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Panasonic Unveils Expanded Audio Lineup

Panasonic came to International CES with an expanded selection of Blu-ray-equipped home theater in a box (HTiB) systems, an expanded selection of iPod-docking tabletop microsystems, and the company’s first sound bar.

Also new is a two-speaker virtual surround system consisting of an A/V receiver and two wireless left-right speakers, each with embedded subwoofer. The SC-ZT2, tentatively set for midsummer, will replace a similar system sold with four wireless speakers. Pricing was unavailable.

The company’s first sound bar, the SC-HTB1, is a 2.1-channel model with embedded subwoofer, virtual surround processing and HDMI connection supporting HDMI’s audio return channel. Additional details and pricing were unavailable. It will likely ship in spring.

In Blu-ray-equipped HTiBs, the company will offer three 5.1-speaker models, replacing two 7.1-speaker models and joining a 2.1-speaker Blu-ray home-theater system launched last September with virtual surround sound. The company will scale back its DVD-equipped HTiB selection to one model, said entertainment products VP Richard Simone.

The new Blu-ray HTiBs are the SC-BT230, SC-BT330 and SC-BT730, all with BD-Live capability and Panasonic’s Viera Cast service, which streams Amazon Video on Demand movies, YouTube, Picasa, Bloomberg TV and weather information and has been expanded to add Netflix. All three will be available with separately sold Wi-Fi dongle to access BD Live content from the Internet, he added.

The top model will also come with wireless surround speakers out of the box, whereas the other two come with surround speakers that can be connected to an optional wireless kit. In the 2009 lineup, both BD HTiBs came with wireless-ready speakers.

In another change, the trio will come with iPod/iPhone-certified docks, whereas the 2009 lineup features iPod-certified docks.

All three Blu-ray systems ship in the spring at a price that hasn’t been firmed up. The two 2009 models retailed for around $549 to $649, Simone said.

In one-piece iPod-docking CD-microsystems, the company will expand its selection to four from two. The HC 20, HC 30 and HC 40 feature tuner, CD player and iPod/iPhone-certified dock. The vertical-mount CD mechanism and dock are hidden behind a sliding door. Pricing wasn’t announced.

The three new models will replace an existing model and join the $299 MW-10 one-piece microsystem/digital photo frame with iPod-certified dock, tuner, CD player and 9-inch digital photo frame. It shipped in December.

Another new tabletop dock is the arch-shaped $129 SC-SP100, an iPod/iPhone-certified system due in January without tuner or CD.