Cognizant that more and more consumers are looking for new ways to engage with the Internet through their big-screen high-def TV sets, Panasonic recently showcased here its soon-to-ship PZ850 series of Viera 1080p HD plasma TVs, featuring Viera Cast technology.
The four-model, high-end line, which has distribution targeted through specialty A/V and value-added sales accounts, includes an Ethernet port to connect with in-home networks. Users will have access to YouTube videos, Bloomberg news, sports and weather updates, and Google's Picasa online digital image storage library and slideshow system.
Using a built-in SD AVCHD card slot, consumers can plug digital image files from a camera or camcorder directly into the television set.
The options are made available through an easy-to-access user interface menu, which Panasonic said it plans to update with further choices and service partners. The sets can connect to wired in-home Internet networks, or through Wi-Fi, using optional wireless Ethernet adapters.
"The great thing about this is there is a self-updating menu, so literally next week we could go ahead and push new features," said Vic Carlson, Panasonic display products group innovation director. "We are working on a pipeline of new applications and trying to figure out what is the appropriate frequency with which we push these things. We don't want to throw too much at the consumer, but at the same time there is something nice about having some fresh news."
Models in the line include the 46-inch TH-46PZ850 ($3,099 suggested retail), 50-inch TH-50PZ850 ($3,499), both shipping now; the 58-inch TH-58PZ850 (available in August/September at $4,299); and the 65-inch TH-65PZ850 (August/September, $7,999).
All models feature 1080p resolution and 24p native Cinematic playback, and SD card slots with support for H.264 HD video and digital photo files. Other features include a Pro Setting Menu with professional calibration software tools, a 30,000:1 contrast ratio and 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, Digital Cinema Color Re-Mastering and a Studio Reference mode that stretches the red and green color gamut from the ATSC HD color space standard and adjusts gamma, sharpness, contrast and brightness settings to reproduce levels intended by film makers.
For video gamers, the sets include a Game mode that minimizes the time lag when displaying game images on the plasma screen, Panasonic said. Connectivity options include four HDMI ports and a PC input.
In related news, Panasonic said it will be rolling out its first plasma sets equipped with new Tru2way bi-directional CableCARDs on a market-by-market basis starting this fall. Panasonic has partnered with major cable multisystem operator Comcast to distribute the products through every market in which the cable operator is Tru2way enabled, Carlson said.
"Basically, as they roll out we will introduce our Tru2way TVs as well," Carlson said. "They will be cross-promoting our television set and partnering with us through all of the retailers we go into to sell these TVs."
Carlson said Panasonic is in "active discussions with all of the other cable companies that are supporters of OCAP" to open distribution on the Tru2way TVs in their markets as well. Others said to be close include Time Warner Cable, Charter and Cox.