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Tech review: Panasonic HTB700 soundbar

Price: €450

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Panasonic HTB700 soundbar

Panasonic HTB700 soundbar

Panasonic HTB700 soundbar

What can you do if you're stuck at home? Knit? Read? Spend even more time on social media?

One thing that's likely is that you'll watch a lot more TV box sets or movies.

But if you've bought a telly in the last couple of years, you'll know that modern ultra-thin sets have one common problem: dreadful audio output.

It's a matter of physics, you see - there's no room for decent speakers when the TV itself is only an inch or two thick.

This isn't just an inconvenience. It can cause difficulties hearing actual speech as the tones get mixed up.

I've had Panasonic's recently launched home cinema system, the HTB700, for some time.

I hadn't planned for this review to coincide with directives from authorities for people to stay away from cinemas, theatres and concerts. But here we are.

I had wanted some sort of decent speaker system ever since I bought Panasonic's rather good GX800 telly in the January sales (for €750).

The 58-inch TV has an excellent picture, looks great and even has a headphone jack (an increasingly rare feature I like for not disturbing others at night). But its built-in speakers only give you a so-so audio experience. It's good enough for the news and other basic stuff, but the sound from movies and epic TV shows is nowhere near as good as the picture you're seeing.

The HTB700, while not cheap, transforms it. When added to a largish modern display, it gives you beautiful, rich sound to go with whatever you're watching.

A quick bit of context: there are two basic approaches to external speakers for your telly. One of them (the cheaper option) is a stand-alone soundbar, either connected by cable or wireless. These cost from around €50 - quality reliably improves as you go up in price.

Then there are the multiple-speaker home cinema systems, like the Panasonic system I'm reviewing today. These typically include a main soundbar, a separate 'sub-woofer' and even a number of smaller satellite speakers that can be placed around the room.

The advantage to this set-up is depth and breadth of sound. The sub-woofer adds real meaty bass in a ridiculously pleasing way. The smaller satellite speakers give more accurate surround sound (although they're not as crucial as they once were thanks to advances in virtual surround sound technology from the main speakers). The trade-off to the bigger system is cost and clutter.

Personally, I've never wanted anything very fussy to accompany my telly. Even if I did, it would be a battle to get it past my wife, who prizes lack of cables and black tech boxes above almost anything else in a living room aesthetic.

However, the sound from the HTB700 is absolutely worth the extra black sub-woofer box (and resulting additional power cable).

Under the hood, it supports both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Using up-firing tweeters, it has three mid-range speakers for 376 watts of audio and it supports 4K passthrough.

And then there's that wireless sub-woofer. The bass that comes out of the combined is just sublime. Try playing Officer K's (Ryan Gosling) re-entry to Los Angeles scene in 'Blade Runner 2049' to see what I mean.

If you want to inject extra oomph into TV or films - from terrestrial stations to Netflix and Amazon Prime movies - this is one of the best ways of doing it.

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