CES 2011: Panasonic Talks TV Tech

Panasonic's CES 2011 press event was like a salad topped with a few perfectly seared pieces of tuna. The salad- i.e., the dull part - was lots of talk about 3D and Internet-connected TV. The seared tuna - i.e., the good part - was a list of improvements was can expect to see in Panasonic's already-awesome line of plasma TVs.

Senior VP Jim Sandusky practically made the TV reviewers in the crowd salivate with talk of the new tweaks. Not first among his list but first on mine was a new louvered filter that blocks ambient light to create even deeper blacks than Panasonic's plasmas now achieve-perhaps at long last delivering the "none black" famously described by guitarist Nigel Tufnel in This is Spinal Tap.

Sandusky said that new phosphors in these sets increase brightness by 30%, while energy-efficient enhancements reduce power consumption by 25%. Sizes will increase in larger models: the 54-incher becomes a 55, and the 58-incher becomes a 60. New crosstalk reduction circuitry is said to deliver crisper 3D.

Not that Panasonic's ignoring LCD, though-Shiro Kitajama, president of Panasonic's consumer electronics division, said that the company went live with a new LCD production facility in Japan a couple of months ago and expects to incorporate panels from the new plant in many 2011 models.

Exciting as all the tech stuff was to me, Panasonic devoted most of its pitch to new developments in Internet-connected TV. The Viera Cast feature of past models has become Viera Connect, which allows consumers to personalize their TVs with third-party apps much as owners of iPhones and Droids can. Panasonic will open the Viera Connect platform to application developers and connected device manufacturers in the hope that many new apps and services will soon be offered.

Content that will be immediately available through Viera Connect includes YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video-On-Demand, Hulu Plus, Skype, social networking (Facebook, Twitter), fitness programs (Withings, Body Media), and sports (NBA, MBL.tv, NHL Game Center, Major League Soccer). These features will be available on 27 Panasonic TV models in 2011, a major increase from the 10 Internet-connected models it offered in 2010.

Kitajama also showed the Viera Tablet, an iPad-style tablet computer slated for market later this year, which can also be used to control features of Viera Connect TVs.

While Panasonic didn't have quite as much to say about 3D, one announcement caught my ear: the company is working to create a standard for compatible 3D eyewear, so that Panasonic glasses can work on other manufacturers' TVs and vice-versa.

Panasonic will go from offering one 3D-compatible Blu-ray Disc player in 2010 to offering three models in 2011. The players will include Skype capability, accessible through an optional third-party camera. While you're waiting for more 3D Blu-ray Discs to appear, you can use one of Panasonic's five new 3D-capable camcorders to create your own 3D content. Each one has a 3D lens setup that can be removed for 2D shooting, and the lowest-priced model carries an MSRP of "under $1,000." Tasty morsels indeed for content-starved 3D aficionados.

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