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CES: Panasonic thinks different about tablets

January 5, 2011 |  8:15 pm

CES, Panasonic, tablet PC

With seemingly every manufacturer on the planet announcing a new tablet PC at CES, Panasonic on Wednesday did the unexpected. Yes, it announced a tablet, but it's definitely not a PC. Instead, it's an extension of a Panasonic connected TV.

Rather than browse the Net, the chunky Viera Tablet browses applications on a Viera Connect set. Content streams from the set to the tablet wirelessly, so it appears the tablet won't be of much use once it's out of the TV's Wi-Fi range.

The thinking behind the device, Panasonic's Peter Fannon said, is that it will serve as a second screen in the living room, enabling users to explore content related to what they're watching on the big screen. For example, they could check scores and statistics on the tablet while watching a ballgame on the TV, or read the tweets about an awards show while it's playing on their set. It also doubles as a touch-screen remote control. And for a gee-whiz effect, users can swipe the surface of the tablet toward their Viera Connect TV to move to the TV screen whatever they've been watching on the tablet.

Which applications the tablet will be able to run and what content it will be able to display are still being worked out, Fannon said. It's expected to be available this year, mostly likely starting in Japan, and no price has been set.

Panasonic was an early proponent of connected TVs, rolling out the first models in 2008. But it has been more cautious than its rivals, keeping a tight lid on the apps available for its sets. This year it plans to take a less restrictive approach, offering a software development kit to the public for use by would-be app writers. Yet like several of its competitors, it's sticking with a custom platform that developers have to tailor their software to, further fracturing the market and delaying the introduction of new apps. Much of Panasonic's attention at Wednesday's event at the Consumer Electronics Show was devoted to 3-D, which it predicted will capture almost a third of the worldwide TV market in 2014. The company announced more 3-D sets, Blu-ray players and five new consumer-grade 3-D camcorders, with prices for the latter starting below $1,000.

3-D sets are selling more rapidly than HDTVs, Blu-ray players and DVD players did when they were introduced, yet there are still some hurdles to wider acceptance. One is the reliance on relatively heavy and expensive active shutter glasses. Manufacturers have made matters worse by offering incompatible versions of the glasses, so a pair bought for a Panasonic set won't necessarily work with another brand of 3-D TV. But set-makers apparently have experienced a change of heart: According to Panasonic, manufacturers are developing a standard for active shutter glasses that would allow consumers to use one pair to watch any set that works with the technology.

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-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

Photo: A screen shot of Panasonic's Viera Connect application platform. Credit: Panasonic

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