All-in-one systems are home cinema’s answer to a takeaway. Sure you could spend ages buying all the ingredients separately and seeing how they taste together, but sometimes all you want to do is buy it, take it home and get stuck right in.
And that sort of convenience is exactly what Panasonic offers with the SC-BT230. Everything you need for a wholesome home cinema diet is packed into one remarkably small box, including the Blu-ray player, 5.1 speakers, amplifier and decoders.
This system uses a set of sturdy compact satellite speakers, small enough to squeeze onto the tightest of spaces on your bookshelf, and it is accompanied by a small passive Kelton subwoofer. The main unit meanwhile is a sleek-looking machine, not a great deal bigger than a regular Panasonic player and styled in a fetching black finish with a few lights to break up the gloom.
The front panel features both an SD card slot and a USB port for your multimedia viewing and listening pleasure. It’ll play DivX HD, MP3 and JPEG from USB storage devices as well as AVCHD, JPEG and MPEG2 (SD Video) from SD, SDHC and SDXC cards. You even get a built-in iPod dock on top, one of the system’s standout features.
The system also comes with a nifty range of networking features, including access to Viera Cast, which brings YouTube, Picasa and Bloomberg to your living room TV. It’s good fun, but the novelty factor wears thin quickly with such limited content - Sony’s BRAVIA Internet Video and Samsung’s Internet@TV have much more longevity.
You can also stream MP3, DivX and JPEG files from DLNA-certified devices on your home network and download BD Live content, either by hooking up the Ethernet connection to your router or buying the DY-WL10 WLAN adapter, which plugs into the USB port on the back. At £80 it’s pricey, but could be a worthwhile purchase for the added convenience. Another optional extra is the SH-FX71 wireless kit for the rear speakers, but that’ll set you back another £100.
Connections are decent, with two optical digital audio inputs the most useful of the bunch, although it’s a shame Panasonic couldn’t stretch to HDMI inputs for external sources at this sort of price. The HDMI output supports the Audio Return Channel feature, which accepts audio signals from your TV while simultaneously sending sound the other way.
The system is remarkably easy to use thanks to the clear, colourful onscreen displays and foolproof remote. And despite taking a long time to load tricky Blu-ray discs (Terminator Salvation took well over a minute) the BT230 does a fantastic job of displaying them in glorious 1080/24p. The depth, sharpness and colour accuracy of its pictures is a wonder to behold, helped along by a formidable arsenal of picture processing tech, including P4HD, PHL Reference Chroma Processor Plus and High Precision 4:4:4 colour.
But things ain’t so rosy on the sonic front. The overall sound is thin and lacking oomph, which prevents it from achieving the required sense of scale for big action sequences. High-pitched sounds seem shrill and explosions lack impact - flaws for which the sub’s inconspicuous performance is mostly to blame. You’ll need to activate H.Bass and turn it to its highest level to get any joy.
It’s not all bad though. Dialogue sounds clear, there’s a decent sense of surround envelopment and the satellites deliver HD audio detail crisply. And music playback is much better than movies, as the shortcomings of the sub aren’t as much of a problem when playing CDs.
If you’re looking for a convenient Blu-ray system with lots of features and cracking pictures, and you’re not overly fussed about getting the best sound quality, then the SC-BT230 is worth a look. But considering what’s in the box, £450 seems remarkably expensive particularly when you consider the lack of built-in Wi-Fi and HDMI inputs. You’re much better off seeking out a system like the Sony BDV-E370 or LG HB965TZ, which offer better sound quality and even more features for a similar price tag.