A Blu-ray player is a must-have investment for any film fan, as you can’t watch high definition video without one. You're missing out if you don’t upgrade your speakers too, though, which is where Panasonic’s SC-BTT182 comes in: it's an entry level 2.1 home cinema in a box intended to upgrade your speakers as well as your picture.
Like Panasonic's stand-alone Blu-ray players, the main unit has fairly plain looks. A mirror finish plastic front panel hides a single line LCD display, as well as an SD card slot and USB port for connecting a USB flash drive, external hard disk or iPod. Things are equally bare around the back, with just a single HDMI output, analogue and digital optical audio out, Ethernet, an FM radio antenna and a USB port for Panasonic's expensive Skype camera. Unlike the basic Blu-ray range, the BTT182 doesn't include Wi-Fi as standard - you'll need to buy an additional dongle (part code DY-WL10E-K, £66 from www.amazon.co.uk), use powerline networking or run an Ethernet cable from your router to your TV.
The speaker inputs are proprietary, so if the included cables aren't long enough, you'll have to splice some extra speaker wire onto the ends. The speakers themselves are incredibly compact, taking up little more room than a coffee mug, so you should easily be able to squeeze them onto your TV stand. The subwoofer is considerably larger, but still small enough to hide out of sight behind a sofa or in the corner of a room.
Before we loaded up our Blu-ray test discs, we jumped into the VIERA Connect service. As we've come to expect from Panasonic, there are plenty of connected services that should make connecting the player to the internet your first priority. As well as catch-up TV services from BBC iPlayer, internet video streaming from YouTube and on-demand films from AceTrax, Netflix has been integrated in a big way. The remote control has a dedicated Netflix button designed to take you straight to the service no matter where you are, which is great if you're a subscriber. Social networking features include Facebook and Skype integration, but the latter is only useful if you plan on buying the official camera (part code TY-CC20W, £79 inc VAT from www.very.co.uk).
If you prefer to watch your own files, you can stream them straight from a networked PC or NAS using DLNA, or play them directly from a USB flash drive or portable hard disk. All our test files played flawlessly, including the often finicky DivX, MKV and MOV files.