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 YouTube streaming (Panasonic says that Amazon Video On-Demand, already found on the company's VieraCast-enabled TVs, will be added via a free firmware update later this summer).
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.
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, 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.
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.
Like most Blu-ray HTIBs, the SC-BT200's connectivity is limited to audio inputs; there are no video inputs. That means with additional components, like a cable box or game console, you'll need to make separate connections to the SC-BT200 and your TV, plus you'll have to fumble with several remotes to get it all working. (Alternatively, you can avoid some of the hassle with a quality universal remote.) While most Blu-ray HTIBs don't have video inputs, it's worth mentioning that the LG LHB977 (street price of less than $600) and Samsung HT-BD3252 ($800 list price) each have two HDMI inputs, so they might be a better choice if you have other HDMI gear, such as game consoles and DVRs.
There's a wireless transmitter on the back of the SC-BT200, but you need to buy a separate wireless transceiver to enable wireless functionality. The SH-FX70 wireless transceiver can be purchased separately for $130, but note that it only powers a pair of speakers; if you want both your surround and surround back speakers to be wireless, you'll need to purchase two SH-FX70 units.
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.