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Panasonic SC-PM91D review:  Panasonic SC-PM91D

  • 1

The Good Built-in five-disc changer plays DVDs, CDs, and MP3/WMA CDs; plays DVD-Audio and DVD-RAM discs; biamped three-way speakers; line-in support; includes S-Video and progressive-scan component output.

The Bad Poor control layout on device and remote; doesn't support ID3 tag-based MP3 CD navigation.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic SC-PM91D DVD minisystem delivers a winning combination of value, capabilities, and performance.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

From its broad format support to its five-disc DVD/CD changer, AM/FM tuner, and cassette deck, the Panasonic SC-PM91D minisystem offers a hearty assortment of bells and whistles. It even incorporates biamped speakers--the only minisystem we've ever encountered to do so. It's just one of many pleasant little extras that help set the Panasonic ($249 list, less online) apart from competitors.

The Panasonic SC-PM91D doesn't exactly have a subtle appearance, but we've seen far flashier microsystems. Its MDF (medium-density fiberboard) speakers have natural-looking wood-veneer exteriors, but their glittery silver grille cloths ratchet up the bling factor, as does the blue lighting that spans the width of the main unit's silver front panel. Featuring an approximately 4-by-1.5-inch viewable area, the luminescent front-panel display is exceptionally large and easy to read, even when viewed from an angle. On the main unit, five disc-selector buttons and an open/close button control the five disc trays, which hide behind an automatic door on the front panel. The tape deck is stashed out of the way on the top panel.

The 47-button remote control doesn't have a very intuitive layout. Because some keys have two functions, you occasionally have to press the Shift key in conjunction with another key to execute the desired action. The remote isn't backlit for navigation in the dark, and it's not universal, so you can't program it to operate additional devices, such as your cable box or TV. But we wouldn't expect either feature in a minisystem at this price point.

The Panasonic SC-PM91D is fairly compact, even compared with similar systems, such as the JVC FS-GD7. Each of the SC-PM91D's two speakers measures 9.75 by 5.75 by 9 inches, and the main unit measures 9.75 by 7 by 14.5 inches.

To beef up bass output, each speaker includes a downward-firing port in its built-in, low-profile plastic stand. Unusually, the SC-PM91D has biamplified three-way speakers, meaning that one amp powers the low-frequency drivers, while another handles the drivers for the middle and high frequencies. Biamplification is typically reserved for high-end audio systems. According to our measurements, each speaker has a 3.75-inch woofer, a 2-inch midrange driver, and a 1-inch tweeter.

The Panasonic SC-PM91D shows an adequate amount of information on its front-panel display, including the currently selected disc tray and the playback time. This allows you to play audio CDs without switching on the TV. With the TV-based interface, you can navigate home-brewed MP3, WMA, and JPEG CDs by directory and filename. Unfortunately, because the system doesn't support ID3 tags, you can't navigate digital music files by categories such as genre and artist.

A highlight of the SC-PM91D is its progressive-scan component-video output; Sony's comparably priced CMT-DV2D has only composite-video output. The component outs allow you to get the best possible DVD image quality with one of those ever-more-affordable LCD flat-screen TVs. In addition to a top-mounted 1/8-inch headphone jack, the Panasonic SC-PM91D has an optical digital output (useful if you want to connect a compatible set of powered surround speakers, for example, instead of sticking with the PM91D's stereo-only playback) and a subwoofer output. It also has a rear-panel line-in connection for patching in any standard stereo audio source--say, a cable/satellite box or an iPod.

The SC-PM91D offers better-than-average disc and format compatibility. In addition to playing commercially produced DVD-Video discs, it supports all the popular types of recordable DVD media, including DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW, and even DVD-RAM, not to mention DVD-Audio discs (stereo playback only, not multichannel). Unlike some competing microsystems, the Panasonic SC-PM91D plays not only MP3 CDs but also discs containing non-copy-protected WMA files. It can display JPEG slide shows, and it supports discs that contain both JPEGs and music files. It can display a single JPEG while playing MP3s and WMAs from a disc, but it can't change to another image file while music is playing. The system's 70 watts per channel of power comes across as fairly robust, though you'll notice decreased fidelity at higher volumes.

Now for the big question: do the SC-PM91D's biamped speakers make a difference in its sound quality? In a sense, that's impossible to determine, because we can't compare the Panasonic SC-PM91D to an otherwise identical model without biamping. We can say, however, that it sounds only somewhat better than average relative to other microsystems we've heard. Bass response isn't especially strong, even with the Bass Boost feature on maximum, but treble generally sounded smooth, and the midrange was reasonably detailed. For kicks, we threw on a DVD-Audio disc of the Philip Glass piece Koyaanisqatsi. It played without a hitch, though the sound didn't blow us away. When we compared the SC-PM91D head-to-head against the JVC FS-GD7, the Panasonic delivered a more natural sound, but the JVC exhibited more power. In terms of video performance, the SC-PM91D successfully played every home-recorded DVD we threw at it, as well as Hollywood titles. Video looked as vivid and clear as we'd expect from any standard DVD player.

In summary, the Panasonic SC-PM91D is a fine option for a simple bedroom or office system. The combination of a multidisc changer, good connectivity options, decent sound quality, and support for a broad assortment of discs--for under $250--make it the pick of the DVD minisystem litter.

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