After having the new Panasonic TC-P50ST50 for about 2 months now, and having been seduced into the world of 3D shows unexpectedly, I have been kicking around the idea of boosting the sound quality of the new set. I looked alot of reviews of sound bars, surround systems, receivers, or so on, I kept throwing around the idea if it was really "needed".
Recommend this product?
At first I Amazon had this system listed at $175 about a week before Christmas, then it went up to $199. Then about 2 days before before Christmas they dropped to the $149. since the price was just above my willing breaking point $175 I didn't go for it, but when it dropped to the lower I dropped by the BestBuy to give them a run since I saw that they had this sound bar when I was looking at the TV a month or so prior. It was quite a bit smaller than I imagined. They had it in the single bar configuration and the subwoofer was hidden behind the display wall. So it received just a quick glance and I moved onto to bigger 1000w systems, since surely they would be better than the 240w output of this tiny little box.
I looked at the more expensive systems with 5.1 and even a 7.1 system, but didn't want the hassle of running that many wires around the room so I ended up back at the little 2.1 sound bar. I liked the idea of being able to split the single bar into two vertical speakers, each with their own little stands. It would fit nicely beside the TV since it was on a nice 62in wide TV stand. Back to the Internet for more research, since the associate at BB was not much help in answering the biggest questions I had. Those being:
#1 - What is the ARC capability?
#2 - Would I need to have a separate remote laying around to change the sound?
#3 - Would I have to switch the inputs around if I wanted to use them for regular TV and bluray/DVD movies?
#4 - Would I need yet another HDMI cable or a Toslink cable?
#5 Would using external speakers keep giving me the "speakers off" banner every time I changed sound volume
Well as for ARC, it stands for Audio Return Channel. Now, I'm not audiophile and I only read briefly about this stuff as it was starting to raise more questions than I was answering for myself. But it seemed to me that it would allow the TV to control the sound bar without needing more remotes cluttering up my table downstairs. But I couldn't find a definite answer to the question #2 as no one had reviewed this particular issue yet. I was hoping that I wouldn't need to use a separate sound bar remote since it was going to be branded the same as the TV. So for now it stayed a hope and not a certainty.
As for the TosLink cable question, that was partially cleared up with a trip back to BestBuy to fiddle with it some more. this time I looked at the side of the TV (since they conveniently had a the 55" size of my ST50 hooked up to this sound bar). It seemed that they had only an HDMI cable, and this time an associate indicated that I would need a Toslink if I wanted to hook up multiple things. When we switched over the TV to the sound bar, being as smart as I am (LOL) I had brought my cable remote with me to see if it would control the system w/ using the Panasonic TV remote or the sound system remote. Alas, or did not work. but the associate said that the sound bar was not hooked up to the TV via HDMI cable and that was why it didn't work. So after he left to help someone else I looked myself and unless it connects by magic, it was indeed hooked up by HDMI cable as I traced it from the subwoofer to the TV. (Later I would find the true reason it didn't work as I'd hoped and I'll let you know the trouble it caused in a little bit.)
After getting back home, I deleted this out of my Amazon cart, resigning myself to continue listening to the TV on its internal speakers. At least for another 2 days, while I read more about ARC and trying to find out more information. After reading more and more I decided that for $149 it was worth the risk since I'd be able to fiddle with it more than the one in BestBuy, and if I couldn't get it work as I wanted, I could always ship it back to Amazon.
But the more I read the more I figured that it should work, since the SC-HTB20 is Viera link enabled and both were ARC capable devices. And the biggest thing I remembered was that the HDMI cable in BestBuy went to port#3 on the TV, and on the ST50 the only port that is ARC enabled is #2. If you read my review of the ST50b TV you'll see the part where I noted about the advertisement banner and where to turn it off under the Viera Link settings so I started fiddling with those menus and the advanced sound menus trying to see what I could do. I found area to turn the TV speakers off (which gave the message that they were off when hitting the volume button). I also found an area to turn default speakers to theater instead of TV, but since I didn't have anything to try yet, I went and ordered the SC-HTB20.
Once I started opening the speakers I still alittle disheartened about how small they looked. Since nothing this small should be able to make decent sound. I almost decided to just seal up the box and send it back, but since it was here, I thought I had better at least give them a chance.
Set up was easy and the directions were easy to follow. They have the obvious instruction booklet and also a quick setup/assembly pamphlet, which is what I used. Interesting to note is that I only had English instructions. Horray Panasonic. No Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Swahili, Arabic, Latin and whatever else is usually in those 900 language encyclopedia instruction books you usually get nowadays.
