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Panasonic Adds Blu-ray Player, Enhanced Connectivity To HTiBs

Panasonic’s first home-theater in a box (HTiB) system with integrated Blu-ray Disc player debuted at International CES, where the company also enhanced its entire HTiB selection with improved iPod and set-top-box connectivity, a new user interface and better sound quality.

The company also reduced chassis depth from an industry-standard 424mm to 324mm to fit on shallow-depth flat-TV furniture without protruding out the front, said home audio marketing manager Paul Sabo.

The SC-BT100 Blu-ray HTiB, due in May at an unannounced price, is a 5.1-channel single-disc system incorporating all of the standard and optional surround-sound formats authorized for use on Blu-ray discs, including 7.1-channel 96kHz/24-bit PCM. To deliver all 7.1 channels, consumers can buy an optional wireless-speaker pair to add to the system, which already comes out of the box with a pair of wireless surround speakers. With the added wireless speakers, the BT100 could be the industry’s first HTiB with four wireless surround speakers. Although the number of 7.1-channel Blu-ray discs is limited, Sabo said, more will come in 2008.

The BT100’s player will conform to the full Blu-ray Final Standard Profile (version 1.1), and the system itself will be Panasonics’ first HTiB with an SD card slot. The slot, which will accept SDHC cards, will play back stored compressed-music and compressed–video files, including video from 1080p high-definition AVC-HD camcorders that store video on SD cards, Sabo said. The chapters of home videos stored on the SD cards will be displayed on a TV screen through the HTiB. Playback of AVCHD video stored on SD cards is also available on Panasonic’s standalone Blu-ray players, he noted.

As a Final Standard player, the BT-100’s player is capable of playing Bonus View Blu-ray discs that carry additional content, such as director’s commentary, that can be played back simultaneously while the movie is playing. It will also play back such content downloaded to a PC and transferred to an SD card that slides into the Panasonic model.

The BT100, which also upscales DVD video to 1080p, comes with five 12-inch by 5-inch by 4.5-inch D’Appolito-array speakers, which come with stands but can be wall-mounted vertically.

Like the three new DVD-based HTiBs on display at CES, the BT100 features newly enhanced connectivity with iPods. As in the 2007 line, all new 2008 HTiBs feature an iPod-charging cradle and a system remote that controls the HTiB and the docked iPod. This year, however, the cradles are embedded in the HTiB, and the cradles will for the first time pass through iPod-stored videos on a connected TV. The cradles will also be Panasonic’s first in an HTiB to display a menu of iPod functions on the TV. The cradle is embedded in the systems’ front panel and flips open to enable docking.

The three DVD-based HTiBs are the SC-PT660 at a targeted suggested $299, the SC-PT760 at a targeted $399 and the SC-PT960 at a targeted $499. All come with a new five-disc elevator-style DVD changer to reduce chassis depth. Like the carousel mechanism it replaces, the elevator mechanism lets consumers play one disc while swapping out the other four. All provide 1080p up-scaling, and all but the opening-price model ship with wireless surround speakers. The opening-price model, however, can be outfitted with an optional $299 wireless kit to deliver surround channels wirelessly to the surround speakers.

To improve connectivity, all of the new HTiBs are Panasonic’s first with optical digital input to connect digitally to cable and satellite settop boxes. “An optical input is the most compatible digital audio connection for set-top boxes, DVRs and gaming systems,” Sabo said.