The ultra-affordable Panasonic SC-HT540 home cinema system is feature-packed. It's neatly put together with two floorstanding speakers to the front and smaller satellite models for the centre and rear surrounds. The speakers can also be wall mounted via keyhole slots at the back.
The SC-HT540 plays most discs, including DVD-video, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, DVD-R/RW as well as discs containing MP3, WMA, JPEG and DiVX content. Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound decoders are built-in, and Dolby Pro-Logic II processing converts stereo material into a convincing surround sound performance via its movie and music modes.
Sockets at the back cater for every kind of analogue TV video connection imaginable, with best-quality progressive scan capable component video sockets, an RGB-enabled Scart socket, as well as dedicated S-video and composite video sockets.
A 'music port' on the front panel provides hookup for an external audio source like an MP3 player, for example. Essentially, it's merely a 3.5mm jack input socket, but it's a neat touch if not quite as flexible as a fully compatible USB socket.
The remote may look cheap, but it swiftly navigates the smart onscreen menu system and provides a range of adjustments to help you tailor the system's performance exactly to your liking. It even optimises picture settings to the particular screen type that it's connected to.
Impressively, images from the SC-HT540 look almost flawless. With our test DVD of Walk the Line, colours are rich, skin tones look natural and there's plenty of detail, even during darker sequences.
The SC-HT540's surround sound performance also impresses, and the mid-sized subwoofer packs plenty of punch. Dialogue is nicely conveyed through the centre speaker and the subwoofer effectively underpins Joaquin Phoenix's voice and deals with the soundtrack effectively.
In fact, the subwoofer has a tendency to get a bit carried away at its factory-set level - taking it down a notch helps to achieve a more balanced sound. Audio CDs sound good through the SC-HT540 too, with the system putting in a good performance with this secondary function.
Panasonic has consistently delivered home cinema systems that combine facilities and performance. The feature-heavy SC-HT540 continues the company's high standard and is an indisputable best buy at a price that won't break the bank.