Besides the two bases for my chosen vertical setup, there are also two stands and a center connector piece if you choose to have the bar as one piece and laying horizontally. Also in the horizontal configuration there are two way to set it up. You can use the little L shaped stands which attach via single screw to each one. I will warn you that it will block the IR sensor for the remotes if you put in on the table in front of the TV in this configuration, since it raises the speaker about 2 inches: or you can attach four little rubber pads which will lower the speaker just enough to get it below the IR sensor (unless you rest it on the silver TV stand, then it will still block it). Now if you move the speaker forward enough I would say the TV should be able to pick up the remote signals, but I didn't try it so I can't say for certain on that part.
They also give instructions on how to set the speakers up as hanging from the wall, in both the vertical and horzontal positions. There are anchoring holes if you have a need to make the speakers more secure in any of the 5 configurations.
The remote is a cute little flat thing. It has buttons for TV, BD/DVD and AUX inputs, mute, volume rocker, subwoofer rocker, and dialog level rocker buttons and of course the power button. Its powered by a flat cell CR2025 lithium battery.
Assembly and unpacking commenced. Since I enjoy setting electronics things up, I go slow and enjoy it, which is partly why it took me about 3 hours to get it set up the way I want it. The other part of why it took me so long to do this simple setup was trying to get the thing all synced with the correct TV menu settings. I'll get to this fiasco in a second.
Like I said setup was simple as can be, inset tab into hole, stick screw in hole, tighten. Stick wire ends in spring clip, stick connector end into subwoofer, connect HDMI and power. Turn on. :) All easily diagrammed on the quick setup pages. The non-simple issues around when I tried to find the correct combination of settings to get it to work correctly.
The first one I'll call myself out on as being stupid. I had everything working, then I moved it to the sides of the TV and I moved the subwoofer to the left side of the TV cabinet so I could see the levels of the dialog and bass indicator lights (more on those later). Originally I wanted to put the sub behind the cabinet, but since there is no onscreen controls for the dialog and subwoofer volumes you need to see the front of the sub box (or count the times you push the respective control buttons). When everything was replugged back in and set up, I wasn't getting any sound and I wasted a good 40 minutes fiddling with menu and settings and then I gave up and pulled the box to start packing it up. Then I had an epiphany. I had checked the HDMI port on the TV but not the subwoofer. When I checked I saw I plugged the HDMI cable from the TV into the wrong HDMI port on the subwoofer. I popped it into the AV IN instead of the ARC one. Stupid me.
It was back to working order then. And the best part was that the cable remote controlled the volume of the sound bar, so I can still get away with one remote, thanks to ARC and viera link. The TV will even control the power up and off of the sound system thanks to this. And when you do change volume the TV shows the volume just like normal with the exception that it doesn't say "volume" and the corresponding number & slider bar, it says, "Home theater volume" and the number & slider bar. Awesome.
Now the reason I decided to move the subwoofer to the side of the TV cabinet was to see the status lights. As I said before there are no on screen controls for the subwoofer and dialog level functions. The only indication you can see os to the level are three status lights that flash in sequence. These also flash right (up or left (down) when you change volume too. But when you use the sub of dialog level it will have the left most light lit for the lowest level, the left and center for 2nd lowest, center and right 3rd and just the right for the 4th or highest level for both of these. The subwoofer level is rather self explanatory, but the dialog volume is interesting. You can think of it as the treble level I guess. It does bring out the speaking parts of the shows, but it seems to make it sound a little like the original TV speakers when you turn it up full. So I have it set to the 2nd lowest level and the subwoofer set to the third. Even when the sub if turned up to 4 it's not going to shake the pictures on the wall, but hey its only 240w for the system. But it will definitely bring a much more enjoyable sound to things.
I don't know what I kept doing wrong in trying to get it all hooked up since now it all seems easy, but I guess I alittle frazzled by the prospect of have it working then getting torqued up over it not working, only to find it my stupid fault of plugging it in wrong after moving it. but the set up really is relatively easy. Once everything is hooked up properly, and I can only speak for Panasonic and Viera Link equipment (although the instructions do indicate other ways to connect it if you don't have ARC or you'd need to connect it directly to a DVD player lets say. both of these methods will require the HDMI cable AND an optical cable.
As for functions of the system, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a system in this price point that has the number of features that this system does. As I mentioned above, the ability if paired with a Viera link TV, but beyond that, this system will Automatically lip-sync programs. I noticed that on the tv speakers on the ST50 sometimes the show and sound were off. I used the Disney WOW disc when I first got the TV to adjust the picture and one of the sound features was a delay program, which showed how far ahead or behind the sound was coming through the TV and it was (at the worst) .160 seconds behind the picture. I think I've seen even worse on some shows (mostly Disney channel oddly enough) that it is quite distracting to watch the show with the picture and audio so far off. but with the sound bar it corrects for this and I haven't seen ANY noticeable effect like that since using the SC-HTB20.
