On one level, using the same onscreen interface as its predecessor isn’t a bad thing; the basic presentational format of showing eight animated header screens around a central screen playing the TV programme or AV input you were watching continues to play is an attractively visual approach to handling online content. The problem is that you can’t fit many Viera Connect services on this menu system at any one time, meaning you might find yourself having to burrow through a number of ‘layers’ of Viera Connect menus before you find the particular service you were after.
To be fair, Panasonic allows you to customise which apps you put on which layer of the interface, including the opening ‘home’ screen. But the system still feels like it’s rather disguising the amount of content available rather than making it easier to get at everything.
In terms of content, at the time of writing, the default home Viera Connect screen featured Facebook, Skype, Eurosport, YouTube, the AceTrax video rental/purchase service, a setup/help section, a direct link to the Viera Connect Market (where you choose what apps you want) and, thankfully, the BBC iPlayer. This key driver of online TV use was conspicuously absent from last year’s Viera Cast TVs.
Other services available via the market or on deeper pre-installed menus include 14 simple games, CineTrailer, Dailymotion, Euronews, the Picasa photo album site, Shoutcast, Twitter, Ustream.TV, myTVscout, nova.cz, ZDF, Lequipe.fr, meinKLUB, Accuweather, AlloCine, The Associated Press, bild.de, bloomberg, tagesschau, and tn.cz,
It’s a shame, perhaps, that there’s no open Internet browser like there is on Samsung’s new Smart TVs. Also, it’s clear that a number of these services are foreign language channels with accordingly limited appeal to most UK users. Indeed, we suspect much of the content just listed will reinforce the view of many of our more sceptical readers that so-called Smart TV functions are actually pretty dumb when considered against what’s possible via PCs and games consoles.
But as well as it being impossible to say how much the roster of ‘channels’ available might grow in the coming months and years, there’s still no denying the appeal of finding the video and - to a certain demographic - social networking tools in a TV setting.
Please note that if you fancy using the Skype feature, you’ll need to make one of Panasonic’s optional Skype cameras the first accessory you buy for your new ‘connected’ TV. Immediately followed, probably, by a USB keyboard.
Other features of note on the L32E30 include the ability to record from the Freeview HD tuner to USB drives, a noise reduction system, Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation system for reducing judder and blur, and a decently wide-ranging series of picture presets including photo, game and two Cinema modes - one of which, True Cinema, claims to ‘precisely reproduce the original quality of the image without any revision’.
People who like to tinker with their TVs should note that the E30’s relatively low position in Panasonic’s new range prevents it from getting any ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) endorsement, or the sort of colour and gamma management tools that usually come with such an endorsement.