Design and Installation
As you would expect from a Panasonic product, the SC-BTT590 scores highly in the looks department with the main unit and the speakers all sharing a very attractive glossy piano black finish. Once you get up close the finish isn't quite as impressive but when you consider how much Panasonic is cramming into this package for the price, you realise you can't have everything. And there certainly is a lot in the box, with the aforementioned main unit and four matching speakers with stands for the front L/R and rear L/R. There is also a dedicated centre speaker, a passive subwoofer, speaker cable, a FM indoor antenna and a remote control.
The main unit looks very much like a Panasonic 3D Blu-ray player because that's essentially what it is. At the front there is a flip down cover behind which you will find the disc tray, a play button, a stop button, a SD card slot, a USB port and an informative display. Along the top edge there some additional basic controls, with an on/off button at the far left hand side and an eject button in the middle. Also in the middle is a volume up and down button, the first clue that this is more than just a Blu-ray player. At the front on the right hand side, there is a pop out iPod dock which can be neatly stored inside the unit when not in use. The SC-BTT590 uses an anti-jitter digital amplifier that is designed to improve performance by correcting inaccuracies in the source and amplifier clocks. The specifications say that the amplification can deliver 185W (into 3 Ohms) for the front left and right and 180W to the centre. It also claims to deliver 125W to each of the rear channels and 200W to the subwoofer. The entire main unit measures just 430mm x 40mm x 279mm and weighs in at 3kg, so it's impressive that Panasonic can get all this into such a relatively small chassis.
At the rear there are a selection of connections including two HDMI inputs and a HDMI output. If you're think that two HDMI inputs isn't enough, don't forget that the Blu-ray player is built in and the HDMI output has an Audio Return Channel (ARC) for the audio from a compatible TV, so two HDMI inputs should meet most people's needs. There is also a LAN port, a USB port for connecting a communication camera, an optical digital in, a stereo analogue in, a FM antenna terminal and a composite video out. Also at the rear there are five speaker terminals using dedicated connectors and a large cooling fan, which reveals the presence of built-in amplification. The dedicated connectors could prove an issue if you need longer cable runs to install the SC-BT590 correctly but reattaching them to different cables shouldn't be too difficult and the provided cables are of a reasonable length. Finally, at the far left there is a two pin power socket and on the far right, there is digital transmitter dock for a wireless system.
The SC-BTT590 comes with four identical speakers for the front right and left and the rear right and left channels. This is a sensible approach as it means that the four speakers match tonally and as a result sounds pan around the room more coherently. Each speaker includes a detachable base which provides solid support but can be removed if you want to mount them on the walls, using provided holes on the rear. Also at the rear of the speakers there are spring clip terminals and the supplied speaker cable is colour coded to aid installation, there are also holes running through the stands for tidier cable management. The speakers are reasonably well built and they measure 127mm x 403mm x 121mm and weigh 1.05kg. They use a 2 way 2 speaker, bass reflex configuration with an 8cm cone woofer and a 2.5cm semi-dome tweeter. These cones are made from bamboo charcoal polypropylene and Panasonic claim the speakers have an anti-distortion structure composed of an uneven thickness to the rear surface of the cones. This is supposed to suppress resonance and there is a double motion damper and a high force magnet. Finally the speakers use a film capacitor that cuts out low frequencies from the tweeter to enhance high frequency reproduction. The SC-BTT590 does include a digital transmitter dock for use with wireless rear speakers, should you wish to dispense with cables altogether.
Along with the front and rear speakers, the SC-BTT590 includes a passive subwoofer which is the point one in a 5.1 system. The subwoofer uses the same glossy piano black finish as the rest of the components in the system, it measures 180mm x 408mm x 300mm and weighs 4.3kg. As with the rest of the package the subwoofer is very attractive and reasonably well built but on closer inspection you realise that this is ultimately still a budget product. The subwoofer uses a 1 way 1 speaker bass reflex configuration and it is downward firing, with a crossover set at 100Hz. Since this is a passive subwoofer, there is a provided speaker cable for connecting it to the main unit. Given the choice we would prefer an active subwoofer but that still requires a connection to the main unit (either wired or wireless) as well a power cable so we understand why Panasonic haven't taken that approach. When a manufacturer is including so much into a package at what is a reasonably low price point, there is always an element of compromise.
