HDD and disc recording and an outstanding video performance makes this an impressively flexible system
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Like the SC-HT1500, Panasonic's SC-HT37R boasts an 80GB HDD and stylish, floor-standing speakers. (Also like the SC-HT1500, setup is more time-consuming than with the other systems owing to the extremely fiddly nature of the speaker stands!) The twin main units, however, have more in common with those of its more affordable sibling, the SC-HT25R.
In addition to its 80GB HDD, the SC-HT37R can record onto DVD-RAM (rewriteable) and DVD-R (write-once) discs - two of the rival formats. There are four recording modes, offering varying recording times and qualities, with an impressive maximum recording time of 142hrs on HDD and 8hrs on disc.
The two highest-quality modes (XP and SP) and those most likely to be used, however, and offer 17hrs/1hr and 34hrs/2hrs respectively. Other handy features include VideoPlus for user-friendly timer recordings, and Panasonic's TimeSlip, for watching the beginning of a programme while it's still being recorded.
As with the SC-HT1500, the SC-HT37R offers an impressive set of connections. Progressive scan-capable component video outputs for top-notch pictures to your flatscreen are the highlights, while there's also a generous three Scarts - thankfully including both an RGB output and input. Unlike the JVC in this test, this means the Panny can connect to a digibox via RGB, for good-quality recordings.
For audio there are the usual Dolby Digital and DTS decoders for 5.1 DVD soundtracks, and Dolby Pro-Logic II processing for stereo sources. Playback of DVD-Audio is also claimed, but be warned - the system is unable to play the discs in their high-resolution or surround sound mode, which is a bit of a shame at this price.
The SC-HT37R turns in an impressive performance with both DVD and HDD recordings. Naturally, the top two modes (XP and SP) produce the best results - the costumes in Desperate Housewives looked just as over-the-top as in the original broadcast. But you'll often want to fit more onto the HDD or a disc, so we're happy to report that LP and even EP are sufficient for day-to-day use - despite being more muted and prone to artefacting with fast-paced material.
A run-through of Pirates of the Caribbean showed the Panny to be even more capable with pre-recorded DVDs. Colour and contrast are outstanding, and really brought the film to life. Details were superbly realised, even during tricky night-time scenes aboard the undead pirates' ship, and images looked very sharp.
As with some other systems, the Panny's audio is not quite as all-conquering as the video performance. The elegant speakers picked up subtle effects from the Pirates soundtrack, but at times sounded a little thin with actionpacked scenes. The sub compensates for this, however, taking a prominent role and providing plenty of bass depth, and voices had good clarity through the centre speaker. CD playback is also respectable, though the above-mentioned DVD-Audio limitations are disappointing.
With both HDD and disc recording and an outstanding video performance, the SC-HT37R is another impressively flexible system. It has much in common with its sibling, the Panasonic's SC-HT1500. But this latter model boasts a couple of refinements - like high-res DVD-A playback and a single, sleek main unit rather than bulky separates (not to mention being £100 cheaper) - that put the SC-HT37R in the shade.
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