History tells us that one-box home cinema bundles rarely match the quality of a decent separates system, but for sheer convenience they simply can’t be beaten. And when it comes to Blu-ray, convenience and set-up simplicity are even more vital, given the potentially brain-frazzling compatibility issues surrounding Blu-ray’s HD audio formats.
So it’s with that in mind that we say hello to the SC-BT205, one of Panasonic’s latest all-in-one Blu-ray home cinema systems. It comes with a combined Blu-ray player/receiver unit, which serves up 1000W of audio power as well as decoding Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, plus you get a set of four tallboy speakers, a centre speaker and a passive Kelton subwoofer.
While it’s not the most jaw-dropping system we’ve ever seen, its mirrored fascia injects a touch of high-tech bling and the black finish elsewhere is tasteful enough. What’s less forgivable though is the hollow, plasticky build quality of the main unit and speakers, which is not what you expect at this price.
The main unit’s front panel is a carnival of connectivity. Not only does it boast an SD card slot and a USB port, but there’s also an iPod dock that slides out from the middle of the fascia. With your iPod hooked up you can use the system’s onscreen menus and remote to play your music, videos and photos.
The SD card slot can be used to play AVCHD, SD video (MPEG2) and JPEG files, or you can shove a flash drive into the USB port and enjoy DivX, MP3 and JPEG playback – but there’s no support for WMA, DivX HD or MKV.
The rear panel sadly lacks HDMI inputs but there are two optical digital inputs and an analogue stereo input to cover your other equipment. Among the other sockets are HDMI, Component and Composite video outputs and an input for the FM radio tuner.
If you’re repulsed by the sight of cables then you can even install an optional wireless kit (SH-FX70), which sends surround information wirelessly to a receiver at the back of the room, which in turn is connected to the rear speakers.
And because the system’s Blu-ray deck is a fully-fledged Profile 2.0 affair, you’ll also find an Ethernet port on the back that lets you download bonus movie content, as well as view YouTube clips and Google Picasa photos through the Viera Cast web portal. On the downside, you have to load up an SD card to store BD Live downloads as there’s no built-in memory.
The features don’t stop there – there’s a range of sound modes to play with (including Dolby Pro Logic II) and the system is equipped with the superb UniPhier chip, which uses P4HD processing to pull all the picture strings.
Set-up is a piece of cake thanks to the colour-coded speaker terminals and the Smart Setup mode, which sets all the sound parameters automatically using a microphone and a series of test tones. You also get a top-drawer remote, which boasts perfectly-sized, clearly-labelled buttons.
Just like Panasonic’s superlative DMP-BD60 and BD80 standalone players, the SC-BT205’s picture quality is impeccable. The depth, solidity and unadulterated clarity of the picture is a wonder to behold, making good quality Blu-ray transfers like The Dark Knight or Mamma Mia! look absolutely spellbinding.
It’s also a dab hand on the sonic front, with the speakers’ bamboo cones blasting out Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio tracks with rare relish. It’s miles better than the hard, tainted sound of last year’s SC-BT100 – the sound is richly detailed, smooth and packed with plenty of oomph in the bass department, although the sub does get a little overbearing at times and could do with being a bit punchier. On the whole though, it’s a masterful performance by typical one-box standards.
The SC-BT205 is a solid all-in-one system that gets you a wealth of nifty features, astonishingly good picture quality and classy sound – all without the hassle that normally comes with buying a Blu-ray system. The only caveats are the lack of HDMI inputs and disappointing build quality, which are not what you expect from a system costing over £600.