Panasonic’s 2013 will mostly be remembered for being the year the brand pulled the plug on its prestigious plasma TVs. At least Panasonic’s plasma division went out in a blaze of glory with its stellar Panasonic ZT65 model.
Given the end of its plasma run, you’d think Panasonic might be feeling a little nervous at the start of 2014. But actually the opposite seems to be true, with the brand bullishly proclaiming during its CES 2014 press conference that it would make an LCD TV that was better than plasma. Could there be any truth to this? And would the brand have any other tricks up its TV sleeve?
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5 Things you need to know about Panasonic TVs in 2014
1. There really is no plasma
When Panasonic announced it was pulling out of plasma last year, it meant it. There are definitely no plasma models in its 2014 series – not even at the lower end.
What we think: Obviously there’s a part of us that’s deeply upset about plasma’s departure from Panasonic’s ranks. After all, Panasonic plasma TVs have provided us with some of our best TV pictures over the past decade. But you can’t halt the march of progress we guess, and given the quality of engineers that Panasonic has among its ranks, we’re at least hopeful that being able to focus more single-mindedly on LCD with its R&D efforts will soon yield some serious benefits.
2. There are no curved or OLED screens either!
What is it? While LG and Samsung have become pretty much obsessed with curved TVs and LG, at least, is still forcing the OLED issue, Panasonic’s TV range for 2014 is resolutely flat, and OLED-free. There was a crazy OLED ‘wave’ display on Panasonic’s CES stand featuring a string of connected OLED screens that curve in as well as out. But don’t expect this eye-catching concept to be bending its way on to a house wall near you any time soon!
What we think: We’re yet to be fully convinced that the world needs curved TVs, so until one of Samsung or LG’s new curved TVs convinces us otherwise we’re pretty sanguine about Panasonic not currently following the curve herd. As for OLED, Panasonic is far from alone in deciding that OLED is still not ready for mass market consumption. So not including it in its range should not be read as a sign of Panasonic falling off the TV pace.
SEE ALSO: What is 4K TV and Ultra HD? 10 reasons why you should care
3. Ultra HD / 4K TV is good to go
What is it? After making waves last year with its solitary but groundbreaking 65WT600 UHD TV, Panasonic is upping the UHD ante this year with at least two ranges of UHD/4K TVs. The AX800 edge LED series has been formally announced, but we also know that a direct LED flagship series will be coming later in the year. These new ranges will deliver new sizes of Panasonic UHD screen, including an 85-inch model.
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What we think: We love UHD/4K as a technology, and from what we saw on Panasonic’s CES stand this year we’re feeling very confident that Panasonic will end up being a 4K force to be reckoned with in 2014.
SEE ALSO: Best 4K TV round-up
4. Panasonic’s My Home Screen smart TV system has evolved
What is it? The My Home Screen interface Panasonic launched to great acclaim last year will enjoy at least three new innovations for 2014: the Info Bar, My Stream and Remote Sharing. So extensive does Panasonic consider the changes, in fact, that in the US they’ve got a new name for the Smart TV platform: Life Screen. This naming is not confirmed for the UK yet, though.
The Info Bar pops up onscreen from standby when the TV detects a person’s heat signature entering the room, and provides immediate access to the time, local weather forecasts, a short version of the My Screen TV Recommendations list we’ll cover in a moment, and any video or photo messages you might have received from other family members. You can also choose to switch between family users on this screen to make the Info Bar truly personal.
The infobar in action
My Stream is a new high-tech presentation system for your recommended TV shows. It displays up to 100 recommendations in a scrolling ‘ribbon’ of content tiles, the selected one of which is fully animated. In fact, on Panasonic’s flagship TVs it seems that all the tiles will be animated.
Remote Sharing, finally, lets you share video memos and messages between your TV and your smartphone or tablet – regardless of what brand it is – even when you’re away from home.
What we think: While the Info Bar is ultimately just a well-intentioned bit of fluff, really, the My Stream and especially Remote Sharing features have great potential.
My Stream isn’t especially innovative in raw functionality terms, but its level of presentation is so good it makes Panasonic’s Smart TV system instantly feel much more cutting edge.
The ability to use a button on the new Panasonic remote to manually ‘Like’ a programme is also a welcome manual addition to the TV’s recommendations capabilities, helping the TV learn your viewing habits faster and more accurately.
