September 22, 2008
Panasonic Gets Inventive With New Receiver

Panasonic's new SA-BX500 A/V receiver has a few tricks up its sleeve.

By Danny Richelieu

Panasonic Gets Inventive With New Receiver

During my meeting with Panasonic last Thursday, September 18, Atsuo Watanabe, Chief Engineer of Panasonic’s Theater Design Team gave me a run-down on the features of their new SA-BX500 receiver. Shocking as it was to see a Panasonic receiver introduced at CEDIA (I was answered with “As far as I know, this is the first” by one Panasonic employee I spoke with on the rarity of their receiver releases), the SA-BX500 has a few tricks up its sleeve that can’t be found in many of its competitors’ products.

Foremost, the receiver is capable of decoding any of the new advanced audio codec’s from Dolby® and DTS®, including the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio™, in up to 7.1 channels. The SA-BX500 employs two SHARC DSP chips, one dedicated to decoding the audio signals and a separate one for “soundfield processing” and “post processing” (in other words, all of those surround modes that you rarely, if ever, use). The receiver’s three HDMI 1.3 inputs will pass Deep Color™ and x.v.Color information if present in the signal, and Panasonic has also included an auto
calibration and equalization feature, but it was difficult to get more information on how this system worked (wait for a review of the receiver in a future issue). The SA-BX500 includes 130 watts of amplification to up to seven channels (no word on how those figures were measured), but the amplifier can be configured to output 5.1 channels with the ability to biamp the front left and right channels with the two additional amp modules.

Where most receivers with the ability to re-route the additional two surround channel amplifiers to biamp the front left and right channels require a specific setup that only allows you to take advantage of one or the other configuration, the Panasonic SA-BX500 can switch between the two methods on the fly, biamping the front left and right channels when a two-channel signal is being reproduced, powering a full 7.1-channel array when reproducing anything using more channels. The receiver includes “speaker A” and “speaker B” ports for the front left and right channels, with the “speaker B” ports only active when in two-channel mode. Internally, the amplifier module for the two back surround channels is routed to the “speaker B” terminals
to provide amplification.

The SA-BX500 can also create a “virtual” 7.1-channel soundfield using 5.1 channels, using a proprietary algorithm that Panasonic engineered by studying the way humans hear. The soundfield can be created with the two surround loudspeakers either positioned directly to the left and right of the listening position (±90 degrees from the staring-straight-ahead center position), or behind the listener in a more conventional layout. If the loudspeakers are on the sides, the phantom images should sound as if they are coming from behind you (at angles chosen by the ITU layout, with surround channels somewhere between ±135 and 150 degrees—Panasonic did not specify); if the loudspeakers are placed in the rear, the phantom images should be on the sides. I was given a brief demonstration of the virtual 7.1 system, and while it did create an impression of there being a phantom channel behind my head while listening to the Channel Identification track of a recent Dolby Demo Disc, it sounded like the loudspeaker was directly behind my head, more in line with the physical loudspeakers to my left and right. Atsuo informed me that because the demonstration wasn’t part
of the original plan, the system would need to be re-measured for the effect to sound most natural. We will investigate the feature further once we receive a sample for review.

The SA-BX500 will be available sometime this Fall for $799.

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