Panasonic Blu-ray home theater system breaks the $1,000 barrier--but is it worth it?

It looks as if the Panasonic SC-BT100--the company's first home theater in a box system with a built-in Blu-ray player--will retail for $999.

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John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
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John Falcone
2 min read
Panasonic SC-BT100 Blu-ray home theater system
The Panasonic SC-BT100 will cost just under $1,000. Panasonic

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."

Related coverage
CNET TV hands-on video: Panasonic SC-BT100
CNET review: Panasonic SC-PT660
CNET review: Panasonic SC-PT760
CNET review: Samsung HT-BD2T
CNET @ CES 2008: Panasonic's new Blu-ray player goes Profile 2.0
Crave: PS3 firmware with BD-Live support now available