Home theater-in-a box (HTiB) systems have come a long way. My experiences with the earliest generation models were cringe fests.They weren’t all that inexpensive, but looked and sounded lame, handicapped with the cheesiest speakers and underpowered amplifiers festooned with flashing LEDs. Yuch!
Today’s HTiBs are jam-packed with the latest features; everything from iPod docks and high-resolution lossless codecs from Dolby and dts are starting to appear. Of course now that Blu-ray is fast becoming the de facto standard, top-tier HTiBs have the blues—a shift in core technology that represents a real “sea change” in the HTiB market. This article reviews two of the first Blu-ray-capable HTiB systems on the market—one from Panasonic and the other from Samsung (yes, we know Sony will soon offer Blu-ray HTiBs of its own, but review samples weren’t available at press time).
Does the HTiB’s Connectivity Suite Square with Your Needs?
Connectivity varies a lot in this category, so don’t assume all HTiBs have what you need. If you don’t want to switch inputs on your TV every time you select a different video source, say from a game system to a Blu-ray player, make sure the HTiB has enough video inputs. Some don’t switch external video sources at all.
Sound Quality for Movies and Music
More often than not, HTiB sound quality is optimized for movies, while performance on music comes in a poor second place. But at Playback we feel good systems should be able to do both. If music is important to you, make sure the HTiB is up to the task.
What About Bass?
For many HTiB systems bass can be a weak point, with underpowered subs and smallish woofers struggling to belt out explosions and bass-heavy special effects. We evaluate the bass capabilities of HTiB rigs carefully, but with realistic expectations—meaning we don’t expect $1k HTiB systems to offer the bass clout of, say, $4k systems based on separate components.
Today’s best HTiB rigs are convenient and cost effective, but if you really want to be “moved” by Blu-ray’s awesome sound capabilities, you may want to consider moving up to a bona-fide A/V receiver/speaker/subwoofer based system.
Our Reviews Are Not “Shootouts”
These systems are reviewed here on their own merits, so that our goal is not to pick “winners” or “losers.” Instead, we hope to provide information that will help you decide whether either of the systems under discussion would make a good fit for your needs, tastes, and lifestyles. If/when we find systems that distinguish themselves we will denote this fact by awarding our distinctive “Playback Recommended” logo.
The SC-BT100 may be Panasonic’s first HTiB system to include an integrated Blu-ray player, but that didn’t stop the designers from loading on 2.4GHz wireless surround speakers, a built-in iPod dock, and a SD Memory Card reader. Oh, and the SC-BT100 sounds killer on movies.
Consider this HTiB if: You want full-bodied sound from an HTiB with small speakers and a slim subwoofer. The SC-BT100’s generous features package fits the bill, complete with high quality wireless surround speakers guaranteed to turn you on.
Look elsewhere if: You think unadorned black plastic speakers are out of place on a $1,000 HTiB, or if you want to switch video sources such as a cable box or game through your HTiB system (something the SCBT100 cannot do).
What Comes in the Box
Anything else needed? Yes, an HDMI cable (sold separately as an optional accessory).
Setup and User Interface
The SC-BT100 hookup is a straightforward process. The speaker wires all have locking connectors that plug into the amplifiers and bare wire ends that you insert into the speakers’ spring-clip connectors. Menu navigation was a breeze. Hooking up the surround speakers involves running wires between the speakers and the small (3.5 x 6.25 x 6.4 inch) 2.4GHz wireless receiver/amplifier and then plugging the receiver/amplifier into an AC power outlet. So much for the fantasy of “wireless” speakers, but the SC-BT100 does eliminate the need to run wires between the Blu-ray player/A/V receiver and the surround speakers.