By Patrick Avenell in Las Vegas
Panasonic’s 2013 TV line up will focus not on OLED, Ultra HD or enormous sizes but on creating the most intuitive and user friendly Smart TV experience possible. Panasonic speakers at its press conference did not say those words exactly – ‘OLED’ and ‘Ultra HD’ were not mentioned at all – but that was the overall message.
The company that claims to have introduced Smart TV to the world on its debut IPTV models in 2008 will be reimagining its Smart Viera interface around a new home screen called My Home Screen. Using facial recognition technology, the TV can sense which member of the household is using the TV and apply their personal settings.
This could mean a YouTube widget and football scores for the teenagers and world news and stock prices for the adults.
Using Swipe & Share 2.0, users can transfer photo and video content between Android and iOS devices to, for example, watch a video captured on an iPhone on their big screen TV without wires.
Certain models in the new Panasonic range can be controlled with the optional Touch Pen accessory. This allows users to write and draw their own content on screen, similar to features in Microsoft Paint. Panasonic demonstrated this feature during its presentation.
In a feature to make Siri jealous, select models in the Panasonic range include Voice Guidance, in which a voice inside the TV can read aloud data on screen to users. This would come in handy when checking the hundreds of overnight football scores from the European leagues.
Also new to the Panasonic Smart TV proposition is Voice Interaction. By speaking into the Touch Pad Controller (that’s what Panasonic calls its new remote controls) or a smartphone with the Viera Remote 2 app installed, users can change the channel, adjust the volume and switch between content with vocal instructions.
New apps being introduced to the Smart Viera platform, at least in America, include YouTube Dial, which was introduced by Google’s own Fran Varela. This app allows a smartphone or tablet user to select YouTube videos on their handset, which is much more ergonomic than on a TV remote control, and then immediately push it to their compatible TV set. Users will have full control over the playback of their video from their handheld device.
While Panasonic’s rivals spruik enormous TV sizes (Sharp has a 90-inch, LG has a 100-inch), Panasonic’s largest plasma TV in its 2013 lineup is 65 inches. There are 16 models in all, starting at 42 inches.
Panasonic’s LCD/LED lineup is similarly size-constrained, with models ranging from 32 inches up to 55 inches. Fourteen of the sixteen models in the range are LED, with only the two small-size HDTVs retaining the old cathode backlighting system.
Panasonic’s ability to sell its substance over size message in 2013 will rely heavily on how its Smart TV functionalities are showcased to consumers in retail stores. Size is a self-evident selling point, as LG proclaimed when it released its 84-incher in late 2012.
Not every home is big enough for a behemoth, and many consumers will prefer a TV around the 50-to-65-inch mark. Panasonic is providing a very strong Smart TV story for the year ahead, having given up some ground to its rivals since debuting the technology. If retailers support Panasonic by switching on Wi-Fi in their stores so consumers can be wowed by the functionality, this move could prove a masterstroke.