DVDs contain a great deal of entertainment, but many people are only getting half of it. Why not just accept that the picture is great and spend some time treating those lugholes of yours? The Panasonic SC-PT870 is a simple home-cinema system in a box, so there's nothing else to buy in order to start enjoying films with 5.1-channel digital surround sound. Just pop a disc in the tray, and off you go.
DVD player with extras
A DVD player isn't a DVD player these days unless it has a multitude of features to keep the youngsters happy. The SC-PT870 is no exception -- it can play back photos, MP3s, DivX and Xvid video files, as well as having a USB socket for portable thumb drives and an iPod dock.
Because it's also a surround-sound decoder and speaker system, you can use it to improve the quality of TV broadcasts, via a digital connection with your TV, or even Sky or Virgin set-top box.
As with all Panasonic's equipment, the SC-PT870 is built to last. It doesn't look like anyone at Panasonic HQ had any fun during the design phase, but that's really not the end of the world, because the SC-PT870 works perfectly the way it is.
The iPod dock is recessed and has to be pulled out of the front of the machine in order to place the iPod in its cradle. This is pretty neat, and keeps everything at the front looking tidy. The disc tray and USB socket are also contained behind little drop-down flaps that keep the machine looking sleek when nothing's connected.
At the back, HDMI and speaker connections provide everything you need to get up and running. The speaker sockets are a sort of pre-moulded plastic design and accept the connector on the end of the speaker cable with relative ease.
While the main DVD player feels to be of quite high quality, the speakers have a slightly cheap feel about them. Exposed chipboard is visible on the subwoofer, which is pretty unforgivable on a £350 unit.
Strangely, the centre speaker seems to be of higher quality, although our perception could just be a result of the fact that the extra shielding gives it more weight. The speaker cables are pretty flimsy too, which could impact sound quality slightly, but, in practice, at this level, it's not a massive problem.
Putting this system together is something of a pain. A fair amount of construction is required in order to get it up and running. This is particularly true of the 'tall-boy' speakers, which are made up of a base, a lower speaker stand and the main speaker. We'd suggest you earmark around an hour to get it all set up, and maybe more if you're unfamiliar with home-cinema systems.
The speaker connections are colour-coded, so it's worth making sure that you put the speakers in the right place. If you don't, it's not a disaster, but you'll have to jiggle the outputs to get the right noise coming out of the right speaker.
iPod dock vs USB
The SC-PT870 has a USB socket and an iPod dock, both designed to help you get music into your home cinema set-up. We tested both, and were very impressed with the iPod dock, and not at all impressed by the USB socket.
It seems that the SC-PT870 doesn't quite have the chops to decode MP3s and make them sound good on its own, but, when coupled with the processing might of the iPod, it produces a much more pleasant, warmer sound. MP3s from a USB stick sound distinctly tinny, with far too much high end, and muddy mids. If you're buying this system with a view to listening to music, make sure you're using an iPod or some other audio source with its own high-quality sound processing.
We liked the sound from movie soundtracks a great deal. The audio from our trusty The Terminator special edition always provides a good workout for these systems. As a benchmark, we used the scene close to the end of the film with Arnie driving the tanker, and we were very impressed with the results. Bass is well defined, with plenty of punch, but we never felt it overwhelmed the rest of the sound.
Dialogue was crisp and clear too, and that's a huge part of the enjoyment of films. Too often, when watching a movie on a TV, you'll find that you have to struggle to hear what people are saying, and that can ruin the experience.
We also tested the SC-PT870 with TV audio from a Panasonic plasma TV connected via the optical connection. This made a substantial improvement to the sound quality of broadcast TV and will be especially useful if you watch a large amount of drama, as such programmes could often benefit from a boost in sound quality.
The Panasonic SC-PT870 is a terrific system for everything except playing music via the USB socket. We like the DVD playback and the iPod dock, and, although the speakers don't feel particularly high-quality, they produce a pleasant-enough sound.
Edited by Charles Kloet