Evolve or die
What is the Panasonic Smart TV System?
It might well be that 2014 is remembered as the year Smart TV came of age.The increasing popularity of catch-up and streaming services and the improved processing power found in even a mid-range model, means that smart features are becoming an integral part of a modern TV. This evolution has reached its zenith in the form of LG's ground-breaking webOS-based Smart+ platform. This new interface makes the TV smart from the ground up and totally changes how you interact with it. So with all this evolution in the realm of Smart TV, it's never been more important for a manufacturer to ensure that their platform remains current. Whilst LG might be leading the way in terms of OS technology, the other manufacturers aren't far behind.Of the major players there's Samsung with their extensive line-up of apps and recommendation services and Sony, who are understandably placing greater emphasis on content delivery. In the case of Panasonic, this year's platform appears very similar to last year's version, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because the 2013 vintage was very good. The latest iteration includes a revamped 'my Home Screen' but adds new apps and features such as Freetime and 'my Stream', along with cloud storage, faster processing and improved media playback. So let's connect to our broadband router and find out just how smart Panasonic's 2014 TVs really are.
Panasonic my Home ScreenAs with last year's version, the 'my Home Screen' comes up as soon as you turn the TV on, although you can also choose to default to the TV picture if your prefer by selecting the Full Screen TV option. As with last year there are a number of template screens including the Lifestyle Screen, the Info Screen and Your Screen, which can be customised to suit your personal preferences.
The Lifestyle Screen includes news, weather, a clock and a calendar, along with the TV picture, allowing to keep track of your family's schedule. The Info Screen is pre-loaded with the Web Browser, the Skype and YouTube Apps with a list of bookmarked pages from the browser running vertically down the right hand side.
If none of the default templates interests you, then you can create your own screen using apps and widgets of your choice. Screens can be further personalised by using different backgrounds and names so you can have one for each member of the family. It’s all very simple, but it would perhaps be useful if you could put PIN protection to prevent any inquisitive minors from getting at the adults' screens. If your TV has a built-in camera, you can even use face recognition to access your personal screen.
Panasonic also provide a fairly comprehensive Search facility that is accessed via the red button of the remote. Searches can be made from the internet or, more specifically, for Images, Videos and News categories. One can also search the included Map app from here as well as scouring connected storage media – USB drives, SD Card and it all works very well.
On initial set-up there is a voice-guided demo of the intricacies of 'my Home Screen' featuring a computerised voice that does grate but overall Panasonic's smart platform certainly succeeds in its intention of making your regularly used features instantly accessible and providing a clean, user-friendly interface with fast processing.
Panasonic Smart TV Apps ScreenAlong with the 'my Home Screen', there's also the Apps Screen which acts as a unifying hub for the full range of smart functionalities. Where 'my Home Screen' is all about making content accessible and easy to use, the Apps Screen includes all the content but especially all the available apps such as BBC News, iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Twitter and Skype. Whilst, by default, the second screen is filled with lots of time and event related widgets – Clock, Calendar, Notes, etc. but, like the various home Screens, it’s all fully customisable.
It’s also useful that all of the core operations of the TV can be accessed from the Apps screen so not only can you can open all the apps that have been loaded in but also the Apps Market, Shopping, Screen market, VIERA Link, Media Player, Media Server and Web Browser. In addition you can access any Recorded TV, Multi Windows, my Stream, Mirroring, Photo Frame, the Calendar and the Event Timer. There's also Panasonic's my Home Cloud which provides users with a degree of cloud storage and access to Screen Market, Apps Market, Shopping and your family and friends.
Panasonic Smart TV System Apps MarketWhilst Panasonic's smart platform comes pre-loaded with quite a number of apps, there’s more awaiting for those that pay a visit to the Apps Market. You’ll need an account to download anything from here but you can opt out of providing card details if it’s only the free stuff you’re interested in. The majority of the apps you would most likely be interested in are available, although significantly there's no Amazon Instant or Netflix 4K for those with an Ultra HD TV.
