The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is a relatively small and compact soundbar made to match the Japanese manufacturer’s own TV models. With a fabric-covered exterior and glossy plastic sides, it should be able to slide into most interiors. It can be placed directly under the TV or hung on the wall with the included mounting brackets.
The SC-HTB490 has HDMI ARC for easy connection to the TV, but can also play audio via Bluetooth or from USB memory. On the operating front, Panasonic has a flat remote control in credit card size, which can disappear a little too easily between the sofa cushions.
The soundbar itself does not have a real display, but instead uses colored LEDs to indicate the status of sound setting, volume, input selection, etc. It takes some time to understand what the different colors mean, and a graphic display would probably have been more user-friendly.
The Panasonic SC-HTB490 is set up with a 2.1 speaker configuration in stereo, which consists of two full-tone units in the soundbar itself plus a wireless subwoofer to handle the deepest bass tones.
In terms of sound, the Panasonic soundbar is clearly a boost compared to regular TV sound, with a warm, rich and pleasant sound on music and entertainment programs. That said, the sound could have been clearer.
When we see the scene from The Irishman where Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci discuss their next assassination attempt, the voice acting does not seem as distinct and present as we might wish. This may be because the Panasonic soundbar lacks a dedicated center speaker for the dialogs and therefore has to mix them into the stereo channels.
The relatively simple speaker solution also makes its mark on the surround effects. When we challenge Panasonic with shooting scenes from the Netflix series Easy Money, it sounds clear and distinct, but also a little flat. It clearly bounces from various firearms, but it does not feel as if the bullets are flying around the heads of us. The SC-HTB490 fails to create the illusion of surround channels behind us.
It is also noticeable on music that the sound image is a bit tame and not very dynamic. Dua Lipa’s vocals sound a bit stuffy, and Roddy Ricch’s hip hop rhythms don’t really swing. In addition, there are some inconvenient sounds from the subwoofer: It does not go particularly deep and has an easy time distorting a bit on challenging bass tones.
Panasonic provided the cheapest soundbar in the test, and the SC-HTB490 can certainly be a capable sound improvement in a simple TV setup.
That said, it does not stand out in terms of usability or sound quality. We miss a proper display that could say something more about the settings, and the sound may seem a bit woolly and stuffy compared to the best in the test. You get what you pay for!