The Highlights of the Panasonic 2011 Launch Event

Hopefully you’ve had a chance to read yesterday’s blog on my adventure to the Panasonic 2011 launch event and I covered a bit of what happened during the evening. Today, I’m going to flesh out some of the highlights and what Panasonic will be rolling out to the masses this year.

One major initiative from Panasonic this year will come in the form of interactive services. Skype is already a major part of the VIErA platform (although you are limited to voice calls if you don’t stump up for the specialised webcam instead of being able to use any old webcam). The integration of Skype may become more interesting given its acquisition by Microsoft (which wasn’t talked about in the presentation last night) but I still think its a great VAS (value added service) to enrich the value of Panasonic’s televisions. Apparently, one in five Panasonic products are used to access interactive services (although there was no quantification of how often these services are accessed versus standard television).

Another area of expansion is in the area of IPTV. In terms of the industry in general, IPTV has been gaining some traction as a value added service for platforms such as Xbox 360 (provided by Foxtel) but also bundled for free with internet connections from ISPs such as TPG. In similar vain, FetchTV has begun to expand its availability across a number of ISPs including iiNet, Internode and Westnet with Optus being added to the list in the future. The problem with other IPTV solutions is you need another box and another cable to connect to your TV to make it work whilst having this functionality built into the television keeps thing simple for consumers.This will be a key selling point particularly for people wanting to catch up on shows they have missed at a convenient time for them.

What will be key here is the range of IPTV and streaming providers that will come on board and already there is a good cross-section, including:

  • ABC iView,
  • BigPond,
  • UStream,
  • WOW TV,
  • Yahoo!7,
  • YouTube.

Putting aside that these services are not yet available in Australia it’d be interesting to see how things might change should Hulu and Netflix come to our shores.

Leading on from this is the move towards apps for the television. Panasonic will be opening up their platform to allow applications from third parties to be developed and made available through an app store of some description. I didn’t see much in the way of a demo of this functionality (and I could have missed it as the pace of the presentation was pretty quick). What I do know is that it will be setup in an “iTunes-esque” fashion where Panasonic will screen applications for suitability (so no adult content). It’ll be interesting to see how well this works but unfortunately I won’t get to see it in action on my VT20 television from last year.

One other major point covered in the presentation was that plasma is very much cemented as the flagship technology in Panasonic panels whilst LED LCD IPS panels fill out the market in terms of smaller screen. 3D is very much a standard feature across the range (VT30, GT30 and ST30 ranges with twelve new models) apart from the a dedicated range of 2D panels (the U30 and X30 range). IPS (In Plane Switching) panels are found in top end displays such as the Apple Cinema HD and Dell UltraSharp 30 inch screens. LED backlighting also helps to reduce the thickness of the panel while lowering power consumption, lowered heat generation and improved contrast over standard backlit LCD screens. I don’t blame Panasonic for sticking with plasma after the acquisition of Pioneer’s technology – really worth seeing to believe for yourself.

Perhaps the other big hitter for me was the improvements to DLNA in their product range. I have reviewed a few Panasonic products last year and I found that the DLNA functionality was rather limited. This year, Panasonic have inched forward with the inclusion of MKV and DivX HD formats. MKV is particularly popular amongst enthusiasts so it is good to see it included in the base functionality. However, the most significant development is that the new 2011 products will be both DLNA client and server capable allowing content to flow both ways in between devices on a network. We’ve all had times when we’ve wanted to watch content that has been tied to a particular device but now recorded content on TVs via USB (to hard drive or flash devices) and standalone recorders can be streamed over the network elsewhere in the house. DLNA has been around for a little while but generally it has been a one way street for many devices except PCs.

Lastly, there was one intriguing device that emulates the Fitbit in many ways from BodyMedia. An armband measures your calorie burn as well as your sleep patterns and you can track your progress online as well as through your Panasonic VIErA television. This was only shown briefly and I didn’t get to see a hands on demo at the event but I would imagine that it would operate much the same way with the armband syncing through the television.

All in all, it looks like Panasonic have innovated a bit for 2011 but they really need to get out and talk up their products in the market. The likes of Sony and Samsung get a lot of air time but Panasonic seem to be the quiet achiever in the mix by developing some good quality products but not matching the advertising punch of other players.

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