The dedicated centre speaker is similar to the other four speakers but it is designed to be used on its side, thus making it easier to position below a TV screen. It measures 280mm x 84mm x 78mm, weighs 0.91kg and as with the other speakers it uses a 2 way 2 speaker, bass reflex configuration but this time it has a 6.5cm cone woofer and a 6.5cm cone mid-range speaker. It also has the same anti-distortion structure that uses bamboo charcoal polypropylene cones, a high force magnet and a film capacitor. At the rear are the same spring clip terminals used on the other speakers, along with holes for wall mounting and overall the five speakers match each other very well.
The supplied remote control is very reminiscent of the controls used with Panasonic Blu-ray players which makes sense given the SC-BTT590's dual purpose. It is made of black plastic, feels solid and is very easy to operate with one hand. The buttons are sensibly laid out and include all the usual Blu-ray player controls plus some dedicated ones such as 3D, Internet (VIERA Connect) and Netflix. There are also controls for the amplifier side of the SC-BTT590, such as volume, mute, iPod, sound and surround. There are also some basic controls for a Panasonic TV so if you own one of those as well, the remote can be quite handy for controlling your entire system.
Anyone who has seen a recent Panasonic Blu-ray player will recognise the menu system, which is essentially the same with some minor additions to accommodate the inclusion of the amplifier. As with Panasonic's Blu-ray players, the SC-BTT590 uses a central Home page that allows you to access other menus or content from there. The is an option to customise the Home page for up to four users, including selecting the wallpaper, an icon and a user name, as well as registering your smartphone as a remote control. Once in the Home page you can choose between Videos, Photos, Music, FM Radio, Network, iPod, Ext In, Sound and Others. The video, photos and music can be accessed from whichever storage media they're held on whilst the network option allows the user to access Panasonic's VIERA Connect internet portal or their media server. There is also a useful button on the remote called Options, which provides a short cut to some useful functions and even lets you change some settings during playback, without interrupting your movie.
The Language submenu, as the name suggests, allows for the selection of the language used for Soundtrack Preference, Subtitle Preference, Menu Preference and the On-Screen Language. The Network submenu includes an option for Easy Network Settings, which helps you set up the built-in WiFi but there is also a more detailed option called Network Settings. In here you can select between LAN or Wireless connections, set up the IP Address/DNS Settings, Proxy Server Settings, the Network Service Settings (VIERA Connect), Network Dive Connection (DLNA), Remote Device Operation (needs to be on for smartphone control) and BD-Live Internet Access.
In the Ratings submenu there are options for setting the DVD and BD ratings, as well as the Network Service Lock. The final submenu is System which includes all the controls for Easy Settings (basic setup), TV Settings (Aspect Ratio, TV System, Screen Saver, On-Screen Messages, VIERA Link), Unit Settings (Front Panel Display can be set to Auto which dims the display during playback which is handy), Quick Start, Remote Control, Firmware Update, System Information, DivX Registration and Default Settings.
The SC-BTT590 comes with a very impressive set of features, including built-in WiFi so you can connect directly to your wireless network, although if you don't have one then you can connect to your router or network using a LAN cable. As far as connectivity goes, the SC-BTT590 is fully DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network and you can also access content via disc, USB, SD card, MP3 player or iPod/iPhone. In terms of file support the SC-BTT590 is a very capable performer and can handle AVCHD, MPEG, DivX HD, MKV, MOV, MP3, MP4, AVI, FLAC, JPEG and MPO. We had no problems playing back any of the above files using a USB drive, SD card or disc media (CD, DVD, BD), as well as AVC HD, MOV, MP3 and FLAC files wirelessly over our network.
The inclusion of a retractable iPod dock means that you can easily connect your iPod or iPhone to the SC-BTT590 for listening to music, looking at photos and watching videos. Although if you want to look at photos or watch videos you will need to connect the SC-BTT590 to you TV using the composite video output. The graphical interface available when using a connected iPod/iPhone is clear and intuitive and lists content correctly. The SC-BTT590 doesn't have the convenience of Bluetooth or AirPlay but the physical connection discrete and offers better sound quality, plus you can recharge the battery in your iPod/iPhone at the same time.
