Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
DVD-burnin' home theater in a box; sleek receiver; high-style tower speakers; DVD-Audio capability.
Sound quality won't inspire music lovers; no way to control cable or satellite boxes.
The Bottom Line
This Swiss Army Knife of HTIBs records to DVD, plays DVD-Audio discs, and sports a stylish design, but it won't replace a TiVo-style DVR.
Review summary Panasonic's SC-HT1000 boasts the latest advance in the HTIB-features race: DVD recording capability. Better yet, it's priced no higher than the brand's previous top HTIB model, the SC-ST1: $999 list or hundreds less online. The SC-HT1000 sounds best playing DVDs, but it probably won't satisfy most musically oriented buyers. And while the ability to record to DVD makes for a great VCR replacement, this all-in-one won't replace your TiVo-style DVR anytime soon.
The HT1000's integrated receiver/DVD player/recorder measures a full 17 inches wide and 15 inches deep but stands only 3.75 inches high. The matching aluminum-skinned remote control packs a lot of functionality into a trim size.
The Panasonic SC-HT1000's left- and right-front speakers can be fitted to the included adjustable-height (38 to 45 inches), chromed-metal stands. Alternatively, you can ditch the stands and mount the speakers on the wall; they seem designed to flank a flat-screen TV. The 12.5-inch-wide center mimics the front speakers' look, and a pair of 8.75-inch tall, wedge-shaped surround speakers complete the satellite ensemble. The subwoofer is just 6 inches wide, but it's 16.75 inches deep and 17.75 inches tall. A solid 26.5 pounds, it's the heavyweight champion of the group. The entire system is finished in metallic-gray plastic, and the speakers have perforated metal grilles. The front speakers look big, but their actual drive units are tiny--just a single 2.5-inch woofer, with a slightly smaller tweeter. The center speaker employs two woofers straddling the tweeter. The surround speakers use a single pair of the same drivers but in a rather novel way. They fire vertically (straight up) into a reflector that creates an omnidirectional dispersion pattern--ideal for reproducing surround effects. The slender subwoofer has a side-firing 6.75-inch woofer, and it houses all of the amplifiers for this 5.1-channel system. As per Panasonic's "new math" approach to power distribution, the engineers allocated 35 watts to the front and rear speakers, 140 watts for the center speaker, and 150 watts for the subwoofer itself.
The receiver/DVD player/recorder feature set includes DVD-Audio playback capability and Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS surround processing. Connectivity options should be adequate for small systems; you get an RF input for hookup from a cable box or an antenna, three sets of A/V inputs with S-Video (including the front-panel inputs), and an optical digital-audio input. The inclusion of RF, composite, S-Video, and progressive-scan component-video outputs means the SC-HT1000 will easily connect to just about any TV manufactured in the last quarter-century. There's even a set of stereo-audio outputs for those times when you may not wish to fire up the surround speakers. Camcorder enthusiasts, however, should note the lack of a FireWire input.
The Panasonic SC-HT1000 records onto DVD-R and DVD-RAM media. Pop a DVD-RAM into the HT1000, and it can record one program while playing back another or let you watch previous scenes from an in-progress recording. Furthermore, DVD-RAM permits editing feats such as deleting commercials. Sure, unlike the nearly universal compatibility of DVD-Rs, the DVD-RAMs won't play back in many other players, but that's hardly a problem if you're just time-shifting the week's TV viewing.
Like other 2003 Panasonic DVD recorders, the SC-HT1000 is a more of a VCR replacement than a TiVo killer. VCR Plus and timer recording options handle the basics, but since there's no onscreen electronic programming guide or IR blaster for controlling satellite or cable boxes, recording isn't as easy as it should be. On the video side, the Panasonic SC-HT1000 demonstrated the same solid performance as its sibling DVD recorders. (In fact, we detected no differences between the recording capabilities of the HT1000 and the Panasonic DMR-E60S.) Even in its second-best recording mode, image quality was far superior to that of VHS, though, as always, you'll be limited by the quality of your incoming TV signal. We also transferred a bunch of our irreplaceable videotapes to DVD-R. Navigating the HT1000's menus was the toughest part of sorting out the details of the recording process, and the owner's manual isn't a big help in that matter.
We then focused on the kit's audio capabilities. The School of Rock DVD was a lot of fun, and we especially enjoyed the early classroom scenes where Jack Black jams with the kids. The SC-HT1000's sound was more than decent overall, but even after we upped the subwoofer to its maximum level, the bass still sounded lightweight. Staying with the kid theme, we trotted out The Lion King DVD, and it sounded full and rich--completely different from the previous disc. As we played more and more DVDs, we noticed that some discs sounded a lot better than others. The system is gutsy enough to fill fairly large, 400-square-foot rooms with sound.
The HT1000 plays multichannel DVD-Audio discs, but their sound quality isn't up to audiophile standards. The speakers' 2.5-inch woofers are the weak link in this system. CDs were even less satisfying, with a rather bright sound, bordering on harsh on some discs. The subwoofer is reasonably powerful, but it muddles the sound of bass notes. And since the HT1000 lacks bass or treble controls, we couldn't tame the tonal balance problems. We're not picking on the HT1000; most kits with small speakers aren't any better with CDs. If you listen to music more than you watch DVDs and don't need the DVD-recording feature, check out Onkyo's $700 HT-S667C. It combines a 100-watt-per-channel 5.1 receiver, a separate six-disc DVD changer, and an overachieving five speaker/subwoofer ensemble.