The days of the traditional remote control are looking increasingly numbered. During a number of recent reviews of TVs from LG, Samsung and Panasonic we’ve come across secondary remotes with touchpad controls, voice recognition systems, ‘Wiimote’-style point and click control devices, and even gesture control systems that let you use your TV without needing any physical remote control at all.
Interesting and even occasionally helpful as some of these alternative control systems have been, though, it’s the sort of tablet/smartphone systems we’re looking at today that seem to most successfully reinvent TV controls.
Panasonic’s free Viera Remote 2 app is designed to work with a pretty wide selection of the brand’s 2012 and 2011 TVs. The full (UK) list looks like this: VT50, GT50, ST50, UT50, XT50, WT50, DT50, ET50, ET5, E5, EW5, VT30, GT30, ST30, G30, S30, UT30, DT35, DT30, D35, D30, and E30. If you’re reading this review from other regions, there’s a comprehensive region by region list of supported TVs in the App Description on the app store.
There’s a big "however" to go alongside this list of TVs, though. The functionality supported through the app is not the same across all the listed TVs. Crucially, the brilliant facility for ‘transmitting’ what’s being shown on the TV onto your Android or Apple device is only available on Panasonic sets with dual-core processors built in. Which means only the GT50, VT50 and WT50 models.
Older isn't better
Similarly, owners of 2011 Panasonic TVs additionally don’t benefit from the App’s Gamepad control feature, web browser functionality, or cursor control option.
This confusion isn’t helped by Panasonic’s failure to explain the different levels of functionality in any of the immediate written materials connected with the app. A cursory examination of the ‘ratings’ and comments associated with the app reveals just how many people are feeling confused and frustrated, believing their model of TV should be delivering a feature that it in fact cannot.
The only place you can find a TV-by-TV breakdown of exactly what the app does is to click on the App Support tab in the App Store listing, and then find the small link text entitled "Viera TV models compatible with the VIERA Remote".
With all this in mind, you can’t help but think it would have been nice if the app itself told you what features it could and couldn’t deliver once it has recognised the model of TV you own.
Android vs iOS
Adding yet more confusion to proceedings is the existence of some key functionality differences between the Android and iOS versions of the app. For instance, the Apple app does not allow you to play music stored on your iDevice through to the TV, while the Android version does. Also, the Apple app doesn’t support voice recognition - a feature we quickly found ourselves using routinely on the Android version as the simplest means of inputting text into the Viera web browser.
Both of these iOS limitations are, it must be stressed, on account of Apple's control-freakery rather than any technical shortcomings on Panasonic's part.
The presentation of the Viera Remote app on both of its versions, though, is more or less identical. And to be honest, it looks a bit bland and dated, and doesn’t prove particularly intuitive to learn your way round either. We thus strongly recommend that you take the time to read - closely - the instructions manual available via the aforementioned App Help button, as this will save you a ton of time and confusion.
While the Viera App hardly goes out of its way to win technophobes to its cause, though, after a little practice its charms do become apparent, and using it becomes if not quite second nature then at least reasonably straightforward.