Once you have set up your network connection, you can then begin using the SC-BTT590's internet capabilities, which Panasonic call VIERA Connect. This means the SC-BTT590 offers a way of adding smart features to your TV without resorting to buying a new TV. The platform that Panasonic use is essentially the same as last year's TV platform, so some features found on this year's TVs, like the Web Browser, are missing. However there are still a decent number of applications including the ubiquitous BBC iPlayer, Skype (although you'll need the previously mentioned camera attachment to use it), as well as Twitter and Facebook. In addition you get BBC News, Euro Sport, YouTube, AceTrax, CineTrailer, Dailymotion, Euronews and new additions like Netflix, where you can watch movies and TV shows on demand. Another addition is the VIERA Connect Market, where you can download additional apps and games, although there is no payment feature.
The SC-BTT590 can be controlled using your smartphone or tablet and Panasonic's Remote app (iOS or Android). There are three screens - the controller which is a virtual representation of the actual remote control, a keypad for entering text and dial/sound which shows a big volume dial for controlling the volume. This dial can also be changed into a search wheel, a media selection dial or a multi-directional pad. Also on the remote page are various other controls and surround effects options with graphical displays. If you hold your smartphone or tablet horizontally, you also get a selection of three retro displays that look like audio equipment from the past. It's a very useful app and a very cool looking interface.
In terms of video performance, the SC-BTT590 was identical to the other Panasonic players we have reviewed this year. It delivered an impressive performance with both 3D and 2D Blu-rays and DVDs. The loading times were fast, the player was reasonably quiet in operation and the overall performance was slick. There was, however, quite a large fan at the rear of the unit which is used for cooling the amplifiers and could be heard on occasion. When it came to 3D the performance was excellent with the content playing flawlessly on a number of different 3D displays. We tried a number of 3D Blu-rays and they all played first time without any compatibility or handshaking issues. The SC-BTT590 is also capable of converting 2D content to 3D, although with mixed results.
As with the 3D performance, the SC-BTT590 performed equally as well with 1080p24 2D content, correctly outputting the video without any issues as demonstrated by the multiburst and zone plate patterns on our Spears & Munsil disc. The images produced were excellent with all the Blu-rays we watched showing plenty of fine detail and appearing free from any judder or unwanted video processing. When it comes to 1080i content the opportunity for the player itself to add value is far greater than it is with 1080p content. The SC-BTT590 was able to correctly deinterlace without introducing artefacts and it passed all the popular cadence tests on both our Spear & Munsil and HQV Blu-ray discs. We also used the HQV Blu-ray disc to check the quality of the video deinterlacing, which was excellent with all three bars showing no jaggies.
As with the 1080i content the SC-BTT590 benefits from Panasonic's excellent video processing when dealing with standard definition content. It was able to fully reproduce the SMPTE detail tests, correctly scaling the full signal without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. With the video deinterlacing tests the results were also excellent and in the motion adaptive deinterlacing test the performance remained superb. In the cadence tests the SC-BTT590 also performed flawlessly, correctly detecting the most common types 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) and it had no problems with the test displaying film material with scrolling video text, which was always clearly readable without any shredding.
In terms of the audio formats that the SC-BTT590 can decode all the main audio formats including Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, DolbyTrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio. There are a bewildering number of settings for sound effects and surround effects which can be accessed directly from the remote control. In terms of surround effects, with multi-channel sources you have a choice of 3D Cinema Surround (which adds 25 virtual speakers to the existing five), 7.1ch Virtual Surround and 2ch Stereo. However with two-channel sources you have a choice of Multi-Channel Out, Super Surround, Dolby Pro Logic II Movie and Dolby Pro Logic II Music. There are also a number of sound effects including Re-master and Digital Tube Sound which is Panasonic's attempt to emulate the 'warmer' sound of a vacuum tube amplifier. There is also the Equaliser setting, the Subwoofer, H.Bass, Whisper-Mode Surround and Centre Focus, which is designed to make the dialogue sound as though it is coming from the centre of the screen. As is almost always the case with the various sound settings, we find that we prefer listening to content in its original format and there is no need to add any additional processing.
So how does all this technology sound in practice? Actually very good and the SC-BTT590 acquitted itself admirably in all of our subjective listening tests. Manufacturers are getting better and better at producing excellent sounding systems for surprisingly little money. That’s not to say that the SC-BTT590 can compete with a 5.1 system composed of separates but then it isn’t supposed to. The idea behind an all-in-one system is to provide people with their first steps into a multi-channel world and no one is expecting higher end levels of performance. However, it is clear that Panasonic’s efforts to include well designed and higher quality elements have paid off. The SC-BTT590 sounds as good as, if not better than any of the other all-in-one systems we have heard.
