Review Price free/subscription
Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ81 46in Plasma TV
Rather handily, just as I was about to write this review Sky did something it seldom does: it dropped one of its prices. And that price, tellingly, was for its HD receiver, which, from July 1st, will be available to new and existing Sky subscribers alike for just £150 (vs the current price of £250).
Why use this information to kick off a TV review? Because it suggests - if not actually proves - that the recent launch of the Freesat service is proving enough of a success to cause at least a few ripples in the normally placid surface of Sky's previously exclusive satellite broadcasting pond. And on the evidence of the first UK TV with integrated Freesat tuner, Panasonic's TH-46PZ81, I can't help but think that those ripples are only going to get bigger…
But I'm getting ahead of myself. For even though Riyad has thankfully made my job easier by doing an in-depth preview of this TV a few weeks back based on time spent with a preproduction model, there's still a lot to get through.
For starters, as we said in our preview, the 46PZ81 is an attractive bit of kit, combining a gloss black finish with sleek lines. There's not the overt, attention-seeking glamour of one or two of today's ‘supermodel' TVs, but if you prefer the strong, silent type, this Panasonic fits the bill.
Don't forget, however, that the TV chassis is just part of the story, as you'll also need to have a satellite dish installed on the outside of your home. If you already have a Sky dish then you're laughing, as the Freesat service comes from the same satellites as the Sky service. If you don't already have a dish, though, you'll have to add £80 to the cost of the TV to get one installed.
The effort of getting a dish does, I have to say, cause me to question slightly Freesat's claimed target market; namely all the people who haven't yet ‘gone digital' with their TV in any way at all. For it seems to me that anyone yet to at least get a Freeview box just can't be interested in TV very much, and certainly won't want to bother with getting a satellite dish put up to receive dozens of channels they couldn't care less about.
But while I'm not sure Freesat's right with its main marketing targets, I'm certainly not saying it doesn't have a market. The fact that the Freesat receivers can work with existing Sky dishes certainly opens the door to lots of people ditching Sky's expensive subs in favour of Freesat's subscription-free offering. Plus, of course, there are many people out there who simply can't receive a good Freeview signal, and so are crying out for a ‘free' expansion of their channel choice. Riyad himself struggles to receive Freeview despite living in Surrey - hardly a provincial backwater!