Styled in gloss black, this Panasonic's unremarkable main unit could easily pass for a bog standard Blu-ray deck. But the SC-BT330 brings a number of multimedia experiences to the party, including VieraCast 'net video, DLNA networking, SD card playback and a built-in iPod/iPhone dock.
Throw in a 5.1 speaker system with 7.1 virtual surround, the latest HDMI with audio return channel and the option to upgrade to Wi-Fi rear speakers and Wi-Fi networking and you have a system with more cutting-edge features than a chain saw factory.
The speaker array comprises a pair of skinny tallboys, a side-firing sub, a diminutive centre and pair of bookshelf rears. All very tidy and unimposing. Equally tidy is the recessed iPod dock, lurking under a flap on the top of the unit.
Hooking up the speakers using the colour-coded bell-wire is a doddle, whilst the only other cables required are HDMI, Ethernet and possibly digital optical connections for a digibox, etc. Installation is made easy by an auto speaker setup mic and a Smart setup wizard.
There are also plenty of tweaks in the menus, such as manually setting the 1080p24 BD output. The remote control seems sensibly laid out and labelled once you get used to the fact that the curious Start button is the gateway to all non-disc menus.
Paired with a Panasonic G20 plasma, the BT330's deck does a dazzling job. The use of 4:4:4 signal technology delivers beautifully detailed and realistically coloured Blu-ray images whilst standard definition DVDs come up a real treat.
Of the BT330's multimedia tools I found the VieraCast internet video service limited but efficient. USB playback of JPEGs and MP3s is pretty decent, if clunky to navigate, whilst iPod videos can only be viewed via composite video, which is diabolical.
Sound quality doesn't match the giddy heights of the picture but isn't bad for a 'lifestyle' system. The best results are achieved with hi-res audio; Fantastic Four's DTS-HD Master Audio mix featured clear dialogue, properly imaged individual FX and explosions are truly enveloping, as the sub dovetails properly.
There are plenty of other formats to play with, including Dolby Pro-Logic II music and movies, which are fine with, say, a movie on TV but low-res audio sources really show up the limitations of the lifestyle speakers. If you like your sound loud then this isn't the system for you.
Overall this is the marriage of an excellent BD deck to a fairly decent audio system.
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