We know you love AV receivers and amazing speaker systems almost as much as we do, but we can't help but suspect most of you will shy away from spending £3,000 on audio equipment. That doesn't mean, however, you won't relish the opportunity to enjoy tasty surround sound from your Blu-ray movies. Roll out the red carpet and strike up the band, then, for Panasonic's new all-in-one home cinema systems.
The SC-BT735 (pictured above) is the high-end model in Panasonic's new range of Blu-ray players with included speakers. It costs £700 and has quite a few appealing features. The new speakers look excellent -- much more slender and stylish than last year's range. The system also scores by including HDMI ARC, part of the 1.3 spec that allows audio to be sent back from the TV to the home-cinema system. Doing this means audio from your HDMI 1.4 TV -- from Freeview HD, for example -- can be processed by the 735 and pumped to its speakers.
Also present is Panasonic's VieraCast feature, which enables you to view YouTube videos and other online stuff via an Ethernet connection and a simple onscreen menu. VieraCast has the potential to really impress us, but it does need more content -- the current UK selection isn't that expansive. Panasonic has also taken care to make sure the BT735 produces the best picture quality, using its experience from making Blu-ray movies.
The £500 SC-BT330 offers the same features as the 735, but uses bookshelf speakers for the rear-effects channel, which might suit people with limited space who want a more compact speaker solution. In a similar vein, the £450 SC-BT230 reduces the size of all the included speakers to bookshelf size, but keeps the other important features such as VieraCast and Blu-ray profile 2.0 support.
At the lower end, we find the £400 SC-BT222 offers 2.1-channel amplification, but drops support for BD Live and VieraCast. 2.1 systems are still a great way of coaxing better sound out of your Blu-ray movies in smaller rooms, or for people a bit more skint.
All these systems are listed on Panasonic's Web site as being available soon -- hopefully we'll have full reviews shortly.