The system can also adjust the volume automatically when it "exceeds certain sound levels". The instructions state that this is to prevent any sudden loud sounds. Don't know, haven't see it happen yet, maybe its for those who don't like horror movies and that dead calm comes in and then the killer jumps out? See Panasonic making homes less scary places. LOL.
It also gives you choices on what to set the clear-dialog volume effects and volume limitation effects, but I don't really see a need to mess with that stuff. but its there in case you don't like the way voices sound at low volume or if the "state of the lowered volume disturbs you every time this system turns on". You can change it. Don't ask about that last one because I don't understand either. How can a low volume disturb you? Maybe its for people who have to have white noise or music to fall asleep to? I dunno.
Oh I forgot to mention the menu and setting areas, When you hook it up (again for Panasonic/Viera link TVs), you go under the main menu and enter the setup menu. Then go to the Viera Link menu, and make sure the Viera link is turned on. The Power off link is turned to on (it allows the TV to turn the sound bar on and off). I have the Power on link turned off, because I don't want the sound bar to be able to turn on the TV). Then change the Default speakers to Theater. You can then go into the Audio area, then advanced menu to make sure the TV speakers are set to off. everything in the advanced section should be grayed out if its correct since the sound bar will control all that stuff.
So as for the overall sound of the system, it is most definitely an improvement. I've flipped back and forth from TV speakers to sound bar on the same part of DVR'ed moves to see how they sound. Granted you're not going to stunned and amazed by the quality, but you will definitely notice a difference. Just don't expect ground rumbling wall shaking properties and you'll be pleased.
True this is not a blue tooth wireless system so you are going to have at least four more cables in the rat's nest (power, HDMI, and the two white speaker wires), but its price is right and I don't mind cables. But I think the low price, features and increased audio quality will more than make up for it. I'm glad I took a chance and I'd probably even be willing to have paid the $175, probably not $200 since there are better systems out there in the 5.1 range for only 20 bucks more and they are viera link enabled too.
Now if you have a non-Panasonic brand or its an older model without viera link, this system can still be good. You might just have to be willing to put up with having another remote laying around *unless you have a good universal remote like a Harmony or something like that). But I'm happy that my cheapo Service Electric DVR cable box remote controls it all still. Well minus the Sony Bluray player, I still need to fiddle with that, but at least I can keep that one in the drawer until its movie time. but even then the Sony remote still controls the volume of the SC-HTB20 since its connected with the ARC port to the TV and I don't have to switch anything on the SC-HTB20 to get it recognize the bluray player either. You don't even have to think about it.
This next bit I'm going to put in here, just because I don't know why it happened as of yet, and please don't take it as a fault of the SC-HTB20 since I can't verify it as of yet. My wife uses Skype to talk with the in-laws who live in Romania and on Saturday she connected to Skype through the TV and the attached Panasonic Skype TY-CC20W Webcam I got here for Christmas (also reviewed by me on Epinions). She came up and woke me up to tell me that there was no sound. She claims she turned on everything as I showed her (this being only the second or third time she's used the TV to skype). When I popped up the menu to see what the system was trying to use for the speakers they Viera link options were greyed out and I couldn't get into the menus to see what was set. I was able to turn it back to the TV speakers. At first I thought that maybe the TV couldn't use the speakers for internet stuff, but that didn't make any sense. So after she was done I turned it back to the theater setting and turned everything off and back on and it worked fine. She says she just turned the TV on and didn't touch anything else, so I don't know what happened, but it worked fine when I did it and it hasn't happened since. Personally I think that she tried using the SC-HTB20's remote when she realized that there were external speakers attached and I didn't tell her I hooked them up. But the speakers do work with Skype and everything else, so as far as I'm concerned there was not an issue beyond operator error, but since I can't duplicate it, I thought I'd put it in here. I'll keep updated if it happiness again or i figure out what exactly she did, but until then its happy listening for us.
If there was something bad to say about this system and since I can't even really put this down as a "con" is that the speakers are small. Even with the smallest size plasma (@50") these speakers, in the vertical position on their stands, are only 17" tall. About halfway up the side of the TV. Now for the 50" screen it's not too bad, but it might look alittle weird on a 60" or 65". But then again if you have a 65" screen you're probably not worried about cost and probably arn't looking for a 2.1 system. So for a 50 or 55" I'd say they are good.
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