Panasonic is hardly the first name we think of when it comes to AV receivers. It's been years since we last saw one, so we weren't sure what to expect from Panasonic's latest entry, the SA-BX500. Depending on your taste, the look is tastefully conservative or just downright boring. The features lineup boasts a few pleasant surprises, but the Panasonic comes up short in some crucial areas: no analog to HDMI video conversion, only three HDMI ports, and no onscreen menu display. Given the BX500's sound quality--it's perfectly good--it could slide by as a decent offering if it was an entry-level $250 receiver. Unfortunately, the MSRP is a whopping $800, with the street price currently hovering between $650 and $700. At any of those prices, there are plenty of competing models from Denon, Onkyo, Sony, and Yamaha (just to name a few) that will deliver many more features--and equal or better sound quality--for a lot less money. Almost any of them would certainly be a better option than this Panasonic.
On the surface, the Panasonic SA-BX500 is fairly similar to any other black box AV receiver. We liked its large, easy-to-read display, and best of all, the Panasonic runs much cooler than average. Even after hours of hard use, it never got even mildly warm to the touch (the rear-mounted cooling fan exhausts warm air). We think the SA-BX500 can be placed within a cabinet with minimal air circulation, and that's rarely the case with today's hot running receivers. The SA-BX-500 is 6.25 inches high, 16.9 wide, 13.4 deep, and weighs just 11 pounds. Both the exceptionally light weight and the cool-running design are due to the BX500's all-digital amplifier.
The small, black plastic remote felt a bit out of place for use with a midprice receiver. It's not backlit, and it looks similar to the remotes Panasonic includes with its budget home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems. (Again: what would've been acceptable in a budget receiver just doesn't cut it for an $800 model.)
Our biggest disappointment with the SA-BX500's design was its lack of onscreen menus. We can live without the fancy graphical user interfaces found on higher-end Denon and Sony receivers, for instance, but the Panasonic's got nothing onscreen. The receiver's front-panel display is a poor substitute and we found the menus rather difficult to navigate. It required way too much time to assign inputs, and access bass and treble controls and features, such as "EQ Adjust," that fine-tune the speaker's treble response to your room's acoustics (with a few preset EQ options). The lack of even basic onscreen menus is unacceptable on a receiver at this price in 2008.
The SA-BX500's automatic speaker calibration is easy enough to do, just plug in the supplied microphone and initiate the series of test tones. Unfortunately, we didn't find the results all that accurate, so we had to go through the manual setup routine to correct the subwoofer volume, which was set much too loud, and the bass management/subwoofer crossover was set too high. It was 150 Hertz, but the speakers and subwoofer of our Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD reference system sound much better with the crossover set to 80Hz.
The Panasonic SA-BX500 is a 7x130-watt receiver and features all-digital, cool-running amplifiers. There's a full complement of Dolby and DTS-surround decoding modes, including lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, so it's compatible with anything you can throw at it, including the latest Blu-ray Discs.
The SA-BX500's connectivity is below par; it has just three HDMI 1.3 inputs, three component inputs, and six AV inputs with S-Video (including one on the front panel). But here's the big deal-killer: it doesn't upconvert or upscale analog video sources (composite, S-Video, or component) to HDMI. In fact, it has no upconversion features at all, even between the composite, S-Video, and component connections. In other words, for every type of input you're using on the receiver, you'll need to have a matching output running to your TV. By comparison, nearly all competing receivers at this price range have HDMI upconversion, which allows you to have just a single HDMI cable from the receiver to the TV, regardless of the video source.
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||3||Decodes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||3||Decodes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|A/V inputs w/S-Video||6 (5 rear, 1 front)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master via HDMI||Yes|
|Optical inputs||3||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||1||HDMI version||1.3|
|Selectable HD sources||4||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||No||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||No|
|Phono input||No||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||No|
|Analog multichannel input||Yes (7.1)||Selectable output resolution||No|
Beyond video, it's fairly average as well. There are four digital audio inputs (three optical, one coaxial), but no digital output. A single pair of analog stereo inputs is on board as well. There's also a connection for a dedicated iPod dock (the optional Panasonic SH-PD10). There's 7.1-channel analog inputs for Blu-ray/SACD/DVD-Audio players, but no "pre-out" jacks, nor is there any built-in support for Sirius/XM satellite radio.