Panasonic offers at least half a dozen home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs) for 2007, and telling the difference between them can sometimes be a challenge. The entry-level SC-PT650 model, for instance, includes a five-disc CD/DVD changer, HDMI output with 1080p upscaling, XM satellite compatibility, and an included iPod dock--all of which were once high-end, upscale features--for an amazing $300 list price (and even less online). But for less than $100 more--in some cases, a lot less--the step-up SC-PT750 model adds a stately black color and an included wireless rear-speaker system. Its microsized subwoofer packs quite a wallop, and its overall sound quality is surprisingly accomplished considering its price tag. All in all, the SC-PT750 gives a better return on your money--assuming you're going to take advantage of that wireless rear-speaker feature.
The brains of the Panasonic SC-PT750 is a low-profile black "head unit" that houses the receiver and five-disc CD/DVD changer. It stands a hair under 3 inches high, and a little less than 17 inches wide and deep. The front panel's small buttons and controls are fairly easy to see and use, while the DVD changer mechanism went about its business smoothly. Loading and unloading discs was a reasonably quick and quiet operation. One little thing we didn't like: the receiver doesn't have a volume control knob; instead, you're stuck with a volume up/down button.
Even before we explored the SC-PT750's setup and speaker calibration routine we were perfectly satisfied with the sound, so if you'd rather not bother, you won't be missing much. We did run the receiver's test tones over the speakers and heard that the center channel speaker was too loud, so we adjusted it down a bit. You can also make adjustments "on the fly" during a movie with the Channel Selector button on the remote. In addition, the subwoofer volume has its own button that provides four-step level adjustment. You don't get bass and treble controls, but there's an EQ control with Flat, Heavy, Clear, and Soft options. The black remote's layout was easy to master and more comfortable than the smallish remote that comes with the step-down SC-PT650.
The front left and right speakers are both about 10.5 inches long and about 5.5 inches tall; the center speaker is essentially the same one, but oriented horizontally instead. Their black plastic cabinets are fitted with nonremovable black cloth grilles, and the speakers can be wall-mounted with their keyhole slots.
The two "wireless" surround speakers are smaller and have wires that need to be connected to the SC-PT750's wireless receiver/amplifier (6.5 inches high by 3.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep), which must be plugged into an AC power outlet. While that's still quite a few wires, the advantage is that you lose the long cable that runs from the front of the room to the back. The AV receiver/DVD changer's back side has a slot that accepts Panasonic's included wireless transmitter card. Unlike the infrared transmission on the Sony Bravia DAV-HDX267W, Panasonic's RF wireless system doesn't require direct line of sight positioning between the wireless transmitter and receiver. Panasonic's system has fewer parts, so it's easier to set up, and we had it playing movies in just a few minutes. Note that, unlike some systems, the wireless module is the only way to get sound from the rear speakers. Then again, if you don't need the wireless feature, it's probably worth saving a few bucks and going with the SC-PT650 instead.
The medium-density fiberboard subwoofer has a molded black plastic front baffle and bass port. It's nice and compact, measuring just 16.7 inches high by 7 inches wide by 10.1 inches deep and weighing 8.8 pounds. The speakers and sub have permanently attached speaker wires, which is fine, but the surround speakers' wires are relatively short (13 feet), so they weren't long enough to run along the floor and up to the shelf that supports the speakers in our room. SC-PT750 buyers who face the same problem can splice additional wire to the speakers' wires to make up for the shortfall.
The SC-PT750 receiver's digital amplifier carries two different power ratings; the ever-popular, though wildly inflated "1,000 watt" number we see emblazoned on so many HTIB shipping boxes--and a (closer to reality) Federal Trade Commission rating of 428 watts. The power is distributed over the three front satellite speakers and the subwoofer, and it includes the 34 watts per channel generated by the flyweight (1.5 pounds) surround amplifier. The receiver/DVD changer's surround processing covers the usual Dolby and DTS modes.
The SC-PT750 is one of the first HTIBs we've tested that offers upconverted, 1080p video connectivity over its HDMI output. If you haven't yet bought an HDMI-equipped TV, you can use the component and composite video outputs (the SC-PT750 lacks S-Video outputs), but since there are no video inputs, you'll have to hook up your video sources (cable/satellite box, game consoles, and so forth) directly to your TV.
Audio connectivity is also spotty; it's XM Satellite Radio "ready" and comes with an iPod dock, but the Panasonic has just one stereo analog audio input and no digital audio inputs. The latter is especially disappointing, because it means you won't be able to get 5.1 Dolby Surround soundtracks from cable/satellite boxes or game consoles. Up front, there's a headphone jack and a Music Port input (both are standard 3.5mm minijacks). The Music Port is just a stereo line-in for quick and easy connections to any portable audio device--and unlike the Digital Media Port found on competing Sony products, it's universally compatible with anything that has a headphone jack or a line output.