Now that Blu-ray has secured its position as the one and only HD disc format, it's only natural to see it becoming more of a standard feature on desktop PCs, laptops, camcorders, and--now--home theater systems. Samsung's HT-BD2T has been available for months, while the Panasonic SC-BT100--which debuted at January's Consumer Electronics Show--is scheduled hit stores later this spring. Panasonic has yet to confirm pricing for its model, but the unit has already popped-up on J&R's Web site for $1,000 (give or take a nickel).
If the price sticks, it would appear to be a pretty good deal at first glance (plenty of high-style home theater systems can cost more than $1,000, despite being limited to playing back standard CDs and DVDs.) Indeed, the Panasonic model has a few advantages versus the Samsung model: it has a five-disc changer (versus the single-disc player on the Samsung), an SD card slot (for playing back digital media, including high-definition AVCHD video), and wireless rear speakers. It's also said to be Profile 1.1 compliant, meaning that it can play the BonusView (picture-in-picture video content) found on some newer Blu-ray discs.
Unfortunately, there's a pretty big list of caveats as well. The Samsung is a 7.1-channel system out of the box, whereas the Panasonic is merely 7.1-ready: you'll need to invest in an additional set of speakers (and another wireless transceiver unit) to get to seven speakers. While Profile 1.1 compatibility is better than many of the Blu-ray players currently on the market, it's already behind the curve compared with the state of the art Profile 2.0/BD-Live players already announced (Panasonic's own DMP-BD50) or available (the PlayStation 3). Furthermore, the SC-BT100 is likely to have the same limitations found on the DVD-only Panasonic home theater systems for the 2008 model year: iPod video playback is only available from the low-resolution composite output, and the skimpy connectivity (just one set of analog and one digital audio-only jack apiece). Those limitations are easy to shrug off on the $300 SC-PT660 and $400 SC-PT760, but become a lot harder to justify on a $1,000 unit.
You can have your cake (Blu-ray 2.0) and eat it too (7.1 home theater with plenty of inputs and outputs) for about $150 more than the SC-BT100's asking price by investing in a $400 PS3 plus a $750 Onkyo HT-S908 home theater system. Still, compared with the $1,500 price of the Samsung HT-BD2T, the $1,000 Panasonic model comes much closer to justifying itself versus purchasing such dedicated components. As those prices continue to drop--and feature sets continue to improve--look for the reaction to such Blu-ray home theater systems begin to move from "why bother" to "why not."