Who needs plasma? Panasonic launches widest range of LED TVs, as it upgrades smart TV interface and promises plasma quality from new high-end TV set
With the end of its Plasma division, our one worry for Panasonic was that it had lost its unique place in the TV market. With the 2014 line-up, it doesn’t look like we have much to worry about, as Panasonic has re-invigorated its LCD TV line-up, fighting back against its competition with amazing picture quality, a brand-new smart TV platform and a Freetime EPG providing catch-up TV.
Although the main line-up was announced at CES 2014, with the TV’s branded as Life+, Panasonic has now announced the full UK range. Gone is the Life+ branding, with the new smart TV interface called My Home Cloud. With customisable home screens, My Home Cloud, lets each user have a profile, so that the TV displays their favourite information on-screen. Some models even have a camera to automatically recognise the user. A lot of the features are the same as when we wrote about Life+, but some UK specific information has come out, which we’re covering here.
This year marks the introduction of a new naming convention. All products start with a letter ‘A’. If the TV is a smart model, it has an ‘S’ next. Finally, there’s a range name, with the higher the number, the higher-end the TV.
While we’re not going into the detail of the entry-level TVs here, it’s important to note the AS500 range, which is the starting smart model. This is roughly equivalent to last year’s range and doesn’t have the new smart interface.
For the most the new features start with the AS600, with additional features being added further up the line. We’ll go through the list of features here and have listed the outline specs of the TVs at the bottom of this article.
Announced a couple of weeks ago, the Freetime EPG is a big deal for UK customers.
This is the interface that appears on new Freesat set-top boxes and EPGs and, as with YouView, lets you step back in time and watch content via the main catch-up services: BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5.
With Panasonic’s TVs, Freetime will work with both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners. It sits alongside the standard Panasonic EPG, although Freetime can be set as the default (as it should be). We’ve been told that by the time the TVs are released, Freetime will be set as the default EPG in retail models.
Using Freetime will mean that Panasonic will have the most advanced EPG of all TV manufacturers and, alongside Samsung, all of the main catch-up services.
Available from the AS640 upwards, My Stream is a recommendation service. When you watch content from any terrestrial channel or streamed via the internet, such as YouTube, you can hit the ‘like’ button on the remote to tell the TV the type of content you want to watch.
My Stream then makes recommendations based on this content. It’s hard to say how accurate it is at the moment, as we’ll need to get a review unit in and give the TV a chance to learn. However, from our initial preview of the service, it looks impressive, with a fast and smooth interface bringing up thumbnails of recommended content.
TV Anywhere is Panasonic’s new feature for streaming live and recorded TV to another device. Last year’s TVs let you do this in the same house, say streaming TV to a tablet in the spare bedroom, but this year’s models let you do this over the internet. The bit rate is adaptive, so the speed of your internet connection will determine quality.
What you can do remotely depends on the type of TV you’ve got, although in all cases you can stream a recorded programme stored on a USB hard disk. Models with a single tuner can stream what’s being watched. Models with a Freesat and Freeview tuner can let the remote viewer have the tuner not currently in-use, letting them choose what to watch without interrupting the current viewer. Twin tuner models, which have two Freesat and two Freeview, can let the remote viewer use any free tuner, giving more flexibility.
We’ve been told that the system only allows for a single remote viewer (locally or over the internet), which is a similar restriction to similar systems, such as Slingbox. However, having this capability built into the TV set is great to see.
PANASONIC 2014 SMART VIERA TVs – IN BRIEF
We’ve listed the basic specs below for you, but the following image has everything you need to know about the line-up, bar the AX900, which won’t be released until August.
Click to see more detail
AS600 Full HD, 100Hz panel. My Stream
AS640 Full HD, 1,200Hz panel. My Stream, TV anywhere
AS650 Full HD, 1,200Hz panel. My Stream, TV anywhere
AS740 Full HD, 1,200Hz panel. My Stream, TV anywhere. Built-in camera
AS750 Full HD, 1,200Hz panel. My Stream, Twin HD Tuner (2x Freeview HD and 2x Freesat HD), TV Anywhere
AS800 – Fulld HD, 1,800Hz panel with local dimming. My Stream, TV anywhere.
AX800 Ultra HD (4K), 2,000Hz panel with local dimming. My Stream, TV anywhere
AX900 Ultra HD (4K), 3,000Hz panel with local dimming (128 zones). My Stream, TV anywhere. This model won’t be released until August 2014, but you can read our first impressions of the panel quality, which we did at CES 2014