Panasonic released one of the first Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) 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.
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.
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-BT300'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-BT300 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.
The SC-BT300 has two optical digital-audio inputs and one analog stereo input, which is about average compared with other systems. Panasonic allows you to select each of these inputs by continually pressing the "EXT-IN" button, which means you can connect a total of three separate components to the SC-BT300.
There's a wireless transmitter on the back of the SC-BT300, 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-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.