Panasonic Smart TV System 2012 Review
AVForums rounds up the Panasonic Smart VIERA System for 2012
IntroductionThe smart capabilities of modern TVs have reached the point where there are now so many, that it is almost impossible to cover them all within a single TV review. Given that the majority of these smart TV features are almost identical from model to model within the same brand, it makes more sense to cover them all in a dedicated review, which can then be updated each year.
This year Panasonic have christened their smart TV capabilities Smart VIERA which is an all-encompassing phrase that includes design, picture quality, connectivity and interactivity. For the purposes of this review, we will concentrate on the connectivity and interactivity aspects of Smart VIERA, describing how the various features work and giving our views on their performance. Whilst most features are carried across all models of TV, there are some that are unique to those that include dual core processing. So in order to make this review as useful as possible, we have included a table below showing which models have which features. Panasonic's 2012 Blu-ray players also include some Smart TV features, although their functionality is based on the 2011 TV platform,whilst this review is aimed primarily at the capabilities of the 2012 TV line-up.
EPG Quality & PVR FeaturesGone are the days when you just selected one of five channels, these days there is a bewildering array of digital channels to choose from and the line between programme guide and internet platform is beginning to blur. All Panasonic TVs come with a DVB-T2 tuner for Freeview HD and many of the higher end models also include a DVB-S tuner for Freesat HD, however whichever content provider you are watching the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) remains the same.
The most recent incarnation of Panasonic’e EPG is a big improvement on previous years, as the manufacturer has dropped all the unwanted adverts, leaving a colourful guide that is well laid out, simple to use and easy to read. The EPG allows you to see what is currently on, check what is going to be on up to seven days in advance and select a specific programme or channel. It should be noted that there is no thumbnail image or audio when you are in the EPG, some people will find this annoying, whilst others like this approach because it doesn't use the tuner - here at AVForums we remain agnostic on the subject.
Many Panasonic TVs offer a choice of recording options for even greater storage flexibility and ease. You can just hook up an external hard disk drive or slot in an SD Memory Card to store your favourite TV shows or films. Alternatively, if you connect a HDD via USB you can utilise the Recording functions and access even more features. This facility requires a USB storage device with a minimum of 160GB capacity up to a maximum of 3TB but once attached you will have access to a host of convenient features such as Timer Recording, Direct TV Recording and Pause Live TV. All of these functions have been integrated as conveniently as possible with dedicated buttons on the VIERA TV remote. This means that by adding a HDD via USB you can turn your Panasonic TV into a PVR, providing you with the opportunity to record programmes and play them back later. We found this feature to be quite useful and the interface is effective, however there is only one tuner which means you can’t record one programme whilst watching another, so it is limited.
Voice and Motion ControlsUnlike certain other manufacturers, Panasonic don't currently offer any voice or motion control features but they do offer a voice guidance feature. Panasonic appreciate that whilst most people take using a television guide or on screen channel information for granted, for those that are visually challenged it can obviously be difficult to find out information about their favourite programmes, check what is on later or to set a programme for recording.
For this reason, Panasonic have been working with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to provide the Voice Guidance feature that works by announcing on-screen information with synthetic speech and provides clear instructions on how to navigate around the TV menu. This talking feature allows people to choose the level of guidance that suits them, whether beginner or expert, and can be adjusted in terms of speed and volume. This is the first time this feature has been used outside Japan, so Panasonic are to be congratulated for offering it to the visually impaired here in the UK.
Applications - HardwareMany of Panasonic’s TVs now come with built-in WiFi which makes it easy for you to connect with your broadband router and your home network wirelessly, removing the need for any bothersome cables. It’s easy to setup the WiFi connection and integrate your TV into your network. The resulting network can stream content at high speed and offers a wide, stable transmission range for a reliable, cable-free home system set-up. If your TV has built-in WiFi it will say so but if it says WiFi Ready, then you will need to purchase a Panasonic wireless dongle. If your TV doesn’t offer either of these options, you can still access your router or network using an Ethernet cable. We had no problems connecting any of the Panasonic TVs to our router and network, using both the built-in Wi-Fi (if available) or an Ethernet cable.
Smart VIERA is designed to be a multimedia hub for your home and thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and DLNA networking technologies, Panasonic TVs are able to communicate with compatible devices – so you can wirelessly stream multimedia stored on a compatible computer, tablet, smartphone or HDD recorder to your TV. Through the Smart VIERA platform you can have full and easy access to your photos, videos, music and more – no matter where they are stored. When compatible devices are connected via DLNA, you have access to entertainment stored in different rooms around the house, directly on your TV. We were able to wirelessly connect Panasonic TVs with built-in WiFi to our media server.
This year, the VT, GT and WT ranges also include Bluetooth compatibility which allows you to connect with audio devices or a keyboard. These models of Panasonic TV include the Advance Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), which means they can connect with any Bluetooth device that also uses this profile such as headphones, compact speaker systems The TVs can also connect with keyboards that are compliant with the Human Interface Profile (HID). As with all Bluetooth devices there is a limited range of about 10m but this can vary depending on the devices and the environment. Whilst both a A2DP and a HID device can be connected at the same time, you can’t connect two A2DP devices.