As for remote sharing, the idea that an infrastructure is now in place for breaking some of your TV’s features free of not just your living room but also your house and even maybe your country is an exciting concept that could open the door to all sorts of future feature possibilities.
5. Panasonic really might already have an LCD TV capable of beating plasma…
What is it? Tucked away inside a blacked out booth on Panasonic’s CES stand was a prototype for a new LCD TV that Panasonic was claiming already delivers the same sort of picture quality experienced on its class-leading ZT65 plasma TV from 2013. And to make sure this couldn’t be dismissed as merely an idle boast, Panasonic had dared to run this new LCD screen side by side with the ZT65…
What we think: We’ve covered this remarkable new LCD v ZT65 head-to-head in a separate feature, so we’ll limit ourselves here to saying that contrary to all – and we mean, all – expectation, the new prototype Panasonic LCD flagship TV really did give the ZT65 a serious run for its money. And just so we’re clear on this, although we currently have to refer to the new flagship LCD as a prototype, Panasonic confirmed that a TV built around it – maybe even an improved version! – will appear in 2014. So just maybe 2014 will turn out to be not the year we missed plasma but the year plasma was superseded.
Panasonic Smart TV 2014: First Impressions
Where the main Smart interface is concerned on Panasonic’s 2014 TVs, it seems – sensibly – to be a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The multi-hub, personalisable My Home Screen set up is still in place, if slightly prettier.
Around this continuing core, though, are some new tricks including the Info Bar, My Stream and Remote Sharing. Check out point four of our ‘5 Things You Need to Know about Panasonic TVs’ section for more detail on these features.
While the Info Bar doesn’t contribute anything truly spectacular to the Smart TV world it is quite cute and moves us one step closer to the ‘TV as digital hearth’ idea Panasonic has been working towards for years.
My Stream is arguably the prettiest TV content interface yet, and it also provides enough selection choices to potentially become the only place you look when planning your night’s entertainment. It’s handy, too, that you can use your voice to help you input search terms when trying to track down content, and the manual ‘like’ button really does make you feel much more involved in the whole ‘learning your viewing history’ process.
Remote Sharing feels like a work in progress to some extent, in the way it only really allows messages to be sent between Smart devices and the TV. But the exciting point about Remote Sharing is that it establishes the principle of being able to communicate with your home TV from anywhere – an achievement which will likely introduce many more features in the coming months/TV generations.
The only potential fly in the ointment where Panasonic’s smart TV service is concerned is that we couldn’t find any confirmation at the CES that Panasonic is adding lots more video streaming services to its online platform. Fingers crossed that Panasonic UK has something cunning up its sleeve in this regard…
Panasonic TVs in 2014: Key models
Pansonic AX800 (estimated price: £2,000-£3,400)
- Available in 58 and 65 inches
- Native UHD resolution, edge LED lighting,
- New My Stream/info Bar/Remote Sharing smart features
- New colour technology claims to deliver 98% of colour spectrum,
The AX800 is the UHD range Panasonic was prepared to formally name at the CES. It uses the brand’s premium edge LED lighting system with local dimming, is endorsed by THX, carries HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort jacks for UHD playback, and best of all employs a new Studio Master colour system to deliver a much greater colour range than previous Panasonic LCDs.
Unnamed Flagship LCD range (estimated price: £2200-£9000)
- Available, we suspect, in 65 and 85-inches based on demos shown, though this is unconfirmed
- Native UHD resolution, direct LED lighting with local dimming
- New My Stream/info Bar/Remote Sharing smart features, Studio Master Colour
- Designed to outplasma plasma…
For fans of serious home cinema the currently unnamed new flagship Panasonic LCD TVs are designed to take over from Panasonic’s plasma TVs in picture quality terms by using direct LED lighting to take contrast to a whole new level for Panasonic LCD, while also delivering the expanded colour range of the AX800s.
Panasonic TVs in 2014: Our View
Before CES we were feeling pretty nervous about Panasonic’s 2014 TV range given the demise of its plasma TVs and its previously hit and miss LCD track record. But while we haven’t seen enough of the brand’s entry-level and mid-range models (AS680, AS650, AS640 and AS530 Smart-capable models were announced but not really shown) to be able to comment on its likely fortunes in those sections of the market, what we’ve seen of its AX800 and especially new flagship LCD panels suggests that we might get over the plasma grieving process faster than expected.
Next, see our picks of the best TVs you can buy