By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
NEWARK, N.J. —Panasonic’s 2014 audio lineup will include its first two under-TV speakers, three new active soundbars, two Blu-ray HTiBs and the its first wireless multizone-audio system incorporating Qualcomm’s All- Play technology.
Most products will be available in early spring. Prices weren’t disclosed.
Both under-TV speakers, called Sound Boards, are 2.1-channel systems, one for TVs up to 32 inches and the other for 42-inch-and-larger TVs. Both offer the same features, including integrated subwoofer, Bluetooth, NFC, Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding, one HDMI input with 4k Ultra HD and 3D passthrough, one optical input, one RCA input, HDMI output with audio return channel, and metal chassis. The HDMI input also accepts multichannel PCM soundtracks.
The Sound Base systems also feature Clear Dialog Mode, which lifts dialog to sound as if it is emanating from the middle of the TV screen rather than below it.
The smaller speaker is rated at 310 watts, and the larger model is 500 watts.
In soundbars, the company launched three models, reducing the selection from last year’s four. None are convertible, or multi-positional, models like two soundbars introduced last year. The multi-positional models could be placed horizontally like a traditional soundbar, or their left and right drivers could be detached to create two freestanding vertical speakers.
The soundbars consist of a 3.1-, 5.1- and 2.1-channel model. Details on the 2.1-channel SC-HTB8 were unavailable, but the 3.1-channel SC-HTB580 and 5.1-channel SC-HTB880 feature Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 decoding, Dolby Virtual Speaker to deliver virtual surround, Dolby Pro Logic II, wireless subwoofers, and Bluetooth. They’re the company’s first soundbars with NFC. Both bars also feature one HDMI input, one optical input, an HDMI output with audio return channel, 3D passthrough, and Clear-Mode Dialog. The bars’ HDMI inputs accept multichannel PCM soundtracks.
The SC-HTB880 features dedicated speakers for the center, surround and left-right channels, whereas the 3.1-channel SC-HTB580 features dedicated center and left-right channels.
The HTB880 also adds Ultra HD passthrough and a second-generation LincsD amplifier, which reduces jitter noise generated by digital audio “to the lowest possible level,” Panasonic said.
Both wall-mountable models also feature a triangular cross section and a sloped front panel, which allows for the installation of larger drivers. A gyro sensor detects whether the bars are mounted on a credenza or on a wall, enabling the bars to automatically adjust response.
In 5.1-speaker Blu-ray HTiBs, the company is reducing its selection to two from three. Both new 5.1-speaker systems feature 3D Blu-ray player with 2D-to-3D conversion like their predecessors, but these are the company’s first HTiBs with Bluetooth and NFC. Their predecessors featured Made for iPod/iPhone USB.
Both new models access a handful of Internet services including Netflix, CinemaNow and YouTube, but unlike their predecessors, they lack full access to Panasonic’s Viera Connect portfolio of streaming Internet audio and video services, and they lack their predecessors’ DLNA technology, which enables streaming of audio and video and video from a networked PC or NAS drive. They also lack their predecessors’ HDMI inputs, web browser and Skype video chat with optional webcam.
Like their predecessors, they come with HDMI output with audio return channel. An optional Wi-Fi dongle is also available like before.
The HTiBs also offer 4K up-scaling.
In other introductions, Panasonic is stepping up its wireless multiroom-audio capabilities with the launch of a wireless adapter and two wireless speakers incorporating Qualcomm’s AllPlay technology, which will also be adopted by Altec Lansing. AllPlay products from different manufacturers are promoted as interoperable.
AllPlay, which uses Wi-Fi and supports high-resolution audio codecs, is promoted as offering multiple advantages over AirPlay and DLNA.
Panasonic’s AllPlay-equipped products, all with built-in Wi-Fi 802.11a/c, include the SC-ALL1C receiver, which can be added to existing sound systems to connect them to a wireless AllPlay network.
The two other AllPlay products are active speakers. One is the three-way 80-watt SC-ALL8 2.1-channel speaker with two tweeters, two 8cm woofers, and one 12cm subwoofer. The speaker lacks batteries and gets power only from household AC. SC-ALL8 features include metal grille, cabinet with leather-like finish, and the company’s second-generation LincsD amp.
The second AllPlay speaker, intended for portable use, is more compact and features AC/DC operation.
Both AllPlay speakers lack Bluetooth but come with aux in. They don’t require connection of a bridge box to a home’s router.
Equipped with a music-management app provided by Panasonic, Apple and Android mobile devices will be able to stream one or more locally stored songs to one or more speakers at a time. The apps also double as a controller to direct one or more songs at a time from a DLNA-enabled PC or NAS drive to one or more speakers at a time.
Without AllPlay, DLNA-enabled mobile devices and Apple’s mobile devices stream content to only one wireless speaker at a time, Qualcomm said. Also with AirPlay, only one computer-stored song at a time can be distributed to multiple speakers throughout the house, Qualcomm said.
Qualcomm’s AllPlay supports synchronous streaming of music to up to 10 zones.
In addition, select music services such as iHeartRadio, Rhapsody/, Napster and SomaFM plan to add native All- Play support to their apps, enabling the apps to display an AllPlay icon when they detect AllPlay-enabled speakers and music systems on a Wi-Fi network. From the app, users will be able to select the speakers to which they want to send Cloud-based music.
To conserve mobile-device battery power, streamingservice content isn’t sent from a mobile device to AllPlay speakers. Instead, one AllPlay-enabled speaker designated as the master speaker fetches content from the Cloud and then redistributes the content to other speakers.
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