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Review: Panasonic SC-BT300 Blu-Ray Home Theater System

Written on Dec 21, 2009 by Steve and filed under Panasonic, Reviews

Editor’s note: This is a review of the Panasonic SC-BT300. Panasonic also makes the SC-BT200 Blu-ray HTiB system. These two units are identical except the BT300 offers 1250 total system watts where the BT200 is 1000 watts.

The Panasonic SC-BT300 is a 7.1 channel,  Blu-ray equipped home theater in a box system.  If you’re on a budget, but still want the full surround experience, this system should be on your list.  With 1250W of total output power, the system can pack a punch and sound good doing it.  If you want iPod integration out of the box, the BT300 has it.  If you’re looking for a network connected system, the BT300 has access to the content available in Viera Cast (Amazon on Demand, YouTube, Picasa).

panasonic_bt300

Specifications

  • Dynamic & Clear Sound Kelton Subwoofer, Bamboo Cone Speakers
  • Smart Setup with Auto Speaker Setup
  • Total Output Power of 1250W in Home Theater Mode
  • Front: 125W x 2 (single 2.5″ cone, 80Hz-25kHz, 3 ohms, 10 % THD)
  • Center: 250W (2x 2.5″ cone, 82Hz-25kHz, 3 ohms, 10 % THD)
  • Surround and Surround Back: 125W x 4 (single 2.5″ 100Hz-25kHz, 3 ohms, 10 % THD)
  • Subwoofer: 250W (single 6.5″ cone, 35Hz-200Hz, 3 ohms, 10 % THD)
  • Dolby Pro Logic II for Disc/iPod/ Digital In/FM/AM/AUX (for Movie, Music)
  • Super Surround for Disc/iPod /Digital In/FM/AM/AUX
  • Optical Drive Compatibility: BD-Video, BD-RE, BD-R, DVD-Video, DVD-RAM, DVD-RW/-R/-R (DL), DVD+R1/+R(DL)/+RW, CD, CD-R/RW
  • Apple iPod Docking Connector (Support for music, video, and photo playback)
  • AM/FM tuner
  • Ethernet jack for network support to view VIERA Cast content (currently YouTube, Amazon on Demand, Picasa Gallery viewing)
  • SD card slot that supports cards formatted FAT12, FAT16, FAT32: JPEG, AVCHD format,MPEG-2
  • Output: 1 x HDMI, 1 x component, 1 x video, headphone
  • Input: 2 x optical (digital), 1 x analog (Aux)
  • Wireless rear speaker ready (with additional equipment)
  • Full specs

Setup

This is a 7.1 channel system, so you have a bit more to unpack – main unit, subwoofer, 4 surround speakers, a center speaker and two front speakers.  Also included are stands (round base with risers styled just like the front speakers) for the front speakers.  There are quite a few other items in the box: remote control with batteries, AM loop antenna, FM indoor antenna, all the speaker cables, auto setup microphone, screws for the speaker stands, stickers to label the speaker wires, and the user manual.

panasonic_bt300b

Connecting the speakers is pretty straightforward, as long as you know your colors.  The manual does a great job of explaining things, but each speaker wire connects to the back of the main unit with color-coded clips.  The other ends of the wires, that attach to the speakers, are just bare wire but all you need to do is make sure that the wire with the blue stripe goes in the blue terminal.  The manual also gives some good insight into possible configurations for speaker placement.  Fortunately, speaker placement doesn’t have to be by the book.  You can use the included auto setup microphone and the “Smart Setup” mode on the system to have it automatically level the output of each speaker for your listening position in the room.

ports

This is a home theater system, and not just a stereo, so you’ll want to use an HDMI cable (or RCA-type video) to connect the BT300 to your TV so you can watch movies and view the menu system.  Hook up an external audio sources that you want to run through the system and you’re all set to go.  If you want to use the integrated radio tuner, you’ll need to hook up the antennas and if you want to use the system’s online feature, you’ll need to plugin a network cable.

