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Panasonic SC-HT880W review: Panasonic SC-HT880W

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The Good Very good sound quality for both movies and music. Handles a wide range of media. Stylish tower speakers. Wireless surround.

The Bad A little short on connectivity options. Speaker towers are a touch wobbly.

The Bottom Line A well equipped all-in-one home entertainment system that matches style with performance.

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If 1000W sounds like a lot of power, you're not wrong. Many pubs don't pump out that much wattage with their stage PAs, but 1000W is exactly what you get in your very own living room with the Panasonic SC-HT880W.

The SC-HT880W follows on Panasonic's lineage of HTIB (Home Theatre In a Box) systems, featuring CD/DVD playback, funky tower speakers and the innovative inclusion of a wireless surround sound system.

Design
There can be no doubt that tower speakers are increasing in popularity, not only for their stylish looks, but also the benefit of having the business end of the sound makers at the right height to deliver optimum performance.

Assembly can get a bit fiddly, but it's fairly straight forward. One problem we did encounter was the screws securing the speakers to the base didn't line up perfectly. This meant they couldn't be tightened all the way, leaving the speakers on slightly shaky ground. The speakers also aren't light, but Panasonic has done a good job making the plastic and metal bases wide and heavy enough to keep them upright. Even so, knock a speaker by only a few degrees and it risks losing its footing and taking a tumble. The manual does suggest using a string to secure the speakers to the wall, but we doubt many people will take up that option.

The speaker towers themselves are around 1.2 metres high, so they're far from unobtrusive, but they were never meant to be. Thankfully the styling is slick, and they should look quite at home placed next to a decent LCD or plasma screen.

One of the best features of the SC-HT880W is the wireless surround sound system. However, like other 'wireless' home theatre kits it hasn't truly cut all cords -- just the one between the main unit at the front and the rear speakers. The Panasonic's wireless link connects the main unit with a wireless receiver at the back, which then needs to be plugged into a power point and the surround speakers. Still, it does save you running speaker cable along the floor or through the roof or walls to reach behind your couch.

Features
The 1000W figure, while impressive, doesn't quite tell the whole story. The power amp itself is based in the monstrous 14kg subwoofer, and splits up to deliver 170W to each front stereo speaker, 260W to the centre speaker, 70W to each surround speaker and 260W for the subwoofer itself.

Each of the front towers sports three 2-way speakers, consisting of 8cm woofers and a 6cm tweeter. The surround speakers are similarly equipped, except they only have one woofer and the tweeter. The centre speaker packs three 2-way speakers, this time in the form of two 6.5cm woofers and a 6cm tweeter. The subwoofer delivers its low end load care of dual 15cm cones. All up, this means there's plenty of sound to be had.

In terms of the main unit, it can handle CD and DVD playback, including progressive scan, and supports a wide range of media, including burnt CD-Rs and both DVD-R and DVD+R discs. MP3 and WMA are also supported on burnt media, as is JPEG for image playback. Dolby Digital, Pro Logic and DTS are also available for surround sound.

The connectivity options are relatively Spartan, with the usual collection of composite, S-Video and component video output, audio and video inputs, but the SC-HT880W lacks any optical audio connectors.

Performance
Even with a load of watts being delivered to each of the speakers, the SC-HT880W is designed to operate at moderate volumes in an enclosed space, and in this respect it excels. Clarity and definition are both good at low and moderate volume levels, and it's only when the volume is cranked right up to 11 that the high end becomes a bit scratchy and the balance is thrown. Still, for high impact DVD watching or playing your favourite CDs, the SC-HT880W does a top job.

We did find the surround speakers were relatively quiet on the default setting, but you can adjust individual speaker levels to get the balance that's right for your room.

There's no graphic equaliser, but you can control the mix to a certain degree through the SFC (Sound Field Control) settings. The difference in the settings, such as between Hall and Live, are subtle, but can make a noticeable difference so it's worth experimenting when you pop in and play something new.

You also have plenty of options when it comes to the bass. There are four base subwoofer levels, plus the H.Bass setting. This significantly boosts the bass levels to deliver more boom, which can be great for some movies, but it comes at the cost of low end definition. H.Bass plus a high subwoofer level can easily lead to a very overwhelming but muddy bass. Here again it's worth experimenting with the subwoofer levels and H.Bass on and off to get the right mix for different media.

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