After my stereo finally gave up the ghost after years of overuse, I was planning to buy a new separates system and a DVD player as well (it will also play VCDs). The stereo I was looking at clocked in at £400 and the DVD player at £180, when I spotted a combined DVD/player at a “mere” £449. It was the Panasonic SA-PM08, which came with five speakers for surround sound. With much trepidation I parted with the cash, took it home and installed it. Installation is very easy; the unit is very small, about 30cm wide, by 15cm high and 40cm long, so it doesn’t take up much. It comes with an AM aerial and a separate FM aerial, which need to be attached, the power lead must obviously be attached, and the speakers connected up. All the sockets are very close together, so once you have a few wires attached, it rapidly starts to get harder as you hold others out of the way, but within about 15 minutes I was all wired up. It has one input socket, to attach a tape deck (which isn’t included, and a main letdown of the package) or minidisc player. There is also an output socket to give input into a tape deck, or audio into the TV for the DVD player. There is a digital output socket to record onto minidiscs. Output for the DVD is from an s-video output, which is hooked up to a SCART adapter and then plugged into the SCART socket of your TV (the adapter is provided). This will provide picture only output, but the audio out can also be connected to the adapter and this will provide sound output to the TV also, although the sound coming from the speakers is of better quality and in surround sound. As I have already mentioned there are five speakers – two, larger main ones to go left and right in front of you, a smaller one to be place directly in front of you, and two smaller ones to go behind you. The smaller ones are mountable on the wall, they are light and two screws in the wall will easily hold them. The small ones come with
plenty of cable so you can place them pretty much anywhere you want them, the larger ones have about three metres of cable, which restricts them more. Sound quality is excellent, crystal clear. DVDs in surround sound are definitely something to behold, it is like sitting in the middle of the action. For movies that haven’t been recorded in surround sound, it will try and use the five speakers to the best of it’s ability to create surround sound. The DVD player is region-2 and to the best of my knowledge there is no remote hack, but you can get an “upgrade” (check http://www.upgradeheaven.co.uk for more information – this will cost about £30). Picture quality is excellent, even on my little 14” TV. The sound can either be played through the two main speakers, or through all speakers with the “movie”option selected. Much of the DVDs operation is from the remote, which is very easy to use. The main area is highlighted in green, which contains the stop, play and forward/backward functions (also used for the CD player). The subtitles mode is easy to turn on and off (press the subtitles button, cycle through to the desired language and after a few seconds, the subtitles will be displayed). Slow motion and its four levels of speed are also accessed from the remote control. The remote control (which comes supplied with batteries) is very well laid out and pretty instinctive. It carries all the functions for the system, as the buttons on the system itself are limited to forward/backward, volume, stop, play, pause and the radio functions. The remote can also be used to operate the TV by holding down the [shift] button, although this will not work with all TVs )it doesn’t with mine). The menu is displayed by stopping the DVD and entering set up mode, where you can change the disc language, picture display, or make actual changes to the DVD settings themselves – turn the lock on an
d off, turn on screen messages on and off, menu languages etc. These settings are saved and will remain intact even after the unit has been switched off. The CD is very simple to use as well – either through the two main speakers, or there is a separate option to output in surround sound mode. This doesn’t work well with all CDs, and on some the vocals sound echoed, but this is the vast minority and usually it works well – the vocals tend to stay on the front speakers, and the guitar and sometimes drums are sent to the side speakers. The major drawback of the CD player is that it refuses to play CDRs, which rules out about half of my CD collection. I bought a cheap personal CD player and played it through the auxiliary socket, and you wouldn’t notice the difference, sound quality remains excellent and the functions still work. It also has a FM/AM radio, stations are scanned using the forward/backward buttons on either the remote or the front of the system. Hold down the buttons and it will quickly scan until it finds a signal where it will stop. 12 stations can be stored in each band. The system has an alarm function, which is easy to set up using the controls on the main system. The alarm can be set up to play whatever CD is in the tray, or switch the radio on when it starts up. It has a great idea in that it starts off quietly and gradually builds up until it wakes you up, it doesn’t suddenly shock you and the whole house awake if you forget to lower the volume before you go to bed. It’s an attractive silver finish, with matching speakers. The larger ones have wood panelling on them and the whole thing looks very modern. It seems very sturdy, the drawer doesn’t wobble when it comes out, and the mechanism is very quiet when opening and spinning discs. Selection between CDs and DVDs is automatic, when it is place din the drawer, it automatically detects which it is. The display is
back-lighted, which switches on whenever you switch the unit on, and displays whatever track or station you’re on, and what time you are at. When the unit is on standby, it displays the time instead. It also greets you when you turn it on, and says goodbye when you switch it off. I’m thoroughly pleased with the unit, it’s the best stereo I’ve ever had, and it finally allows me to watch DVDs. I have plans to get it upgraded to make it multi-region, and to buy a separate tape deck, then it’ll finally be complete. I would advise anyone looking to upgrade their stereo and doesn’t have a DVD player to give it a good look.