Media Playback QualityPanasonic have enhanced their Media Player feature, which now offers easy playback of photos, videos and music via SD Memory Card or USB drives. To access any of this content, as well as any recordings on an external HDD or a media server, you just use the VIERA Tools button on the remote. When you select this option you can then choose between VIERA Link, Photo, Video, Recorded TV, Music and Media Server.
In terms of file support Panasonic’s TVs are fairly comprehensive and can handle AVCHD, MPEG, DivX HD, WMV, MKV, AVI, MP4, MOV, MP3, AAC, WMA, FLAC, JPEG and MPO, which should cover most people's needs. In addition, thanks to the 3D File Playback function, you can also view 3D photos and videos recorded with a 3D digital camera or camcorder.
We tested a number of different Panasonic models, playing back videos, listening to music and looking at photos and we found the performance to be excellent. You can also select different picture modes when playing back video content, which means you can use more accurate or calibrated settings if you wish.
Applications - SoftwarePanasonic offer the VIERA Touch Pad Controller with the VT50 and WT50 which is designed to make navigating all the Smart VIERA features easier and more ergonomic. However, regardless of which model of Panasonic TV you own, there is an equally useful remote controller. This year Panasonic have launched ver.2.0 of their VIERA Remote app for both iOS and Android devices, which you can download for free from the Apple App Store and or Google Play Store.
This clever app turns your smartphone or tablet into a touch-screen remote and lets you stream content to and from the TV. It’s easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with your Panasonic TV. This app allows you to use your tablet or smartphone for free point operation, gamepad operation, browser linkage and content linkage.
The gamepad operation allows you to use your mobile device as a game controller for games sold on VIERA Connect Market. Free point operation allows you to use the touch screen on your mobile device as a track pad for easier browser operation. The app also means that you have a keyboard available via your smartphone or tablet, which makes typing things on VIERA Connect much easier and is particularly useful when using the web browser.
With the VIERA Remote App, you can also use your tablet to surf the Web and transfer any content directly to your TV. You simply open the Web Browser on your smartphone or tablet, look up any information you like, and then use the “Send to TV” button to display it on your TV. Conversely you can look up information on the Web Browser on your TV and then use the “Receive from TV” button to display it on your smartphone or tablet.
The VIERA Remote app also allows you to share content between a tablet or smartphone and your Panasonic TV using the Swipe and Share function. Quite simply, if something is playing on your tablet or smartphone, using the VIERA Remote app you hold your finger down on the device's screen and move it upwards (or 'swipe' it), the content will then begin playing on your TV. Conversely you can also move content playing from a memory device or digital programmes on your TV to your tablet or smartphone using a similar approach. This is a particularly useful feature as it allows you to continue watching broadcast TV on your tablet or smartphone, even when your TV is turned off. However this latter feature is only available on TVs with dual core processing.
Internet PlatformOnce you have connected your TV to your broadband router, you can then begin using the internet capabilities, which Panasonic call VIERA Connect. Whilst it looks basically the same as last year’s platform, Panasonic have added a number of new applications and features. In addition if you own a VT50, GT50 or WT50, then the inclusion of dual core processing has significantly increased the speed and response of the platform.
Regardless of which model you have, the internet platform is easy to access and responsive and in this sense VIERA Connect is a success. It is simple to launch, you just press the Internet button on the remote, and once you are in VIERA Connect, it is very easy to navigate and intuitive to use. In fact our only complaint about Panasonic's internet platform is that in order to move from one page to the next, you have to select MORE or BACK, rather than just going directly to the next page but this is a minor quibble.
However you can customise the layout of VIERA Connect, which means you can position the more commonly use apps on the front page. There is a thumbnail image of channel you are watching in the middle of the home page and you can return to that channel by highlighting it and pressing enter. To select a particular app you just highlight it and press enter and from the home page you can access any of the features including the VIERA Connect Market, Video on Demand, Social Networks and the Web Browser. In addition, if your TV has dual core processing you can easily switch between open apps using the multitasking user interface and the press of a single button the remote control.
A new addition to the VIERA Connect platform is the VIERA Connect Market, where you can buy and download additional apps and games, in much the same way that you can from Apple's App Store and Google’s Play Store. When in VIERA Connect Market, there is a thumbnail image of the channel you are currently on in the top left hand corner and beneath that there is a list of different application categories. You can choose from applications related to Video & Movies, Music , Sports, Games, Kids, Social Networking and News & Weather. The majority of the apps currently available are free to download but if you choose on that isn't free, you will need to create a Panasonic account first, which will involve giving your credit card details.
Video on DemandIn the UK, by far the most popular aspect of smart TV is catch-up video and video on demand (VoD). The appeal is obvious and it is the feature most directly related to the TV's primary function - watching programmes. The VIERA Connect platform offers most of the popular VoD services including BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Axetrax and YouTube, along with quite a few more obscure ones. There is also Panasonic's VIERA 3D World which provides loads of free 3D content, a useful features for those keen to watch as much 3D content as possible.
