Panasonic's SC-BTT775 is a multi-talented home cinema beast, offering 3D Blu-ray playback, HDMI switching, a smattering of Smart TV services and a complete 5.1 surround sound system with the option to add extra wireless surround back speakers.
Like the subwoofer, the cylindrical tallboy speakers feel solid enough, but attaching them to their stands is a bit of a faff. Nor is the end result that appealing - they have a tendency to wobble.
While the system is no catwalk queen, at least the menu has a contemporary look with icons that pulse when selected.
Colour-coded speaker plugs make set up simple. CGI movies often have the most inventive soundtracks and provide ideal workouts for surround sound systems, and the Monsters Vs Aliens 3D Blu-ray has several scenes that prove how adept the SC-BTT775 is in the audio department.
At the start of the scene where Susan is chased through downtown San Francisco, a piece of paper blows across the screen from front right to rear left, breaking the silence. It's a visual 3D trick, but its movement is enhanced by the journey of the fluttering sounds across the soundscape.
Then, as you hear the thumping strides of a giant robot, the room starts to vibrate as the sub/sat combo gradually wells up. But everything is nicely controlled, as Susan's breath can still be clearly heard through the centre channel.
Furthermore, the clunk of a lamp post hitting the ground is bombastic enough to startle you, and the cooing of pigeons can clearly be heard from the rears. However, as Susan approaches Golden Gate Bridge and the orchestration of the music starts to dominate, it becomes less clear where sounds are coming from and the system feels a little overwhelmed. I opted to turn it down.
Fantastic Four's DTS-HD Master soundtrack lacks the sonic craft of Monsters Vs Aliens, but still comes through with gusto. Dialogue such as Ben's self-pitying muttering on the Brooklyn Bridge is pin-sharp, but at higher volume the centre channel starts to sound a tad harsh. And as the crash scene unfolds, you realise how the system's beanpole speakers don't quite have the welly to cope with cacophonous sounds.
The sub fares better – with Avatar's DTS-HD Master soundtrack the opening shot of the space ship is given tremendous impact by the thunderous rumble of its engines.
One of the BTT775's many claimed talents is Cinema Surround Plus, which aims to deliver a 22-channel effect via a lot of virtual height and width tomfoolery. The results are noticeable, with certain material, but whether it really adds to the audio experience is debatable. AV purists will choose to avoid it.
Power consumption: Watts
Idle: 32 Watts
Playing: 95 Watts
Boot speed & tray eject: 11 seconds
Disc loading and Java: 50 seconds
All of these discs are complemented by superb visuals. The BTT775's player matches standalone decks in serving up some first-class images, with outstanding clarity, colour fidelity and contrast. Even the built-in upscaler makes a decent fist of turning standard-def DVDs into highly watchable pseudo-HD ones, although what classics such as The Long Good Friday gain in resolution they lose in some softness.
In general, 3D playback is excellent but 2D to 3D conversion is only partially successful. Early on in Avatar when Sully emerges from his long sleep, the hangar stretches far into the distance and can look amazing on a good 3D deck. Here, when converted from 2D it does look convincing, but can't match the real deal for impact. Similarly, the floating insects in the Na'vi jungle don't ping out like they should.
That said, it's a better 3D experience than Sky's 3D broadcast. When watching 3D you can play with the depth setting and impose a vignette of varying thickness and colour. This softens the edges and reduces eye strain, but can distract from the picture itself, particularly if you select red, blue or grey for the border. Moreover, it doesn't work with letterbox movies.
The BTT775's multimedia potential is a bit underwhelming. Unlike Panasonic's new TVs which feature the improved VieraConnect service, this all-in-one system carries the first-gen VieraCast service. This includes YouTube, Twitter, Skype and Acetrax, but sorely lacks iPlayer. And, despite DLNA capability, I was unable to get the BTT775 to talk with my Windows 7 laptop, nor would its iPod player recognise my iPod Touch, which is listed as being compatible.
Overall, the SC-BTT775 is a decent starter system for the fledgling home cinema fan. It does well visually and is no slouch sonically – but the build quality and vintage online portal disappoint.
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