Panasonic Announces Expanded Connected TV Line at CES

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LAS VEGAS—Covering many of what promise to be the major themes of CES 2011, Panasonic used its Consumer Electronics Show press event to highlight new 3D TVs, a new connected entertainment platform, consumer 3D video cameras, and even an Android tablet.

Joseph Taylor, Panasonic's CEO and chairman, led off the conference highlighting the company's leadership in 3D entertainment, both with home TVs and cameras. He promised that Panasonic would expand that role this year.

Panasonic is working with other consumer electronics manufactures to create interoperable active shutter glasses, he said, which will help drive 3D growth. It's "not a question of if, but when," he said.

Taylor then highlighted Panasonic's efforts to go green by doubling sales of eco products and halving CO2 emissions in North America.

The company's entertainment offerings aren't limited to the living room. Taylor told of how Panasonic is partnering with Chrysler to create the Uconnect in-car entertainment system.

The meat of the conference, however, was with Panasonic president Shiro Katajima, who first recapped the successful holiday season the company just had. Some channel partners sold out of their large-screen 3D TVs by mid-December, he said.

Katajima said he expects 3D to gain consumer traction this year and grow to 32 percent of the worldwide TV market by 2014.

Demand for IPTV will double over the next two years, he said. To meet that demand, Panasonic is renaming its Viera Cast smart TV platform Viera Connect, and expanding its role. Panasonic is opening the Viera Connect platform to developers and encouraging third-party app growth. Katajima didn't go into how developers would be able to charge for their apps.

The Viera Connect platform will offer live video streaming, console-like gaming, and integration with Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, and more. Viewers will be able to use apps to access MLB and NHL content, as well as fitness programs.

In the conference's most tantalizing moment, Katajima showed the new Viera Tablet, which will offer cloud-based services via Viera HDTV, he said. He didn't go into detail, so it's unclear if the tablet will require a Viera TV for full functionality. The touch tablet is Android-based and will hit the market later this year.

Panasonic Tablet

Gameloft's president Michel Guillemot joined Katajima on stage to preview Asphalt 5, a racing game that looked as impressive as a console game, yet was cloud-based. Guillement said the game would be available when the Viera market debuts this spring.

Finally, Panasonic senior vice president Jim Sanduski took the stage to announce that the company's 3D TVs would soon come in larger screen sizes, and would produce deeper blacks, brighter images, and use less power.

Panasonic is increasing its Viera Cast line to 27 models in 2011, he said, and growing its 3D Blu-ray line to three models. The Blu-ray players will offer Skype video calling with third-party cameras.

The company will offer five 3D-capable consumer video cameras this year, with pricing staring under $1,000. Sanduski showed off the flagship model, the TM900, and showed how the 3D lens could be removed for 2D shooting. 

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