Panasonic TVs: Bigger and More Connected

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LAS VEGAS -- Panasonic president Toshihiro Sakamoto offered a glimpse of bigger and sleeker TVs -- including what was billed as the world’s biggest plasma, with a 150-inch screen -- and also positioned the company’s new high-definition sets as sitting at the center of the “digital hearth,” able to access the Internet and two-way cable services.

Sakamoto, delivering the morning keynote Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show here, enlisted help from Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts to demonstrate Panasonic’s new portable digital video recorder, the AnyPlay P-DVR. The device, developed for Comcast and to be available in early 2009, will allow cable subscribers to take their recorded TV programming with them on the road.

Roberts used his appearance to plug the cable industry’s technology for bringing interactive services -- now called “tru2way,” the new name for the OpenCable Platform. Panasonic has been one of the cable industry’s key partners in developing products based on the CableLabs middleware spec.

“The benefit of an open cable architecture is that it provides one platform for manufacturers like Panasonic and software developers to build products, while accelerating innovation for cable consumers,” Roberts said.

Sakamoto reiterated Panasonic’s support for cable’s two-way specification, saying the company will ship a tru2way-enabled plasma HDTV in 2008. “These TVs give you video on demand, access to the [Comcast] TV navigator, all with one remote,” he said. “The cable set-top box is built into the TV itself.”

Sakamoto also showed off what he touted as the world’s largest flat-panel display: a whopping 150-inch plasma TV.

Nearly 11 feet wide, the 150-inch Viera TV is designed for digital cinema and commercial installations, Sakamoto said, but added, “I’m also sure it will be found in some special luxurious homes at some point in the future.” The mammoth TV -- which, appropriately, had a picture of an elephant on it -- bests Panasonic’s previous 103-inch TV.

He also showed a prototype of Panasonic’s next-generation, ultra-thin plasma TVs with a depth of less than 1 inch -- specifically 24.7 millimeter thick -- and demonstrated a wireless HDTV set that eliminates the need to run cables.

Roberts, when he first came up on stage, quipped to Sakamoto: “Between that wireless HD demo and the 150-inch TV -- can I get some sort of deal?”

Next, Sakamoto announced that Panasonic would introduce Internet-connected features to its line of Viera TVs. Initially, the “VieraCast” feature will provide access to YouTube videos and Google’s Picasa photo-sharing Web site.

VieraCast TVs may also include weather information from The Weather Channel, and stock and financial information from Bloomberg News, Sakamoto said.

Steve Chen, YouTube’s chief technology officer, showed the ability to browse, find and watch YouTube videos on a big-screen TV. The video in Chen’s demo? A cat playing a piano.

Finally, Panasonic showed a concept product called Life Wall. Designed to literally take up the entire wall of a living room, the Life Wall would provide an interactive display to give family members access to personalized TV programs and information as well as a range of communications options, including videoconferencing.

That tied into the theme Sakamoto used to lead off his talk. Panasonic’s “digital hearth” concept is the idea that consumer electronics can bring families and friends together to share photos and videos and watch TV.

“The ‘digital hearth’ is becoming a true social phenomenon,” Sakamoto said. “At Panasonic, we believe this can help bring back family time.”

With its Living in High Definition project, the company aims to provide HD video products to 100 U.S. families by early 2009 “to get an understanding of how people use these devices,” Sakamoto said.

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