Panasonic Videophones It In

Will the phrase "phoning it in" lose its negative connotation with the mainstreaming of videophones? It sure seemed like it as Panasonic president Fumio Otsubo chatted with other Panasonic folks at today's press event at the Venetian. The chat set the stage for a major announcement: All Viera Cast TVs will henceforth coming with Skype capability (LG made a similar announcement earlier in the day). One-third of Skype calls are video calls and moving them from the PC to the TV must qualify as a historic moment.

The other major theme of the Panasonic press conference was 3D. As promised last year, Panasonic will deliver its first 3D TVs this year with the Plasma V Series, including 65-, 58-, 54-, and 50-inch models. They will feature a new phosphor formulation designed to provide full HD in each eye (no compromise in resolution). The sets will also include Infinite Black Panel Pro technology which will provide a five million to one contrast ratio. And their Viera Cast features will be wi-fi enabled.

Jon Landau, producer of Avatar -- the hot movie of the moment -- offered the peculiar observation that 3D is "more voyeuristic. It engages the senses." He predicted it would spread from TVs to mobile device and laptops. Panasonic supported the production with workspace equipment.

Panasonic's 3D support starts with production gear, including a camera whose resemblance to Wall-E was obliquely noted (see picture). The company will be a Vancouver Olympics partner. Its HD 3D Truck Tour has been making the rounds. It is also a partner in DirecTV's forthcoming 3D satellite channel which will feature sports, music, documentaries, a VOD channel, and original content. Look for content from CBS, NBC, MTV, HDNet, Golden Boy boxing matches, and Fox's MLB All Star Games.

The other new plasma line, the Plasma G Series, is merely 2D but will include the black level and wi-fi features in addition to a photo viewer. Also announced were three new Blu-ray players including the 3D capable PP-BDT350, with HDMI 1.4 for full 3D connectivity, and the 2D DMP-BD85, whose half-second load time was justly hailed as a breakthrough.