Over the past year or so, we've become big fans of Panasonic's home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems. After spending some quality time with the SC-HT930, we think it may be the company's best yet. Listed at $499, the package is loaded with the features people really want: a DVD changer, a potent subwoofer, and sexy tower speakers. Plus, it can be paired with an optional 2.4GHz wireless module (sold separately), which eliminates the need for speaker cables running to the back of the room. Best of all, the HT930's sound quality was above average for an HTIB, shining on DVDs and CDs.
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.
Take a gander at the DVD changer/receiver's mirror finish and illuminated volume control haloed in aqua green, and you can't help but notice the distinctive style of the Panasonic SC-HT930. Loading discs into the carousel-style changer is a straightforward operation, especially compared with the process on Sony or Sharp's slowpoke "elevator" changers. Panasonic's setup menus may be a little confusing for home-theater newbies, but once you get into the swing of things, they're not bad. The small remote crams in a lot of buttons, including a four-step subwoofer volume control.
The front left and right speakers are tallboy towers that stand 48 inches high. Assembling the stands is a no-brainer, but they won't win any awards for stability, especially when placed on carpeting or rugs. We are concerned that small children or pets could easily knock over these top-heavy towers. The owner's manual recommends securing them with a string attached to the wall. That would certainly help prevent accidents, but it's not exactly an elegant solution. Alternately, any or all of the speakers can be wall mounted. The center speaker is 12.5 inches wide, and the surround speakers are 12.75 inches tall. They're all finished in gray plastic and feature perforated metal grilles. The burly subwoofer occupies a 11.25-by-20.5-inch patch of floor space.
If you'd like to avoid some of the hassles associated with running wires from the front of your room to the left and right surround speakers, pick up Panasonic's optional($199). The transmitter portion of the FX50 attaches to the back of the SC-HT930's main DVD section and wirelessly transmits the surround-channel audio signals to the 70-watt FX50 receiver, which is in turn connected to the rear speakers. The wireless system was remarkably easy to set up, but it uses the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum, which is prone to interference from some cordless phones, Wi-Fi networking equipment, and microwave ovens. That said, we found that its signals never dropped out or got noisy. Yes, you still have to plug its 4-by-8.5-by-6.75-inch (HWD), 70-watts-per-channel receiver into an AC wall outlet and run wires to the surround speakers--but at least you don't have to string wires from the front to the back of the room. In terms of sound quality, it's the best wireless system we've tested so far.
All of the Panasonic SC-HT930's speakers are two-way designs: the front and surround speakers use 3.1-inch woofers and 2.3-inch ring-type tweeters; the center speaker uses two 2.5-inch woofers and a single 2.3-inch ring tweeter.