Panasonic 2015 Smart TV System Review
Simplicity and content is the key
What is the Panasonic Smart TV System?For the last couple of years Panasonic have been using their My Home Screen smart TV platform which, whilst good, represented an older approach to the feature where you had to enter a home page and move through other pages to select what you wanted. When LG launched WebOS last year, they introduced a revolutionary approach to smart TV where the system is an integral part of the internal architecture. It also had a slick, simple and attractive user interface, making it very intuitive for consumers to navigate. The impact of WebOS on the rest of the TV manufacturers has been seismic, with all of them rushing to redesign their platforms in the wake of LG's smart revolution.
Some, like Samsung's Tizen powered platform, have sought to mimic WebOS but their system was clearly unfinished on its release and remains problematic with various features missing. Other manufacturers have turned to third party operating systems with differing degrees of success. Sony and Philips are using Android but issues with that platform have either delayed the release of their TVs or resulted in systems that don't initially work properly, in much the same way as Samsung. Panasonic have enlisted the help of Firefox to overhaul their smart platform and whilst there are still a few missing features, most notably Freeview Play, the system does appear to be working as demonstrated at their European Convention earlier in the year.
Home Screen 2.0When you first turn on a Panasonic TV, you are greeted by four pointers at the the edges of the screen. You can then use the new touch pad to either go up, down, left or right and in dong so you access certain choices. If you go up there's the weather, if you go right there are notifications, if you go down their are recommendations and left gives you the TV guide. This is a nice little feature but we're not entirely convinced by it, as it feels a little tacked on to the rest of the Firefox platform and we don't personally like having smart content popping up as soon as you turn on the TV. We prefer it if the TV just goes straight to the input you're using and then you access the smart content if you want to because generally that's why you're turning your TV on - to watch something.
To access the full smart TV platform you just press the 'Home' button on the remote control but unlike WebOS, where the launcher sits along the bottom of the image, Panasonic's new system overlays on top of the picture. Panasonic are calling it My Home Screen 2.0 but in reality it looks nothing like the previous My Home Screen, which had more in common with the initial start-up choices mentioned in the previous paragraph, and is another reason why they feel more like a holdover from that older platform. The new home screen has three initial default cards - Live TV, Apps and Devices.
The Live TV card is self explanatory and if you select that the system takes you to the last channel you were watching on the built-in tuner or tuners. The Apps card takes you into a page where you'll find pre-loaded apps and from here you can access these apps or pin them to the home page - more on that later. You can also access the Apps Market from here and download more apps, which again we will cover that later. The final default card is Devices which allows you to select a different connected device. There is also a search function, allowing you to find content from various tuners, services or connected devices.
My Home Screen 2.0 is nicely designed and simply laid out, making it very intuitive to use.
Firefox OSAlthough the initial default home screen only has three choices (see the picture at the top of this review) you can very easily customise it by pinning apps, devices or channels to the home page. This is a really nice feature of the Firefox OS and its simplicity makes the system accessible to just about anyone. All you need to do is select something and press the 'Option' button on the remote, which gives you a series of choices. The first of which is to pin the channel, app or device to the Home page and if you press that it appears as a card on the Home page.
In the picture below we have pinned the Netflix and Freeview Play apps to the home page. However you can add as many channels, apps and devices as you like to the Home page and the idea is for you to customise it so that all your favourite cards are there when you press the Home button on the remote control. So if you pinned Netflix, Amazon Instant, Youtube, Wuaki TV and Freeview Play to the Home page, that would give you almost all the TV catch-up and video streaming services in one convenient place. All you need to do then is press the home button and rotate through your choices to the one you want.
There are other options as well, you can move the position of the channel, app or device, allowing you to put them in a specific order. You can also lock apps if you don't want children accessing them and there's information about each app as well. If you have pinned a channel, app or device to the Home page, when you press the Option button you will then see an additional choice to unpin it and if you press that the app or device disappears from the Home page.
It's this simplicity that makes Panasonic's new platform so appealing, you can easily add as many channels, apps or devices as you like to the home page and then you just scroll through them like a carousel until you reach the one you want to select. We suspect even your granny could get the hang of this platform and navigation is extremely easy, especially with the new touch pad controller. It's also nicely designed and responsive in operation, making it a pleasure to use.
