC-BTT262 will really improve your home-cinema experience.
Edited by Charles Kloet