Panasonic released one of the first Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box systems in 2008, the SC-BT100, but we didn't bother to review it. The reason: it was still a Profile 1.1 disc player and its high price tag made it easier to put together a great system of separate components for about the same price. That's why we were pleasantly surprised by the two Blu-ray HTIBs that Panasonic offered this year: the SC-BT200 offers a quality Blu-ray experience for the price and the SC-BT300 (reviewed here) offers better performance (from tall-boy speakers) for an extra hundred bucks. It's not the best Blu-ray HTIB we've seen this year and the lack of Netflix streaming may be a deal-breaker for subscribers, but it's a well-thought-out system that combines the same excellent video quality of the standalone DMP-BD60K Blu-ray with a solid 7.1 surround-sound speaker package.
Editors' note: The Panasonic SC-BT300 is nearly identical to the step-down SC-BT200, therefore the two reviews are very similar. The main difference between the two models is the SC-B300 offers tall-boy front speakers and has a slightly more powerful amplifier.
Most Blu-ray HTIBs stick to traditional 5.1 configurations, but the SC-BT300 is a full 7.1 system. The system is made up of two tall-boy speakers, four small speakers for the surround/surround-back channels, a center channel and the subwoofer. The tall-boy speakers stand 40.2-inches high, and the circular stands are 10-inches in diameter. They're big enough to dominate a room, so if space is limited you may be better off with Panasonic's step-down SC-BT200. The surround/surround-back speakers are a little bigger than a soup can, coming in at 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).
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 a little more wire clutter.
The included remote on the SC-BT300 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-BT300's autosetup system that we found wanting. First, 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-BT300'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. So we used a small piece of tape to hold it in place while running the autosetup's test tones.
You can initiate SC-BT300'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-BT300 didn't automatically set the delay settings for any of the speakers (most autosetup/calibration systems do that).