A pretty interesting new product arrived today from B&W.  It’s called the Panorama, and I must say, it’s a first of its kind of this caliber! 

The arrival of flat panel TV’s has had a huge impact on placement options for video displays.  No longer are TV’s relegated to a heavy duty deep shelf in a corner or buried in a cabinet.  With them being so thin, the new ones are around 1” thick, we can put them just about anywhere.  The shrinking thickness of TV’s has created one negative impact.  The speakers!  TV’s used to be deep enough for the designer to create a decent sized speaker cavity.  With only 1-4” of depth, there is just flat not any room left for decent speakers.  Without quality speakers the audio really suffers to the point you just can not even understand the dialog.  We get lots of customer’s in the store complaining they just bought a new TV and love the picture but hate the sound!  And let’s face it, if you can not understand the dialog, what’s the point.

Enter the Panorama.  This cool little product is designed to augment the audio and it’s created by the incredible Bowers & Wilkins UK based engineering staff.  I spent some time yesterday exploring all of the Panorama’s options.  First of all, its about 37” wide, 6” tall and 7” deep.  It can be either wall mounted above or below your new flat panel, or it comes with a table stand if your new TV is sitting on a table stand.  It has 3 digital inputs for devices that have digital output such as cable/satellite boxes, BluRay or DVD players, and most video games.  It also has two analog audio inputs for legacy video sources such as VCR’s.  If the Panorama was going to be your primary stereo system, you could use either a spare digital in or analog in for your CD player or iPod.   

The system comes in a very slick black aluminum housing.  Inside are 9 drivers powered by 175 watts of class D amplification.  The tweeter uses B&W’s Nautilus technology.  Five of the nine drivers are dedicated to the very important center channel.  It effectively replaces what many people call a “sound bar” and a surround sound receiver, all in one box.  Since the Panorama does not switch video, you would need to run the video outputs to the various inputs on your new flat panel TV, and the audio to the Panorama.  I would suggest a smart remote to make input switching easier that would allow you to automate the selection of both the TV’s video input and the Panorama’s audio input.

Set up is far more advanced and flexible than I had imagined.  Since the Panorama, as its name so aptly describes, is designed to give you a sense of surround sound in one small package, you’ll need to get into the menu’s to set it up for best performance.  First of all, you tell it if its mounted on the wall or a table.  This effects the bass eq.  Next, and this is really cool, you tell it about the side walls!  Since it will be reflecting some surround information off the side walls, the Panorama needs to know if they are very reflective or absorptive.  You can set the left and right walls individually for hard, medium, or soft.  I credit the engineers at B&W for coming up with such a great, but simple solution to adjust for the room.  You also tell the Panorama the distance the primary seats are from it, and how far (if any) off center you are from the Panorama! 

So, how does it perform?  I decided to test it first with audio.  The first track I pulled up on the Apple TV we had connected up was from Jennifer Warnes, The Hunter.  The first thing that struck me was the amount of deep, accurate bass this tiny little box was producing.  While not to the level of a good sub, its far better than any of its competitive sound bars can even dream of hitting.  In typical B&W fashion, the sound is easy to listen to, and has very good detail.   After 2 minutes of listening, I was scheming how to replace the current sound bar I am using in one of my personal systems (unfortunately, its just a smidgen to tall, darn it!)  Watching a movie on DVD proved to be another good experience.  Dialog was very easy to understand and dynamics were flat out amazing for a sound bar type product.

In summary, I would highly recommend the Panorama for secondary TV locations.  It  takes up very little space and is highly flexible in its' set up.  A true, multi-speaker surround system (especially the new B&W CT series!) is going to offer a lot more performance, but if you are looking to improve the audio on that secondary tv in the bedroom or other area, the Panorama is just the ticket!