Good looking, easy to use and good picture and sound, but no surprises
Easy to install
Good sound quality
Picture is bright and clear
Not exactly cutting edge
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Despite the appearance of DVD-Audio, DiVX and DVD-RAM playback on the spec sheet, there's something about the SC-HT990 that feels a bit old-fashioned.
HDMI output has gone AWOL (taking with it any chances of video upscaling), the rear speakers aren't wireless and there's no onboard DVD or hard-disk recording. If you want these you'll have to check out other systems in Panasonic's range.
Aesthetically, the main unit sports a mass-market design, garnished with knobs, buttons and a reflective silver styling.
Without HDMI, the best video output available is component, which thankfully offers progressive scan. An RGB Scart output is a welcome sight, but disappointingly there's no digital audio input for hooking up external sources, ruling out playback of Sky Dolby Digital soundtracks. However, you can connect your kit to the analogue stereo inputs and let Dolby Pro Logic II work its pseudo surround magic.
There's also a 3.5mm mini jack on the front (dubbed Music Port) that allows you to listen to an MP3 player through the system, and a range of sound modes on board that aim to boost every aspect of the sound quality.
The SC-HT990 is easy to install - the speakers slot easily onto their stands (or they can be wall-mounted), while Panasonic's typically well-designed onscreen menus and remote ensure a painless picture and sound setup procedure.
In through the out door
Picture quality lacks HDMI's unmistakable clarity and purity, but the component output still does a great job. With bright outdoor scenes, it offers rich, warm colours, sharp detail presentation and nicely balanced skin tones. Despite a hint of noise on certain backgrounds, dark scenes are also nicely presented.
The system's satellites handle the Serenity soundtrack with aplomb, underpinning it with solid bass from the subwoofer - when Serenity thunders past the camera, you feel like it's really there. The rear channels are also impressive, delivering the most subtle ambience with clarity.
The scene where the Serenity crew escapes from the Reavers after robbing the vault is awesome, laced with explosions, piercing gunshots and crystal clear dialogue.
DVD-Audio playback is also impressive: the extra sonic resolution and extra audio channels bring out the best in this system. But even with stereo CD playback the sound quality is superb.
It's hardly cutting-edge, but as a simple route into multi-channel home cinema the SC-HT990 does a decent job, with excellent sound quality to boot.
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