We started with a copy of Battleship, terrible film but the soundtrack is a sonic assault that will give any system a thorough shake down. The SC-BTT590 handled the audio pyrotechnics with great aplomb, showing a level of authority and insight rarely found at this price point. There was no doubt that the use of identical speakers for the four main satellites resulting in a well balanced sound field. As a result pans around the room were smooth and there was very good imaging with precise placement of effects. As bad as the film maybe, the sound designers definitely know their jobs and the SC-BTT590 did a commendable job of replicating their intent. Dialogue was clear and anchored to the centre speaker and thanks to the SC-BTT590, it never got lost in what is a very busy mix.
The Battleship soundtrack also has trouser moistening levels of bass that can reduce less systems to tears. Once again the SC-BT590 held its ground, although in terms of low end presence, its budget status did start to show. Whilst the amplification delivered reasonable levels of volume without distortion, the passive sub is never going to compete with a dedicated active unit. However, the sub was still able to deliver plenty of bass moments and it did feel properly integrated with the rest of the system, as long as you don't set it too high. In fact the SC-BTT590’s strong point was its ability to deliver plenty of clarity and detail in the mid-range and high frequency moments could be picked out, even in the most active of soundtracks, without sounding abrasive. We tried the various effects modes but whilst they sometimes expanded the soundstage, we always felt it was at the expense of the clarity and precise imaging and as such we preferred to listen to our movies ‘au naturel’.
Where the SC-BTT590 really surprised us was in terms of its musical performance, which was surprisingly assured. In stereo we found the localisation of instruments and voices to be very precise and the clarity was excellent, with plenty of detail on orchestral recordings. The impressive mid-range, along with the well integrated bass meant that rock music was also effectively reproduced. However, clean higher frequencies meant that the SC-BTT590 could also handle acoustic music with a delicate touch, delivering pianos and female vocals without any harshness. If dance music is your thing the bass could sometimes sound a little boomy but overall this was a wonderful all round performance. If you like the sound of a vacuum tube amplifier you could try the Digital Tube Sound, it did seem to add a little warmth to the mid-range but as always this is a matter of personal taste.
- Excellent audio performance
- Built-in 3D Blu-ray player
- Excellent video performance
- Smart features
- Built-in iPod dock
- Built-in WiFi
- Attractive design
- Smartphone remote
- Build quality could be better
- No headphone socket
- No Bluetooth capability
Panasonic SC-BTT590 3D Blu-ray Player & 5.1 Home Cinema System Review
The Panasonic SC-BTT590 offers a wonderful combination of convenience, looks, performance and price, and as such would make a great choice for anyone looking to dip their toes into a multi-channel world. The SC-BTT590 has an attractive design that will compliment any modern living room and whilst the build quality could be slightly better, it is still amazing how much Panasonic can shoehorn into a package at this price point. Not only do you get a full 5.1 system with amplification but you also get a 3D Blu-ray player, a host of smart features and an iPod dock. There is built-in WiFi for an easy wireless connections and a very jazzy smartphone/tablet app that not only works but looks really cool.
The speakers are well designed and attractive, incorporating a raft of technological developments and they are large enough to be effective but not so big as to be intrusive. The front and rear speakers are all identical which provides perfect tonal matching and the centre speaker and passive subwoofer are also well integrated. Setup is very straightforward, thanks to colour coded speaker cable and a well-designed menu system and the provided connections are more than adequate. The built-in Blu-ray player is identical to the current Panasonic range and as such is a great all round performer, providing excellent video regardless of source and even adds smart features to your TV.
In terms of the audio performance, the SC-BTT590 was a real winner, delivering an authority rarely seen from an all-in-one system. That isn't to suggest that it can compete with a more expensive separates system but the SC-BTT590 can certainly hold its own, delivering an impressive performance with both movies and music. The matched speakers created a cohesive and seamless sound field and the excellent mid-range and top end, resulted in sounds with precise imaging and clarity. The amplification also had enough power to drive all the speakers, including the subwoofer, without distorting at higher volumes. The subwoofer was well integrated and whilst it could deliver some welcome bass moments, there were times when it betrayed is budget status. Overall, it was an impressive all round performance and anyone looking to take their first steps into a multi-channel world certainly won't be disappointed.
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