Last week, Panasonic gathered journalists from all over Europe to a funky hotel in Milan, Italy, to present its complete line-up of 2007 products. Considering the amount of kit that Panasonic produces itâ€™s no wonder that the day was quite intense, consisting of briefing sessions, one after the other, punctuated only by fuel stops enabling us to rejuvenate ourselves with caffeine and water. Not that Iâ€™m complaining, having to sit through loads demos of superb AV equipment is for me a magnificent way of spending a day.
What in addition to your basic PowerPoint slides Panasonic had also gone to great lengths to demonstrate how its products performed better that its competitors by setting up a number of side by side comparisons. These were undoubtedly effective, to the extent that I was a little wary of being brainwashed, but at least this awareness let me keep a certain level of open mindedness. Finally, we were also given some sneak peaks at where future technologies from Panasonic might go â€“ all very exciting stuff.
The day started with a brief introduction by Panasonicâ€™s European Marketing Managing Director, Yoshiku Miyata, who said that for 2007 Panasonic was offering a much stronger HD line-up (an admission that previous yearsâ€™ were weak?) and that they would work seamlessly together - a reference to its latest generation of Viera link, a technology that if youâ€™ve got all Panny equipment lets one remote rule them all.
Next up was Masaaki Fujita, Senior Vice President, who laid out Panasonics initiatives for flat panel TV. As one of the biggest suppliers of plasmaâ€™s in the world Panasonic is the leading supplier of Plasma Display Panels (PDPs), and as such itâ€™s quite bullish about the superiority of Plasma for large displays.
However, it still manufacturers LCDs as well, so there could be a conflict of interest and mixed marketing messages. However, in fact the solution is simple. Panasonic uses LCD technology for panels up to 32in in size while plasma is reserved to anything larger.
Fujita announced that Panasonic would be building its fifth plasma production plant in 2009 demanding a 280 yen investment, which will produce one million panels per month. Can I have one please?
Viera Plasma TVs
The first session focussed on the Viera line up for the coming year. The speaker laid out the four principles which went into the design of Viera. Top of the list was picture quality, then design, the Viera Link technology, which enables control of multiple Panasonic products from one remote, and finally the environment.
The key component in image quality is Panasonicâ€™s V-Real II processor. This is a successor to the V-Real technology used in previous generation of TVs and has been optimised for Full High Definition (FHD) screens â€“ or 1,920 x 1,080 resolution.
V-Real consists of three parts â€“ the processor, the driver and the panel. In the top end FHD sets, the V-Real II can deal with the full bandwidth of a 1080p signal input without having to convert from an interlaced image to a progressive one, maintaining quality and offering perfect pixel matching from source to display.
Digital Remastering is essentially Panasonicâ€™s upscaling technology that fits standard def signals onto 1080 resolution screens. The â€˜Digital Optimizerâ€™ is even cleverer, as it predicatively detects mosquito and block noise and removes them to keep images clean.
Moving to the new driver technology Panasonic has its Real Black Drive System and Deep Black Filter, designed to do as their names suggests. Significantly, the Full HD model now uses 16-bit signal processing, increasing the levels of colour gradations it can display to 4,096 steps, moving it to CRT levels. This compares to 3,072 levels on its standard HD models.
The panel itself is obviously key. Panasonic has moved to a G10 panel and can now offer up to 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, which Panasonic has from 50in and above. It also has improved brightness without increasing power consumption.
However, the big news is that from the spring Panasonic will have a 42in panel with this resolution. To do this was a technical challenge as the smaller pixels were difficult to stabilise brightness and discharge. It has overcome this by developing new materials and improving the aperture ratio. It will be released in Japan and the US in the spring but in the UK weâ€™ll have to wait a few more months.