AV Peripherals and Systems Guide
Panasonic's New AV Offerings
New Age Audio
Panasonic’s showing at CES 2013 was wide and extensive ranging across televisions, cameras, home theater systems and audio offerings. A couple of months down the road, the products previously showcased have made their way down to the South East Asian region and were unveiled at an event held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore. Previously, we've had opportunities to try out their cameras and TVs, but the event presented a unique opportunity to get a hands-on with their AV offerings too and that's what we'll focus upon in this article.
It is no secret that smartphones have become the default music playing device for many consumers. What started off with a discarding off CDs for iPods and portable music players, it has finally reached a point the tech savvy use their smartphones to store music or access it from the cloud. Audio manufacturers have factored this change into their product designs over the past few years as we have seen a steady stream of portable wireless speakers that have made their way into the market that support Android and iOS devices.
Keeping that trend in mind, Panasonic showed off their SC-NE5 wireless speakers. The two-piece system seems to be one of the more thorough and complete wireless speakers we have encountered to date. The device is armed with a three-inch woofer and a one-inch tweeter while offering options of Bluetooth, AirPlay and DLNA for wireless streaming, thus making it compatible with Android and iOS devices as well as any other product that supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile. Wired playback from the Panasonic SC-NE5 also comes with the help of a Lightning connector dock, 3.5mm audio jack and a USB port. As an added bonus, the device can also play CDs which would definitely please users who still retain a disc collection.
We had a chance to quickly test out the capabilities of the Panasonic SC-NE5 at the event and we found it to have a warm tone and a strong central channel. However our hands-on was cut short due to stuttering audio. The two components (a 'receiver' and speaker) which make up the SC-NE5 linked via a proprietary transmission and we guess there might be connectivity issues between the two due to a faulty show set. Since further investigation was not possible on the scene, we'll have to audition it in proper when we bring one of these sets in for testing in our lab. Before we move on to the next product, take note that the horizontal speaker component of the SC-NE5 will also be sold separately under the title of SC-NE3.
Not forgetting tablet users, Panasonic also took time to shine the spotlight on the SC-NP10 which is a 2.1-channel Bluetooth speaker system first unveiled at CES 2013. The device features a 3.125-inch sub-woofer and two front facing drivers. There is also a grooved slot for your tablet to rest in, which is perfect if you are using the SC-NP10 to augment the audio of your tablet while viewing content such as movies on the slate. This particular introduction from Panasonic makes a solid first impression due to its decent volume levels and good soundstage.
Compact Stereo Systems
Panasonic’s range of compact stereo systems has also gotten minor upgrades from their previous iterations. The flagship model is the SC-HC58 which replaces the older SC-HC-57. The new version comes with Bluetooth and a dock which is compatible with the 5th generation iPhone and iPod Touch.
The SC-HC38 and SC-HC28 have also been equipped with Bluetooth playback capabilities which are not present on the prior models. According to Panasonic, the internal hardware of the devices have otherwise unchanged although they did state that the software has been upgraded to provide higher levels of performance. To complement that, Panasonic has also introduced a new Music Streaming App (Apple App Store, Google Play) for providing greater convenience to smart device users.
The Panasonic RXD-7 is the new flagship headphone offered by the company. The product is in a new category of its own, seated higher than the previous RXD-5 and RXD-3 offerings. Sporting a circumaural wearing style, the product is armed with 40mm drivers and an in-line microphone which makes it suitable for use with smartphones.
On our quick listening tests, we found the highs to be clear although lacking in brightness or warmth. Like most cans available on the market, the bass was too prominent for our liking and tended to overpower the mix. This is a drawback in our opinion; since the mids lack presence, this makes the overall tone of the RXD-7 skews heavily towards the low registers. We'll have to audition it in proper some other time, but for now, that sums up our initial experience with the RXD-7.
Home Theater Audio
With regards to home theater audio offerings, Panasonic revealed three new products. The SC-BTT 430 is the most premium offering, followed by the SC-BTT 400 which is targeted at the middle spectrum, and rounded off by the SC-BTT 300 which is an entry-level device. Panasonic states that they have increased the volume capacity of the subwoofer for each model by 52% when compared with the previous versions. All the packages also include a Blu-ray player which provides access to Viera Connect smart features.
Much like the compact stereo systems, the Blu-ray players have all been upgraded as well. The one most worthy of notice is the BDT330. This particular device provides 4K upscaling and comes with Viera Connect smart TV features, as well as a full web browser.
But most interesting is the inclusion of Miracast which is a peer-to-peer wireless screencast standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Much like Apple’s AirPlay Mirroring, it allows users to mirror content from their smartphone to the TV in real-time using Wi-Fi Direct. Wi-Fi Direct works in somewhat similar fashion to Bluetooth in the sense that it does not require a router/access point for streaming. All Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) products support Miracast and as such, this function should be useful with the majority of recent Android mobile devices.