LAS VEGAS--Usually at CES time, you can expect Panasonic to roll out slightly updated versions of its Blu-ray home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) solutions, featuring six to eight plasticky speakers and a whole lot of proprietary speaker wire. But CES 2013 is different.
Panasonic is ditching its standard assortment of HTIBs, opting instead for three new sound bar and convertible sound bar models. The SC-HTB770 and SC-HTB370 both feature a similar design; you can use them in the traditional horizontal alignment or you can break apart the sound bar and use the pieces as separate speakers. The SC-HTB770 converts into a 3.1 system, with a dedicated center channel; the SC-HTB370 turns into a 2.1 system. There's also an entry-level SC-HTB70, which features an ultraslim design and has an integrated subwoofer.
All three systems feature built-in Bluetooth, for wireless music streaming from most smartphones and tablets. The high-end SC-HTB770 also feature three HDMI inputs; connectivity isn't specified for the other models in the early information Panasonic has provided.
While Panasonic is to be applauded for ditching HTIB systems, I'm not a huge fan of the convertible sound bar design, which doesn't add much real-world benefit since most home theater setups are pretty static. Also note that each of these sound bars includes a separate base unit, housing its inputs and outputs. The HDMI connectivity on the SC-HTB770 may seem nice, but it's not needed if you use your TV as a switcher, plus the base station creates more clutter and bulk than a standard sound bar-plus-wireless-subwoofer system.The SC-HTB70 ($200 suggested retail price), SC-HTB370 ($300), and SC-HTB770 ($400) are all scheduled to be released in March.