Panasonic Fills Out Audio Lineup Details - Twice

Panasonic Fills Out Audio Lineup Details

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New York - Panasonic revealed the pricing of the new iPod/iPhone-docking compact audio systems and new soundbar in its 2011 audio lineup and offered more details about a variety of new features and technologies available for the first time on its new 3D Blu-ray HTiBs.


All products were unveiled at CES, and HTiB prices were revealed shortly thereafter. All products are still scheduled to ship in April.

Of the four compact stereo systems, three incorporate AM/FM tuner and MP3-CD players at suggested retails of $99, $149, and $199. The fourth system lacks tuner and CD retails for a suggested $179.

The company's new soundbar, the SC-HTB520, is priced at a suggested $399, replacing a similarly equipped and priced model.

The HTiB prices, as previously announced, are a suggested $399, $499, and $599.

Compact systems:

All four compact systems are thin, vertically-oriented single-chassis models that are 2.5 to 2.75 inches deep, depending on the model. Two can be wall-mounted.


The four compact systems, along with the three new 3G Blu-ray HTiBs, are the company's first such products that take in music in PCM digital form from a docked iPod/iPhone to improve sound quality, said product manager Troy Livingston during a presentation here to the press.

Two of four new iPod/iPhone-docking compact stereo systems - the $199 SC-HC55 with CD-tuner and $179 SC-HC05 without CD-tuner -- are the company's first with ability to select favorite Internet radio stations for playback via the systems' included IR remote.

 An Internet radio tuner, however, isn't built into the two compact systems. Instead, a $1.99 vTuner app loaded onto an Apple iPod Touch/iPhone accesses Internet radio stations via the Apple devices' embedded Wi-Fi radio. The music is then streamed to the compact systems via stereo Bluetooth. Also via Bluetooth, the compact systems relay favorite-station up/down commands from their supplied  IR remotes to the Apple devices. Bluetooth Remaster technology restores frequencies lost during Bluetooth transmission.

The two compact systems also use stereo Bluetooth to stream music from Bluetooth-equipped cellphones, MP3 players, and iPads. The 2010 line featured only one compact system with stereo Bluetooth.

The compact line starts with the $99 SC-HC25 with CD-tuner but no Bluetooth or vTuner control. Features include push-open dock, motorized sliding CD door, LCD display, bass and treble controls, 3.13-inch single-cone speakers, and aux input.

The $149 SC-HC35, also with CD-tuner, steps up with motorized sliding door that hides both the CD player and iPod, wall-mount capability, 40-watt output, fluorescent display, 2.5-inch single-cone speakers with bamboo cones and dual passive radiators.

The top-end $199 SC-HC55, which is also wall-mountable, adds motion sensing for hands-free opening of the motorized door, stereo Bluetooth with Bluetooth Remaster, vTuner, two-way speaker system with 0.6-inch tweeter, 2.2-inch cone woofer, and dual passive radiators.

The only compact system without CD-tuner is the $179 SC-HC05, which features IR remote control of the iPod/iPhone-loaded vTuner Internet-radio app, stereo Bluetooth with Bluetooth Remaster, push-open iPod/iPhone dock, 40-watt output, LED display, and the SC-H55's speaker complement. It's not wall-mountable.

Soundbar:

The $399-suggested SC-HTB520 with wireless subwoofer replaces the current SC-HTB500, which is similarly equipped and priced. It will join the carryover $199-suggested SC-HTB10, which incorporates built-in subwoofer.

The new soundbar, like its predecessor, features wireless outboard subwoofer, one 3D-capable HDMI 1.4 input (1.4 previously and 1.4a now) to connect a 3D Blu-ray player or 3D settop box, one optical digital input to connect the digital audio output of a settop box, an HDMI 1.4 output (1.4 previously and 1.4a now) with audio return channel, built-in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoders, and Dolby Virtual Speaker to create virtual surround. The HDMI input also accepts multichannel PCM streams from a Blu-ray player.

Compared to its predecessor, however, the new soundbar features taller thinner subwoofer with downfiring driver. The new model also features new cosmetics with a black-glass front and drivers behind black metal grilles that blend in with the black glass.

The carryover $199 soundbar features 3D-compatible HDMI input, Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, and Dolby Virtual Speaker but lacks an outboard subwoofer.

HTiBs:

In launching one new DVD HTiB and three 3D Blu-ray HTiBs, the company is increasing its selection of 3D HTiBs to three from two, bringing 2D-to-3D conversion to the company's Blu-ray HTiB line for the first time, and offering a 3D Effect Controller for the first time. The latter lets users adjust the degree of 3D effects to their preference.

The 2D-to-3D conversion converts 2D video on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and SD Cards to 3D.

The three BD HTiBs are also the company's first HTiBs that:

--upconvert streaming video-on-demand services to full 1080p.

--feature built-in WiFi, whereas previous models used included or optional Wi-Fi dongles. Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n is included.

--and let users customize the Blu-ray home screen with a personal photo uploaded from an SD card.

The top two at $499 and $599 are also the company's first HTiBs with HDMI inputs, in this case dual 3D-capable HDMI 1.4a output. They're also the first two Panasonic HTiBs with optional Skype video calling.

All three HTiBs feature 5.1-speaker systems, 1,000-watt outputs, faster loading integrated Blu-ray players, HDMI 1.4a input with audio return channel, and Cinema Surround Plus, said to simulate 22-speaker surround sound, including 11 height channels.

The $499 system connects to an optional $129-suggested wireless kit for use with the surround speakers, and the $599 model comes with included wireless kit.

The top two models also feature standby passthrough, enabling a settop box to pass its HDMI audio and video signals through an HTiB to a TV even if the HTiB hasn't been turned on.

All three Blu-Ray HTiBs also feature Viera Cast Internet streaming services, which have been expanded to include CinemaNow and Vudu.

The opening price of a 3D-equipped HTiB goes to a suggested $399 from $499.

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