Apps MarketSince Firefox is an open system, it also means that it's easy for developers to create new apps for the platform. The platform starts with a number of apps pre-loaded to the Apps page but you can obviously load more. To do this you just go to the Apps Market and here you'll find a huge selection of apps, with each of them grouped into specific subjects. So there are Videos & Movies, Music, Sport, Games, Kids, Social Networking, News & Weather, Health & Fitness and Lifestyle & More.
All of these choices include apps related to that subject, although there is a degree of overlap, and all you need to do is select the app you want to load. It will then appear on the Apps page and you can pin it to the Home page. There's also a Featured option which includes a mixed selection of apps that Panasonic are specifically promoting. Whilst the choice of apps isn't as large as it is on Android's Google Play store, it isn't as imposed and it's easier to customise.
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). The EPG has had a slight make-over this year but is essentially the same with choices of channels and programmes and a thumbnail image in the top right hand corner. You can access the EPG by pressing the 'Guide' button on the remote control but you can also access the tuners by selecting the Live TV card on the home page.
Along with their 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 and recording 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. To access any content you have recorded, all you need to do is access the Recorded TV app, which is preloaded on the App page. Of course, as with anything else you can pin this to the Home page making it easy to access your recordings.
One of the big new features for this year is Freeview Play, which will provide access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and Demand 5 in one convenient place. Although the service hasn't launched yet, as soon as it does Panasonic TVs will offer access to all the UK TV catch-up services, along with on-demand and live TV. We will update this review once the service is live and working. Of course Freetime is still available and since Panasonic already offer Netflix, Amazon Instant, Wuaki TV and YouTube, only BlinkBox and Now TV are missing from their roster.
The open architecture of the Firefox OS makes it easier for developers to add new apps.
Media PlayerAs you would expect from any modern TV, Panasonic include a media player which works in conjunction with whatever source you have connected - SD card, USB or network. 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 regardless of whether we used a network, USB or SD card. The interface was well designed and there is generally very good file support with Panasonic TVs able to stream a multitude of video files including AVCHD 3D/Progressive, SD-Video, AVI, HEVC, MKV, WMV, MP4, M4v, VRO, VOB, TS, FLV and 3GPP. In terms of audio files Panasonic also support MP3, AAC, WMA Pro, FLAC, Apple Lossless and WAV, whilst for photograph viewing, Panasonic TVs are able to display JPEG and MPO files.
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 home Screen, allowing you to keep in touch with friends and family or follow what is trending. There didn't appear to be an app for Skype which is curious as that service was available last year and is actually quite useful on a TV for making Skype video calls with a camera. We'd probably be more inclined to use Skype on a TV than Facebook or Twitter but they are there for those that aren't already connected on a multitude of other devices.
Panasonic Smart TV System Video Review
Web BrowserPerhaps unsurprisingly, Panasonic's TVs now include a Firefox 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. Since this is a Firefox browser it mirrors those found on other devices, making it familiar to most people.
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.
The platform allows you to customise the home page for your needs and offers plenty of choice.
- Simple design
- Very intuitive
- Easy to use
- Plenty of apps
- Nothing really
Panasonic 2015 Smart TV System ReviewDespite being officially called My Home Screen 2.0, Panasonic's new Smart TV platform is very different from last year. It has been completely redesigned and is now powered by the Firefox operating system, making it intuitive to use, simple to customise and open source for easy development. The options available when you first turn on your Panasonic TV feel left over from last year's system and somewhat redundant. However once you press the Home button on your remote you access a system that is simple in its design but effective in its implementation. The platform offers a multitude of channels, apps and devices, all of which can be pinned to the home page, allowing you to customise and access the content you want easily.
In terms of content, Panasonic have most things covered including Netflix, Amazon, Instant, Wuaki TV and YouTube. Although it is currently delayed, once Freeview Play is working, they will also be able to offer all the UK TV catch-up services as well. The layout of the new system also makes it easy to connect to other devices and networks, playback other media, access any recorded content and even browse the web. There are also social networking apps like Facebook and Twitter, whilst the EPG and PVR features have had a overhaul, making the entire system feel very cohesive. In fact we really like Panasonic's new Smart TV platform, it's well designed, simple to use, responsive and comprehensive - which is all you can ask from a platform.
Ease of Use9
Media Playback Quality8
Applications - Software8
Applications - Hardware8
Voice and Motion Controls8
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