You can download the apps for the services you want to the main VIERA Connect pages, although most of the VoD services are already included by default. You can also use the customising features in VIERA Connect to put the VoD services you use the most on first page, thus making them easier to access. The quality was generally very god, although to a certain extent this is going to depend on how fast your broadband connection is. However what is useful is that you can select different picture modes when playing back video content, which means you can use more accurate or calibrated settings to improve the picture quality.
Social NetworkingAs you would expect in this age of social networking, the VIERA Connect platform offers all the main forms of communication with apps for Twitter, Facebook and Picasa. If you’re one of those people who can’t bear to be cut off from their social network, the apps allow for their message streams to be fairly discretely hidden under a tab whilst you’re actually watching TV.
There is also an app for Skype, although to take full advantage you will need to purchase the TY-CC10W HD camera and microphone attachment. As with Twitter and Facebook, the Skype app allows you to stream content simultaneously and even offers the ability to watch a live broadcast and Skype video at the same time, so you can watch a love sporting event with your friends, even if they’re in a different country.
Web BrowsingThis year Panasonic’s Smart VIERA TVs include a full Web Browser which allows you to visit all your favourites websites via your TV. The interface is specially designed for the TV and offers you not only quick access to your favourite sites, but also supports the latest remote features – like the VIERA Touch Pad controller, VIERA Remote app or a keyboard for easy typing. When you launch the browser you’ll be greeted with a nice clean interface that looks suitably tailored to the display's panel. We found that web pages loaded very quickly, especially on models with dual core processing, and that with the Touch Pad controller or remote app, it was easy to navigate around. We also found the browser’s bookmark launcher to be quite useful because, when you call up the Web Browser you immediately have the possibility to navigate through up to 27 bookmarked website thumbnails using your TV remote control. This approach added convenience and faster access to our favourite sites, as we didn't have to type in a new Web address every time.
Thanks to this latter feature you can create a series of favourite sites that are easily accessible from the home page, which will mean that as time goes by the Browser will become easier to use. The built-in Google search engine also worked well and it’s definitely a step up from our previous experiences with browsers built into TVs. However, we did experience some issues getting embedded videos from both AVForums and YouTube to work properly; the AVF videos wouldn’t centre properly and YouTube was totally hit and miss whether it would play at all. There’s promise but Panasonic need to iron out some bugs and if you're using the remote app, it's quicker and easier just to surf the net on your smartphone or tablet and then display the page on your TV using the browser link.
- Easy access and fast response
- Good connectivity
- Remote app is excellent
- Good selection of VoD services
- Comprehensive media playback
- Some bugs in web browser
- Lack of centralised hub
- No video search facility
- Limited number of apps per a page
Panasonic Smart TV System 2012 Review
Overall Panasonic's Smart VIERA platform is a success and in some ways they are leading the pack with certain features like Swipe and Share. The Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is thankfully free of adverts this year and generally it is clearly laid out and easy to use. Whilst there are slicker and better designed EPGs from other manufacturers, it gets the job done but the lack of a video thumbnail or audio might upset some users. The ability to convert the TV into a PVR by adding a HDD via USB is handy and it works quite well but it's worth remembering that with only one tuner the features are limited.
Panasonic's internet platform is called VIERA Connect and whilst it looks quite similar to last year's VIERA Cast, it does include a number of new features. There is the VIERA Marketplace where you can download a number of apps, many of which are free. The layout can be customised but we would have liked to see more apps on a single page to make it quicker and easier to access them. It would also be useful if Panasonic could create a centralised hub from which all the smart TV features could be accessed.
There is a comprehensive selection of Video on Demand (VoD) services including iPlayer, YouTube and Netflix as well as VIERA 3D World, which provides extensive 3D content. Although a search feature that can look for video content in the EPG, VoD services and any connected devices would be a useful addition. There are all the usual social networking features, although to take full advantage There is also a full Web Browser which works reasonably well, although it did have a few issues with embedded videos.
The VIERA Remote app, which is free, is excellent and there are versions for both iOS and Android. The app gives you full control of your TV from either your smartphone or tablet and adds a touch pad feature, as well as a keyboard. It allows you to easily share content between your device and your TV, including web content, videos, music, photos and even digital broadcasts.
Depending on your Panasonic TV there is the possibility to utilise built-in WiFi or a wireless dongle to connect to your broadband router or home network. Most models also include DLNA and the higher end models include Bluetooth capability as well. There is also voice guidance for the visually impaired and a comprehensive media player that allows you watch videos, listen to music or look at photos.
Overall Panasonic's Smart VIERA platform is excellent and whilst some manufacturers offer a slicker interface or more features, Smart VIERA effectively covers all the bases. The VIERA Remote app is superb and in terms of interaction between your TV and your smartphone or tablet, Panasonic is ahead of the game.
Ease of Use9
Media Playback Quality8
Applications - Software8
Applications - Hardware8
Voice and Motion Controls5
Our Review Ethos
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