On the brink of its new fiscal year, Panasonic this week provided an in-depth look at its latest Smart VIERA plasma and LED/LCD TVs that, along with new Blu-ray players and various audio solutions, comprise the company’s home entertainment ecosystem for 2012.
Across all the lines, the company said it has stressed what Alex Fried, national marketing manager for home entertainment, termed “feature pillars” that include high-quality picture and sound, ease of use, sleeker design and lower power consumption, with all models tied together through embellishments to their connectivity and content streaming capabilities.
All told, Panasonic is fielding more plasma and LED/LCD models than ever. Seventeen plasma sets range up to 55 inches, and all but one are 3D. Fifteen SKUs, including new 55-inch and 47-inch screen sizes, are of the LED or LCD variety, and there are three CCFL models. The LED/LCD crop includes seven 3D sets, two of which (in the ET5 series shipping this month) are Panasonic’s entry into the polarized 3D category. All of these models represent the company’s product offerings for general distribution this year; two additional plasma and two additional LED SKUs are earmarked for club distribution.
Highlights of some features on the plasma sets include Neo Plasma Black 2500 technology, offering 24,576 steps of gradation, said to enhance nuances of brightness in darker screen areas and to improve brightness over 2011 models overall by 1.5 times. An improved filter doubles contrast in bright areas of the screen. A new pre-discharge control makes for crisper black levels. And a feature Panasonic calls 2500 Focused Field Drive optimizes the sets’ sub-field, reducing blurring on fast-moving images.
The new LED sets use IPS (In-Plane Switching) panels, which offer greatly improved off-axis viewing. There has also been a 25 percent reduction in power consumption in the newer models.
Panasonic has also expanded its cloud-based Internet services and made app access quicker and more intuitive. Viewers can now multi-task when opening apps, and no longer need to exit one app to access another; they can also reach social media sites while watching TV. Remotes have also been redesigned with reconfigured buttons and they include touchpads. And smartphone control has been expanded beyond iOS devices to include Android and BlackBerry platforms.
In Blu-ray, where Panasonic said it held double-digit market share and a #3 market brand position in 2011, the company is seeing growth in the 3D Blu-ray segment in an otherwise flat sales landscape, paralleling overall market trends. Feature highlights in some models include 2D-to-3D upconversion for VIERA Connect content, and a 50 percent improvement in processing speed. All models except the entry-level DMP-BD77 2D model are Wi-Fi-ready. Four models, available now, include the DMP-BDT320. It, along with the DMP-BBT01 (available in late May or early June), features a touchpad “swipeable” remote with three shortcut buttons to access Skype, Netflix and the Web via VIERA Connect, said Natalia Salazar, video product manager. The 320 also has a Smart Eco-Sensor that reduces power consumption, and a trayless slot-in drive. The BBT01 uses a new form factor that allows horizontal or vertical placement or positioning on a stand.
In audio, two Apple AirPlay-capable microsystems made their debuts: the SC-HC57, with a unique, auto-sliding iPhone dock, and the SC-AP01. They, along with several introductions in the Blu-ray home theater in a box (HTIB) and soundbar system categories, make up the majority of home entertainment introductions, said Troy Livingston, home audio product manager. He said industry trends show a shift from sales of 5.1-channel surround system packages that include standard DVD players to systems sold without DVD, along with a high soundbar-category growth rate. He added that Panasonic held a #2 brand market share in microsystems in 2011.
Panasonic is fielding three new 1,000-watt 5.1-channel HTIB 3D systems: the SC-BTT490, SC-BTT195 and SC-BTT190, with all offering networking using the VIERA Connect platform. All also are iPhone/iPod/iPod touch-compatible, with the 490 having a dedicated dock. A remote app for smartphones is new this year, as well.
In the soundbar/wireless sub system category, Panasonic’s three new systems, SC-HTB550, SC-HTB350 and SC-HTB20, each use a multi-positional under-TV speaker that can be split in two by removing the connecting hardware in the center, for placement flexibility. A Clear-mode Dialog feature expands the soundfield, placing voices’ origin at the TV screen’s center.
Panasonic is also re-introducing the Technics brand in its headphone line. In September, it will kick off a promotional campaign when it begins selling a $229 made-in-Japan Technics on-ear headphone that it said would have high-performance power-handling capability. It will come boxed with a 10-foot coiled cord as well as a shorter cord with iPhone control capability.