Panasonic's $349 SC-HT720 aims to meet the demand for multiple options with features like a five-disc changer and DVD-Audio playback, both of which tend to appear only on pricier systems.
The SC-HT720 keeps setup simple. The powered subwoofer serves as the hub in the 5.1 speaker system--an unusual arrangement for home theaters, though common for computer speakers. Easy access to the rear of the subwoofer makes it convenient to attach speaker wires. The on-screen display is intuitive, though it offered less flexibility than I expected. I could adjust speaker volume levels, but not individually: the center, left front, and right front channels receive the same setting, so you'd better place them in line with each other. Separate settings control the surround speakers and the subwoofer.
The mirrored face of the integrated DVD player and receiver imparts a classy sheen to the unit. The front and surround speakers are bookshelf-size units rather than lower-fidelity satellites (which appear more often in comparably priced units). And the SC-HT720 has auxiliary audio inputs on the rear for hooking up a VCR or tape deck.
But the features don't add up. While the DVD playback showed great detail--facial features were etched with clarity-- the unit's color reproduction fell flat. Off-white suits were hard to distinguish from the albino skin tones of the two ghosts in The Matrix Reloaded, which I used as a system test, and overall the movie looked washed out. The system's Dolby Digital decoder created encompassing surround sound, but the bass was a bit muddy. CD music sounded tinny, with weak cymbals and vocals, and midrange sounds were hard to distinguish from bass tones.
Panasonic's SC-HT720 offers high-end features at a low price, but poor color quality and some sound weaknesses disappoint.
This story, "Panasonic SC-HT720" was originally published by PCWorld.