Pansonic, known primarily for their fantastic televisions held their annual CES press conference this morning. Instead of starting the event with their latest TV models they began with new features for the Smart Viera system. Smart Viera was the first integrated IPTV platform released back in 2008. This year they are adding user personalization capabilities to it. The feature is called My Home. It appears to allow users to create a customized home screen that focuses on the content and apps that they care about. Obviously most homes have more than one person in them, so you will be able to setup home screens for every member of the family. The most interesting, and creepy, companion to this feature is the ability for an integrated camera to recognize who is watching the television and to automatically switch to that user’s home screen. They are also releasing a new remote control with a built-in microphone which enables users to control the TV’s features with their voice. The remote looks pretty ugly and very limited in functionality for anyone not looking to use the voice control features.
Panasonic then showed off a second screen app that allows people to send photos from their iOS or Android devices directly to the TV screen. Then they can use a pen to actually edit the photos on the TV by writing and performing gestures with the pen on the TV display. While it sounds neat, a 65″ “touch” panel seems a little unnecessary when you could just edit the photos on the device you’re already holding.
Panasonic spent more time during their press conference on a new Home Shopping Network app than on any other product. While the app does look like it could be incredibly useful for people who love to watch HSN and buy things from them, it just seemed odd to dedicate so much time to the app. It was only a 35 minute event and the HSN portion took at least 15 minutes. On the surface it looks like a big win for HSN as they may have finally found a good way to directly sell products to people through their television. However, they also seem to be pigeon-holed by limiting themselves to Panasonic televisions when people still buy a lot of TVs from Samsung, LG, and Vizio.
Oh yeah, Panasonic also had a few televisions to show off. Oddly, the TVs almost felt like an afterthought. They have 32 new plasmas and LCD TVs (16 of each). I’d love to give you lots of details and amazing new features, but there just weren’t any. The spent only a couple of minutes describing their new models, so I’m left to imagine that they only offer modest improvements over last year’s models. That’s nothing to sneeze at though as Panasonic has consistently been at the front of the class with their televisions.
The most interesting hardware that Panasonic had to show was a new set of wireless bone conductive headphones. They communicate with the TV via Bluetooth and transmit audio to the listener by vibrating the bones around the ear. It’s not a brand new technology, but this is the first time we’ve seen such a major player jump into this space.
There was one item that gave us the most hope for the future of smart TVs. Panasonic announced they have started the Smart TV Alliance. The idea is that they are releasing a software development kit for smart tv apps. If Samsung, Sony, LG, and other television manufacturers were willing to join the alliance then we could see an app developers releasing the best version of their apps for all of the major manufacturers at once. For better or for worse, it could also lead to an app explosion in the smart TV space. We’ve seen other companies make similar moves in other markets with limited success. CES is a time to be optimistic though. If it doesn’t pan out we’ll be disappointed later this year.