You can access your own multimedia content via a dedicated Viera Tools button on the Panasonic TX-L42ET5 remote control, or Panasonic’s online functionality via the remote’s Internet button. Internet content is accessed using a system that initially looks the same as that used for 2011’s Smart TVs. Which is to say you get nine content-access icons on screen at once, along with the option to ‘dive down’ through subsequent screens of other icons to explore all the available apps and services.
The icons are large and easy to read, which is good, and you can also decide what apps you want to appear on your ‘home’ screen. But even so, as noted with last year’s Panasonic Smart TVs, we can’t shake the feeling that the current approach will become increasingly unwieldy as Panasonic’s online platform expands.
Fortunately Panasonic’s online interface shifts up a few gears if you head for the marketplace app store. Here you’ll find buyable/downloadable apps and accessories much more effectively organised, complete with sensible navigational shortcuts.
Looking for content on the Viera Connect platform, the opening spread of icons includes such pleasing big hitters as BBC News, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, EuroSport, and Skype (via an optional extra webcam). There’s also a new app for Fetch TV, another on-demand TV and film streaming platform where you just buy what you want to watch when you like.
It has to be said that content levels on this service are hardly inspiring right now, with precious little A-list content. But we guess things will likely/hopefully improve fairly swiftly.
More exciting is the addition of Netflix to the second "page" of the Viera Connect service, which joins AceTrax in offering a more fully developed content list than Fetch TV. This second page also provides access to Twitter and Facebook apps, Euronews, CNBC Real Time, and DailyMotion.
Page three’s highlights are the PICASA photo sharing service, Aupeo, iConcerts, and the Aupeo! personal radio app. Moving down to page four (see how tedious this could become?!), you get... nothing. Just blank squares. All ready to be filled by optional apps you can download from the Viera Connect Market.
Some of the apps in this market are already interesting. Gameloft, for instance, has delivered a trio of games - Asphalt, Let’s Golf 2, and UNO - with surprisingly good graphics that can be played against other Viera TV users online. These can download to inserted SD cards for quicker access, with the downloading interface proving mercifully straightforward and letting you continue to watch TV while the download process takes place.
Other optional apps of note include Indian cinema service BIGFlix VOD, the Break Comedy service, UStream TV, Viewster, Vimeo, Red Karaoke, the MLB.tv subscription major league baseball channel, and a couple of potentially cool fitness apps: a Withings one that allows Wi-Fi scales to automatically communicate your weight to the TV so it can chart your weight loss and BMI; and an iFit Live one that lets you connect iLive fitness devices via Viera Connect for - and we quote from the app itself - "a seamless experience of Google Maps and other iFit workouts".
It’s a pity the sort of hardware accessories to support these fitness apps aren’t currently available in the Shopping section of the Viera Connect market, but they’ll doubtless appear at some point. This shopping section does at least feature a few joysticks for enhancing your gaming, keyboards for making life (much) easier if you’re a regular user of the web browser, as well as the option to buy a Skype camera and pairs of 3D glasses (though only Panasonic’s active models, ironically).
The online features described above are going to be joined later in the year, too, by such intriguing fare as Disney Books and MySpace.