With its muscular black finish and 'tall boy' speakers, the Panasonic SC-PT850 makes an imposing statement in the living room.
The four floorstanding surround speakers are easy to assemble, and they can also be wall-mounted (via keyhole slots at the back) or perched on a table-top. There's an automated speaker setup facility with supplied plug-in microphone to ensure that the system is giving its best at your favourite seating position, but it's rather a simplistic procedure and only really seems to check that the speakers are correctly connected.
The head unit contains all the surround sound amplification, and speaker connections are made at the back. Video connections are geared for HD-Ready flatpanel owners, with an HDMI output and 1080p upscaling capability onboard. High quality analogue video connections are made using progressive scan capable component video sockets, and there's an RGB-enabled Scart socket. There are no dedicated S-video or composite video connections here.
Despite its HD aspirations, the SC-PT850 cannot play hi-def discs. Nevertheless, its disc spinning capabilities are impressive and include DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, DVD-R/RW as well as discs containing MP3, WMA, JPEG and DiVX content. Both 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.
Viera Link means that you can hook the SC-PT850 up to a compatible (2007 range only) Panasonic flatscreen and control both components, allowing simultaneous switch-on and off, auto input switching and speaker control via the TV's remote handset.
There's also a music port socket on the front panel and a USB port, providing convenient hookup from external music sources like an iPod or USB storage device.
The SC-PT850 has a raft of picture processing usually reserved for the brand's high-end DVD players, and images look reassuringly solid with our test DVD of Notes on a Scandal. Colours are realistic and details are well resolved via the HDMI output. Only smoggy scenes over London show signs of minor instability, and there's little discernable improvement when images are upscaled to 1080p.
Surround sound performance is spectacular, but the slender, tallboy speakers aren't any substitute for well-designed speaker models. The sound hangs together well, and only the centre speaker gives us any real cause to grumble, making female voices sound thin and wispy.
The subwoofer can get a bit thumpy, but it has a potent sound for its size and works well with CD and DVD-A music.
With its matching styling and Viera Link compatibility, the SC-PT850 is better suited to the latest generation of Panasonic flatscreens, and makes a great partnership at the price.