Design, Usability, and Performance

The system is an attractive, nicely styled system. The main unit has a simple, sleek look, with minimal buttons (but there are some behind access panels) and just enough screen to be useful.  Minimal blue light around the volume dial is just enough luminance to look good and be useful.  The iPod dock is hidden in its own little slide-out tray until you need it.  The subwoofer is small enough to hide just about anywhere and it still manages to put out a lot of thump when you need it.  All four surround speakers are identical – little mesh-covered cubes (plastic housing) just big enough to contain the single speaker inside them.  The center speaker is just about exactly the same size is if you stuck two satellite speakers right next to each other.  While the front speakers come with stands, I found that in my setup (42″ TV on top of a table about 60″ wide) the front channel speakers worked well just on top of the table.  The problem with this is that the front speakers aren’t really meant to be used without the stands so they don’t feel very stable.  It would be a nice improvement to design these front speakers so that they’re stable without using the round base and extensions.

frontcontrols

The BT300 is pretty intuitive to use.  The included remote lets you make all the adjustments that you need from anywhere in the room.  The on-screen display is intuitive to navigate, and the display on the front of the main unit has just enough characters to be informative.  The media can basically from from an external source (AUX or optical input), whatever disc you have in the system (Blu-Ray, DVD, etc), an iPod, or SD card.  The buttons on the remote make it pretty clear what you need to push to get the right mode selected.

remote

The integrated iPod dock is a nice feature for a system at this price point.  A lot of systems leave this as an optional accessory.  Once you’ve docked your iPod, you can browse the music and video library using the on-screen display.  Both music and video can be played from the iPod, however, if you want to watch video, then you must have the composite video cable attached to your TV (you can’t use the HDMI out for iPod video playback).

ipod_dock

If you’ve hooked up the BT300 to a network in your house (wired connection), then you can download firmware updates for the system as well as  browsing online content with the  Viera Cast feature.  Currently the only online services available in Viera Cast are YouTube, Amazon on Demand, and access to Picasa Web Galleries.  Browsing this content is very intuitive using the remote control.  While the online content is nice, in my opinion, it’s not such a huge value that this will be a major selling point of the BT300.

viera_cast

youtube

As far as performance, I was quite impressed with the audio that the system put out.  The higher pitches were crisp and clear and the subwoofer put out quite a bit of thump.  In fact, there are actually four levels of loudness for the subwoofer and I never set it above the second notch (second lowest).  There are also enough settings that you can tweak the audio enough for your taste.  The “Surround” button on the remote toggles through three modes: Standard, Multi-Channel, and Manual.  Within the Manual mode, you can choose between Dolby PL II Movie, Dolby PL II Music, Stereo Surround, and 2-channel Stereo.  The “Sound” button on the remote cycles through other settings for the equalizer, subwoofer level, center focus, and whisper surround.  While the “Smart Setup” feature, using the setup microphone should have automatically set the output from each channel, you can drill into the menus and tweak the settings if you like.

Start up time for the system is a bit sluggish (about 20 seconds), but once powered up, operations are pretty quick.  There is a cooling fan on the back of the system, but it’s very quiet.  While testing, this main unit was on top of a table by the TV and even outside of any sort of cabinet, I didn’t notice any noise from fan.  There is also a fair amount of load time for Blu-Ray content, but that’s pretty much par for the course.

Conclusion

For a system that can be purchased, at the moment, for just over $400, the Panasonic SC-BT300 is pretty impressive.  You get 7.1 channel surround sound that sounds great, a Blu-ray player, integrated iPod dock, the online content of Viera Cast in a system that is easy to setup.  If you want even more speaker placement options, you can invest in the wireless receivers (you’ll need two) to power the surround speakers.  The lightweight, plastic housing speakers aren’t impressive feeling, but the sound they create and the cost of the system are good enough that you won’t even think about it.

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars – Editor’s Choice

htib_editorschoice_badge



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