Panasonic SC-HTB490 Soundbar Review
- Good stereo separation
- Decent bass reproduction
- Plenty of amplification
- Simple to set-up
The not so good
- Narrow soundstage
- Limited connections
- Disappointing remote
What Is the Panasonic SC-HTB490?
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is a 2.1-channel soundbar composed of a main unit and a separate wireless subwoofer. It's a fairly basic offering with support for lossy audio codecs, HDMI-ARC, and Bluetooth. As a result, it's relatively inexpensive and costs £199 as at the time of writing (November 2021). So is this a simple and cost-effective method of improving the sound quality of your TV? Let's find out...
Design, Control and Connections
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 uses a simple design, with a slightly angled shape and fabric across the front and top. There are glossy end plates, a matte strip along the top rear, and the entire unit is finished in black. There's no display, aside from a pair of LED lights at the front.
The design is simple, the build quality good, and the connections include HDMI-ARC, but the remote control is disappointing
The HTB490 is aimed at TVs with a screen size of at least 43 inches. If you need to clear a TV stand, Panasonic includes feet that raise the unit by 16mm. There are also rear brackets included for wall mounting. The soundbar itself measures 800 x 56 x 101mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 1.9kg.
You'll find some very basic controls on the centre of the matte strip at the top rear of the soundbar. There's a button for powering the SC-HTB490 on and off, buttons for volume up and down, along with a button for cycling through the inputs (and doubling as the Bluetooth pairing button).
The included remote control is disappointing, and the kind of credit card-sized zapper that's easily lost down the back of the sofa. It's not just small, but also fiddly with multi-purpose buttons that have a main function and a secondary one activated by holding the button down. Thankfully, the inclusion of HDMI-ARC means you can control the volume of the HTB490 with your TV remote.
The connections are all housed in a recess on the underside of the soundbar. Here you'll find an HDMI-ARC connector, an optical digital audio input, and a USB port. There's also Bluetooth 4.2 for a wireless connection, but that's your lot.
Features and Specs
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is based around a two-channel main unit that uses a pair of full-range 12 x 4.5cm speakers with bass reflex ports for added low-end extension. There is 80W of Class D amplification for each speaker, resulting in 160W of total power in the soundbar.
While the bass reflex ports help the soundbar go deeper, the lower frequencies are primarily handled by the separate wireless subwoofer. This uses a 16cm driver with a bass reflex port, and includes 160W of amplification. The sub measures 171 x 382 x 363mm (WxHxD), and weighs 5.7kg.
The HTB490 supports lossy Dolby Digital and DTS, along with two-channel LPCM. There are five adjustment levels for the subwoofer, and five sound modes: Standard, Cinema, Sports, Music, and News. The Cinema and Sports modes apply virtual surround processing.
Set-up and Operation
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is a pretty basic soundbar, so there ultimately isn't much set-up required. All you really need to do is decide where to position the soundbar – table or wall mounting – and then place the subwoofer at the front of the room to the left or right of the TV.
Due to the soundbar's simplicity it's very easy to set-up – table or wall mount, place the sub at the left or right, and connect to the TV via HDMI
At just 56mm high, the soundbar shouldn't block the screen, but if you need to raise it using the feet the height becomes 72mm. Then all you need to do is connect the HDMI-ARC output to your TV, although if your TV doesn't support ARC you can use the optical digital input instead.
There's also the option to connect a USB thumb drive, and you can pair with a Bluetooth device like a smartphone. There's no remote app, and the included controller leaves a lot to be desired, but if your TV supports ARC, you can just use your TV's zapper for basic control.
The included controller leaves a lot to be desired and there's no remote app, but for basic control you can use the TV's zapper via HDMI-ARC
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is a solid if not exceptional performer. The two front-firing speakers produce good stereo presence, with a clean and detailed delivery. The mid-range is clear and un-congested, while the higher frequencies are also rendered without sounding sibilant or harsh. The sub does a respectable job of handling the lower frequencies, ensuring some decent bass.
The soundstage is rather narrow, which means the HTB490 is better suited to smaller screens, but despite the lack of a centre speaker the dialogue is clear and focused on the action. The narrowness also means the delivery lacks the necessary scale needed for blockbuster movie soundtracks.
On the plus side, the Panasonic has plenty of power, and can go loud without sounding strained. The addition of a separate subwoofer also allows the HTB490 to go fairly deep, giving films greater impact. However, make sure you adjust the five-step subwoofer level to ensure its doesn't swamp the rest of the soundstage.
The five sound modes are fairly self explanatory, but given the 2.1-channel nature of the soundbar, the Standard mode generally works best. As for the others, the Music mode just sounds weird, but the News mode is good for emphasising dialogue. The Cinema and Sports modes apply virtual surround processing, which gives the audio a bit more space but also robs the soundstage of some of its front focus.
The audio is solid if not exceptional, with a clean and detailed delivery, clear dialogue despite the lack of a centre speaker, and decent bass
A show like What if...? has a lively soundtrack, and while the 2.1-channel nature of the SC-HTB490 means you don't get the full surround experience (let alone immersive Dolby Atmos), it does a great job of rendering the dialogue, music and sound effects. The Watcher's voice has a pleasing warmth and depth to it, revealing this soundbar's strength in the mid-range, while the score is spread across the two front channels, and the sub gives the action scenes a pleasing low-end kick.
The Panasonic sounds pleasingly balanced, even at low volumes, but thanks to its built-in amplification and full-range drivers, it can also produce a room-filing sound when required. You can crank up the volume without it distorting or sounding harsh, and watching a show like Foundation you might not be able to take advantage of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but the epic sci-fi drama still retains a sense of scale, and the sub does an excellent job of handling the big bass moments.
Of course, the SC-HTB490 can only do so much with 2.1 channels, and when watching a big action movie like F9 the system does start to show its limitations. The front soundstage remains well-defined and detailed, dialogue is clear, and the sub delivers a decent amount of bass, ensuring the action scenes have a visceral impact, but there's no sense of envelopment, and the lack of immersion makes the experience less enjoyable.
Panasonic SC-HTB490 Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is a capable 2.1-channel soundbar that does exactly what it sets out to do, even if its performance seems a little perfunctory at times. The design feels somewhat uninspired, but this soundbar and subwoofer combination are reasonably well made. The features are a bit limited, especially when it comes to connections, and the remote is disappointing, but as a quick and easy method of boosting the sound quality of your TV, this system certainly delivers.
The HTB490 performs where it matters, with good mid-range speakers that produce nice stereo separation, a clean and detailed signature and clear dialogue despite the lack of a dedicated centre channel. The separate wireless subwoofer digs deep, laying a foundation of bass and, in the Standard sound mode, the result is a balanced and powerful delivery. It could be wider, and there's no surround presence, but the results are almost certainly a big step-up from your TV.
What are my alternatives?
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 offers good value, and you'll struggle to find a decent soundbar and subwoofer combination for £200. If you're strapped for cash, or your TV is fairly small, then the Hisense HS214 is insanely cheap at £99 but lacks DTS support. Alternatively, the Yamaha SR-C20A is a great little performer, although at £199 and with no separate subwoofer, the HTB490 starts to look even better value. In terms of direct competition, the Polk Signa S3 is definitely worth considering. It's a little bit more expensive at around £240, but you get Chromecast and a wider front soundstage, making it a great choice for larger screen sizes.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.