Panasonic has been a strong supporter of the DVD-Audio format since its introduction five years ago and has offered a slew of DVD-A home-theater-in-a-box systems (HTIBs). That's all well and good, but those HTIBs' sonics weren't remotely good enough to woo converts to the glories of high-resolution audio. With the SC-HT920, Panasonic's engineers ups the ante, and this $499 HTIB sounds swell with DVD-A. Its home-theater sound is also quite respectable, making the SC-HT920 a top choice for buyers who want a stylish package that actually performs well.
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.The Panasonic SC-HT920's low-profile receiver/five-disc DVD changer measures a full-size 17 inches wide and a whopping 17 inches deep. (Before you buy an SC-HT920, grab a tape measure and see if you have the room to accommodate that kind of depth; add a couple of inches for cable clearances.) Styling flourishes include a blue-halo volume control that's easy to find in the dark and a mirror-finish front panel that crams in a lot of useful buttons. The matching aluminum-skinned remote control is logically laid out and a joy to use.
The SC-HT920's front left and right speakers can be fitted to the supplied adjustable height (24 to 44 inches) chromed metal stands. But the top-heavy speakers aren't very stable; the owner's manual actually recommends running a string from the back of each tower to the wall behind them so that they won't accidentally keel over--yeah, right. Alternatively, you can wall-mount the speakers; they'd look great flanking a flat-screen TV. The 12.5-inch-wide center matches the front speakers' look, and a pair of 8.75-inch-tall, wedge-shaped surround speakers complete the satellite ensemble. The subwoofer's eye-catching elongated hexagonal shape is a nice alternative to the bland cube designs. It's also the biggest subwoofer we've seen packed with a Panasonic HTIB: it's 11 inches wide, 18.75 inches deep, 16.5 inches tall, and it weighs a solid 33 pounds. The entire system is metallic gray, and the front three speakers have perforated metal grilles.
Panasonic's HTIB slate runs from our beer-budget favorite, the DVD-less $249 SC-HT1000 and , both of which include DVD-recording capabilities. If you like the SC-HT920's look and feel but want to save a few bucks, consider its step-down models: the $399 (four tallboy speakers but no included DVD player) and the $349 (smaller speakers, less power).The receiver/five-disc DVD changer's feature set includes DVD-Audio playback capability, along with Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, and DTS , up to the $1,000 (list) surround processing. The changer can play home-burned DVD media (including DVD-RAM), as well as MP3 and WMA CD-R and -RW discs. Audiophiles take note: The SC-HT920 is one of the few HTIBs that boasts High-Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD) processing to enhance the sound of HDCD-encoded CDs.
The Panasonic SC-HT920's connectivity options should be adequate for small systems. You get component/progressive, composite, and S-Video outputs; three sets of stereo inputs and one output; and an optical digital input. The lack of video inputs means you can't switch video signals from your cable/satellite box, VCR, or DVR through the HT920, but you can still run them directly to your TV.