Panasonic Readies 2011 Audio Lineup

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Panasonic’s home audio line unveiled by Panasonic at CES will expand its selection of 3D Blu-ray home theater in a box (HTiB) systems to three from two, bring 2D-to-3D conversion to the company’s HTiB line for the first time, and include the first iPod/ iPhone-docking compact stereo systems with Internetradio controls.

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

Two of the company’s three new 3D HTiBs are also Panasonic’s first with Skype Internet video calling (via a separately sold Skype-compatible camera). Two are the company’s first HTiBs with HDMI inputs to connect a high-definition cable or satellite settop box. Those 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.

Two of four new iPod/iPhone-docking compact stereo systems are the company’s first with ability to select Internet radio stations for playback via included IR remote. Although an Internet radio tuner isn’t built-in, the two models’ IR remotes control a planned Panasonic-dedicated vTuner app loaded onto a docked iPhone or iPod Touch. The vTuner app, which streams Internet radio stations via the Touch/iPhone’s embedded Wi-Fi radio, can be controlled from the compact systems’ IR remote. The remote enables users to select stations, call up favorite stations and view playlists. The app is due in the first quarter.

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

All of the new audio products ship in April.

The HTiBs are the $399-suggested SC-BTT270, $499 SC-BT370 and $599 SC-BTT770. All feature integrated 3D Blu-ray player, 5.1 speaker system, 2D-to-3D conversion, 3D Effect Controller to control the depth of 3D effects, optical digital audio input, one HDMI 1.4a output with audio return channel, embedded Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, and Viera Cast Internet streaming services, which have been expanded to include CinemaNow and Vudu. Other Viera Cast services include Amazon Video On Demand, Netflix, Pandora, Fox Sports, Twitter, YouTube and Picasa.

The three HTiBs also feature DTS HD Master, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus decoding.

The top two HTiBs add two HDMI 1.4a inputs, which passthrough 3D broadcasts from set-top boxes and 3D games from PCs. The two systems also add Skype Internet video calling. The $499 model accepts a kit to add wireless to the surround speakers, and the $599 model comes with included wireless surround speakers.

The three systems, like the docking compact systems, take in music in PCM digital format from docked iPods and iPhones rather than in analog form to improve sound quality.

The four iPod/iPhone-docking compact systems are thin, vertically oriented single-chassis models, with all but the opening-price model featuring AM/FM/CD.

The compact systems start with the SC-HC05, which lacks AM/FM/CD but features IR remote control of the iPod/iPhone-loaded vTuner Internet-radio app, stereo Bluetooth, push-open iPod/iPhone dock and Bluetooth Remaster, which restores frequencies lost during Bluetooth transmission.

The step-up SC-HC25 lacks Bluetooth streaming and Internet radio control but adds AM/FM/CD and a sliding door that hides a vertically oriented CD mechanism but doesn’t hide the push-open iPod dock.


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