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Panasonic SC-HT920 review: Panasonic SC-HT920

Panasonic SC-HT920

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Steve Guttenberg
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Steve Guttenberg

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.

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4 min read

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.

6.7

Panasonic SC-HT920

The Good

Impressive surround sound; sleek receiver/DVD-Audio/Video changer; tallboy front speakers; potent powered subwoofer.

The Bad

The skinny towers are unstable and can easily tip over.

The Bottom Line

The SC-HT920 shines on movies and high-resolution DVD-Audio discs.
Intro
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. 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-HT05, up to the $1,000 (list) SC-HT1000 and SC-HT1500, 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 SC-HT07 (four tallboy speakers but no included DVD player) and the $349 SC-HT720 (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 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.

The front-left/right and center speakers feature twin 2.5-inch woofers and a slightly smaller tweeter. Each surround speaker uses the same woofer and tweeter, but they fire vertically (straight up) into a reflector that creates an omnidirectional dispersion pattern--ideal for reproducing surround effects.

The subwoofer's front-firing 7.8-inch driver is powered by a 150-watt amplifier, and the subwoofer houses all of the amplifiers for this 5.1-channel system. It pumps out 100 watts to each of the left- and right-front speakers, 140 watts for the center speaker, and 45 watts for each surround speaker.

Based on our positive experiences with Panasonic HTIBs of late, we didn't waste any time auditioning the easy stuff. We started with The Punisher DVD because it's loaded with explosive, bone-crunching sound effects, and the SC-HT920 never flinched from its duties. Explosions kicked like crazy, and the various slugfests didn't pull any punches. Bass was solid, and dialogue sounded crisp and clear. The system is gutsy enough to fill fairly large, 400-square-foot rooms with sound.

Music is a tougher test for HTIBs, but the Panasonic SC-HT920 sailed through our stack of rock, jazz, and classical CDs. The sound was nicely balanced, with good detail and smoothly integrated bass. Things were going so well, we next tried the Blue Man Group's new The Complex DVD-Audio disc. The trio's edgy percussive music was mixed to provide a truly immersive surround experience, and on "Exhibit 13," the eerie effect of ghostly voices circling around our home theater was spookily real. The band's unique bass instruments fully exercised the subwoofer, which clearly bettered Panasonic's older models in terms of power and definition.

We're not claiming the SC-HT920 can go head-to-head with our favorite separates-based systems, such as an A/V receiver paired with a worthwhile surround speaker system, but it definitely aces out the other budget-priced HTIBs with skinny tallboy speakers we've tested so far.

6.7

Panasonic SC-HT920

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7
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