Although the technology debuted in 2006, for many consumers Blu-ray still feels like brand-new tech. That's why a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) system like the Panasonic SC-BT200 feels like such an incredible deal--with a street price as low as $450, you get a 7.1 speaker system plus a slimline AV receiver with an integrated Blu-ray player. The biggest knock against the SC-BT200 is that competing systems offer better streaming media options; both the Samsung HT-BD1250T and LG LHB953 have both Netflix and Pandora streaming, which we prefer to the SC-BT200's Amazon Video On Demand and YouTube streaming. On the other hand, the SC-BT200's sound quality is darn good for the price, and its 7.1 configuration offers two more speakers than the competition, for a slightly more immersive effect. Although we haven't done hands-on testing with its competitors yet (coming soon), the Panasonic SC-BT200 looks to be the early favorite for quality sound for a rock-bottom price.
Most Blu-ray HTIBs stick to traditional 5.1 configurations, but the SC-BT200 is a full 7.1 system, even more surprising given its low price. There are six identical speakers that are used for the front, surround, and surround back speakers. These speakers are a little bigger than a soup can, measuring 3.63 inches wide by 5 inches high and 3.2 inches deep, and each features a 2.5-inch bamboo cone driver.
The center channel is a little bigger (9.8 inches wide, 3.75 inches high, and 3.2 inches deep) and features two of the 2.5-inch drivers. The sub has a 10-inch passive radiator and 6.5-inch woofer, and its footprint is also relatively small (7.1 inches wide, 14.2 inches high, and 13.4 inches high). In all, the speakers are puny enough that they should hide nicely in most decors.
The combination receiver/Blu-ray player has a relatively nondescript look, with the faceplate featuring a reflective black finish. Toward the bottom is a flip-down panel revealing an SD card slot, the autosetup mic input, additional playback controls, and a headphone jack. One nice design touch is the pull-out iPod dock; just give a tug where the Panasonic logo is, and a tray for the iPod is revealed. We prefer this integrated design (also found on some LG models) to the break-out docks on the Sony BDV-E500W and Samsung HT-BD1250T, which cause slightly more wire clutter.
The included remote on the SC-BT200 is similar to the one included with the company's Blu-ray players and we're generally fans of the design. Frequently used playback controls are given big blue buttons and the directional pad is surrounded by important buttons like pop-up menu and top menu. There is one inexplicable omission, though: an open/close button for the integrated Blu-ray player. Sure, you have to get off the couch to change discs anyway, but we prefer to hit the button before we get up so there's an open tray waiting when we get there.
There were more than a few aspects of the SC-BT200's autosetup system that we found wanting. First thing: Plugging in the supplied microphone was complicated by the mic cable's unusually short length; it's just 9.5 feet long (15- to 20-foot cables are more typical). With the cable stretched in midair between the SC-BT200's receiver/Blu-ray player and the CNET listening room's couch, the microphone wouldn't stay in position resting on the backrest of the couch. We used a small piece of tape to hold it in place while running the autosetup's test tones.
You can initiate SC-BT200's autosetup by pressing the "Smart Setup" button on the top of the receiver/Blu-ray player's front panel. The onscreen display prompts take you through the autosetup routine. The entire process takes just a few minutes. Afterward we noted the subwoofer volume was much too loud, and the four surround speakers' volume was too low.
To correct the level mismatches of the speakers and sub we used the manual setup, which was easy enough to do. But while we were there we noted that the SC-BT200 didn't automatically set the delay settings for any of the speakers (most autosetup/calibration systems do that).
As a result, we had to set the delay times manually. However, instead of just entering the distance of each speaker to the listening position, the SC-BT200 requires the user to perform calculations on their own. We doubt too many SC-BT200 owners would actually take the time to do that, but in all honesty we don't think using the factory default delay settings would significantly impact perceived sound quality. Still, it's an annoying oversight in the Panasonic's design.
You can easily adjust the subwoofer's volume in four steps with the remote. We mostly used the two lowest settings. Bass and treble controls are missing in action, but there are four EQ (equalization) modes: "Flat," "Heavy," "Clear," and "Soft." We used Flat and Soft. We didn't hear much difference when we switched the "Whisper Surround" late-night mode on and off.