However there is a huge selection of apps available and the Market is broken down into a large number of categories available including Video & Movie, Music, Sports, Games, , Kids, Social Networking, News & Weather, Health & Fitness and Lifestyle. Among the hundreds of apps on offer you'll find handy ones like Vimeo, Deezer, Facebook and TuneIn internet radio. There is also the option to purchase other products and, for example, you can buy additional 3D glasses for your new TV.
Panasonic Remote AppPanasonic's latest remote app is freely available and compatible with both iOS and Android. It includes Swipe and Share 2.0 that not only allows for photo and video content to be shared to the TV but also permits it to be shared back to other tablets and smartphones, acting as a kind of conduit, for files stored on USB stick/HDD or SD Card. It’s also possible to browse the web on your mobile device and swipe what’s being shown on it to the TV or vice versa. Swipe and Share will also interact with some of the apps installed on your tablet or phone so, for instance, you could launch either YouTube or Netflix from the mobile app and choose to watch on the TV.
Other useful features include the ability to access my Home Cloud. Using the Remote App and connecting to the Panasonic Cloud, you can stream live TV shows or movies on your tablet or smartphone wherever you are in the world from a USB hard disk drive connected to your TV. If you are travelling, TV Anywhere enables you to begin watching a movie at home, start recording before you leave the house and then continue to watch from where you left off when you reach your hotel. If you forget to start the recording, you can still do this while away from home thanks to the Remote App.
It's never been easier to share important moments with friends or family instantly - from anywhere worldwide - thanks to Remote Sharing. Just use the Remote App on your smartphone or tablet to share messages, videos and pictures via the Panasonic Cloud to your TV at home, even while you’re on the road. The distinction between your TV and your smart device is beginning to blur and once you add in the idea of cloud storage, suddenly the possibilities are genuinely exciting. The smart device and the TV are becoming extensions of one another, allowing you access to content from anywhere.
There's also the app launcher which launches the TV apps but without the hassle of using the TV remote. It’s with these kind of simple control interactions that touchscreens really excel and the ability to swipe and glide your way rapidly to, and through, the likes of Netflix or BBC iPlayer is very rewarding. More mundane duties such as channel hopping and volume selection and, in fact, the entire Menu systems are, of course, available and work very well but it’s with the apps, streaming and internet side of things that the remote app really adds value.
Panasonic Smart TV EPG & PVR FeaturesAll Panasonic TVs come with a DVB-T2 tuner for Freeview HD, whilst some are also equipped with DVB-S2, satellite tuners, and all of them include a standard Electronic Programme Guide (EPG). Panasonic TVs also 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. Once attached you will have access to a host of convenient features such as Timer Recording, Direct TV Recording and Pause Live TV. 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. You can even record one programme whilst watching another if your Panasonic TV has dual tuners.
New this year is my Stream, which provides individualised channels of personalised content for you and your family members, aggregated from a variety of sources. You have access to films and TV shows from satellite, cable, terrestrial broadcast, and Video on Demand (VOD) sources based on your viewing preferences, allowing you to easily access your favourite content, without spending the time searching for it. Recorded content, home movies, family photos, web pages, and online videos are also seamlessly included in the my Stream interface. Using the Remote App and the new “My Button” on the TV’s Touchpad remote, you can build up a personalised profile of your favourite content. Pressing this button alerts the TV that you specifically like the kind of content you are currently viewing and, using the programme metadata together with advanced algorithms, the service presents you with further recommendations.
The other big addition for 2014 is Freetime, which is a clever system that has previously only been found on external receiver boxes. This allows the viewer to scroll backwards through their electronic programme guide to access programmes they might have missed using the on-demand and catch-up services provide by the TV broadcasters. This is the same approach taken by YouView and essentially allows the user to integrate catch-up services into their normal viewing experience and to access them via the EPG. Of course not every programme is offered as part of a broadcasters catch-up service but that isn't Freetime or Panasonic's fault. It does however mean that Panasonic can legitimately say that their TVs offer all the catch-up services, a claim that could only previously be made by Samsung who currently have an exclusivity deal for the ITV Player app. However it should be pointed out that only the BBC iPlayer is available as a separate app, the other three (ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5) are only accessed via Freetime
Panasonic Smart TV Web BrowserPanasonic's 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 Touch Pad controller, the 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 quite quickly, especially with the higher-end models that have better processing.
Using 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 a series of 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. We're not convinced that many people actually use their TV for web browsing but things like the remote app and faster processing certainly make it more likely.
Panasonic Smart TV System Media PlayerPanasonic has continued to bolster file support for its media player over the years and their TVs are among the few to support FLAC. Of course, if you’re playing the music out of the speakers built-in to the TV, then lossless encoding is almost the least of your worries but it’s nice to see such thinking from Panasonic. We had no problem accessing our media server from the Panasonic TVs we have tested and overall we found that the media playback was fairly seamless.
There is excellent file support with Panasonic TVs able to stream a multitude of video files including AVCHD, AVI, MKV and MP4. ASF, FLV, 3GPP, PS, MOV and TS. To complement the aforementioned FLAC support MP3, AAC and WMA/WMA Pro music codecs are also supported. For photograph viewing, Panasonic TVs are able to display JPG, JPEB and, for the 3D sets, the MPO format. The same files supported over DLNA streaming are able to be played through a USB connected device so, all in all, Panasonic provide a very capable media player.
Panasonic Smart TV Social NetworkingAs is normal these days, Panasonic's Smart TVs offers all the main forms of social networking with apps for Twitter, Facebook and Picasa. These services can be integrated into your customised my Home Screen, allowing you to keep in touch with friends and family or follow what is trending. There is also an app for Skype, although to take full advantage you will need a TV with a built-in camera or purchase a 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 live sporting event with your friends, even if they’re in a different country.
- My Home Screen is effective
- The interface is well designed
- Impressive connectivity
- Remote app is very good
- Good selection of VoD services
- Comprehensive media playback
- Navigation could be slightly easier
- Smart Remote could be better
- No Amazon Instant
Panasonic Smart TV System 2014 ReviewWhilst the nature of Smart TV is changing rapidly, Panasonic have done a great job of keeping their current platform relevant. The layout may look similar to last year but there are a number of new additions that make the system both useful and forward thinking in terms of its approach. The overall design and interface might seem slightly dated compared to the likes of webOS but it's still clean, informative and easy to navigate. The remote app remains one of the better designed and better integrated examples and the ability to access content remotely is definitely useful. The addition of cloud storage is an example of how the relationship between your TV and smart device is fundamentally changing and that symbiosis can only continue.
The other area where TV is fundamentally changing is the growing popularity of video streaming and Panasonic include Netflix, YouTube and Vimeo. However the lack of Netflix 4K on their UHD sets robs them of the only current source of ultra high definition content and they need to add Amazon Instant as well. The other important development has been in the popularity of catch-up services and Panasonic have been able to expand their coverage thanks to Freetime. They can now legitimately claim to offer all four of the main catch-up services and by integrating them into the EPG they are easier for people to access.
In terms of other new features for this year, there is 'my Stream' which provides individualised channels of personalised content for you and your family members, aggregated from a variety of sources. This is a genuinely useful recommendation algorithm that selects films and TV shows from satellite broadcast, terrestrial broadcast, and Video on Demand (VOD) sources based on your viewing preferences. It allows you easy access your favourite content, without spending the time searching for it and even recorded content, home movies, family photos, web pages, and online videos are also seamlessly included in the my Stream interface. In addition the web browser remains surprisingly effective and the media player offers a extensive range of file support.
Overall the Panasonic Smart TV System for 2014 remains a well thought out and useful platform that provides much of the interactivity and content that we have come to expect. It might not be quite as impressive as some of the more recent systems we have seen but it remains both innovative and effective and as such is worthy of a Highly Recommended award.
Ease of Use10
Media Playback Quality9
Applications - Software9
Applications - Hardware9
Voice and Motion Controls7
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.