Panasonic’s 2012 line up: Eluga, Smart TVs, and the digital home

ANALYSIS: The Eluga phone and smart TVs were top of the agenda at this year's Panasonic European Convention

ANALYSIS: Following the news that Panasonic is jumping back into the European smartphone market, we bring you a full run down of the themes and products to come out of Panasonic’s European Convention.

Consumer electronics giant Panasonic this week gave dealers and journalists a hands on look at its extremely broad 2012 range of products – and in the process laid out its mission statement for smart TVs, and announced its return to the European smartphone market.

You can read the full story on the Eluga, Panasonic’s 4.3 inch smartphone here. The firm thinks it will shift 1.5 million of them in Europe in the next fiscal year.

The convention coincides with the 50th anniversary of Panasonic’s European business, and it used the keynote to boast of its success in a number of areas, and lay out its new Smart Viera strategy – which can be boiled down to using smartphones and tablets to control TVs, and having more inbuilt options to directly pull online content.

A classic example of this is a new alliance with the, now relatively sparsely populated, social media site MySpace. Another is building Skype into a TV screen.

Smart TVs is clearly one of the firm’s main pushes for the future, and in general the concept of the ‘digital home’ – which we’ve heard for nearly a decade now – is certainly being prioritised at the firm’s R&D division. It’s not that these technologies or ideas are particularly new, but you get the impression that the application of, for instance, controlling audio or TV with a phone, is more of a solid one than ever before.

New mouse like remote controls, internet sites crow barred onto the screen, and inbuilt download services reveal the – now well established – strategy by large scale CE firms to make modern TVs essentially PCs.

In general, its 2012 range of hi-fis, TVs, phones, cameras, and projectors is now more than ever designed communicate with and control one another, be that opening an iPod dock with an iPad, or flicking a picture from a phone to the TV screen with a swipe.

Almost as an aside, a selection of journalists was taken aside to give feedback on a new head mounted camera Panasonic are developing. Almost everything is up in the air at the moment, but the idea behind it seems to be that it would be used in the home ‘to record your day’.

While the rugged, outdoor headset market does well with extreme sports fans, this concept piece seemed somewhat differently targeted. The video we saw showed a woman amused by the pattern a couple of eggs had made in the pan, which prompted her to pop the headset on and record the event, later showing it to friends.

Click to the next page for a run down of Panasonic’s 2012 range.

Eluga smartphone

The firm’s return to the European smartphone market is marked with the Eluga launch (read the full story here). It is water proof, dustproof, has a 4.3 inch screen and is promised an Ice Cream Sandwich update set for summer.

At 103 grams it’s pleasingly thin and light, and no doubt interoperability with TVs will be high on the agenda when it comes to marketing. It will be out early April with a price tag of £449.

We understand a new 5-inch model will be hot on its heels.

Smart VIERA

Panasonic is strongly pushing the concept of Interacting with TVs from a phone or tablet. This is the most tangible new thing to be drawn out of the Smart VIERA concept.

Its new TVs are all somehow enabled with internet connectivity, through a series of inbuilt apps. This, and the ability to control the TV in new ways, is key to Panasonics strategy in this area.

The VIERA Remote App can be downloaded to a phone or tablet, and acts as a remote control, and Panasonic argues this gives the user more options to interact with the TV. It allows you to transfer pictures, videos, music or websites between the device and the TV with a swipe. It all seems to work smoothly enough; the question is whether there is demand for it.

Product wise, the new line-up of Smart VIERA LED LCD TVs includes its largest ever LED screens. 20 new models are available– including a 47 inch and 55 inch models and the introduction of passive 3D technology with the ET5 series.

In terms of plasma screens, the 2012 line up is made up of the VT50, GT50, ST50, UT50, XT50 and X50 series. With screen sizes ranging from 42 inches to 65 inches, an expanded 3D line-up, and various incremental visual enhancements on the 2011 line.

Active camcorders

The new rugged HX-WA20 Full-HD camcorder is specifically designed to keep dust and moisture out. Common enough for a rugged camera, but this model can shoot movies underwater to a depth of up to three meters for one hour.

It has full-HD (1920 x 1080) resolution, a 28mm wide-angle setting, Intelligent 15x Zoom, an image stabilizer (which has advanced from the previous 2-axis system to a 4-axis system), and interesting modes such as slow motion and burst shooting.

HD camcorders

Panasonic also unveiled a new 8-model line-up of HD camcorders.

The HX-X900, X900M and X800 – the flagship models - have a number of lens, sensor and engine enhancements.

3MOS System Pro is designed to perform well in low-light, and cuts noise by 40 percent compared to previous models. The F1.5 Leica Dicomar Lens with Nano Surface Coating reduces ghost effects and flaring, while advanced 3MOS Sensor boasts pixel shift technology and a new HYBRID O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) uses five-axis correction.

They can also record full HD 3D films, via the MVC (Multiview Video coding) recording system of the AVCHD 3D format, by mounting the optional VW-CLT2 3D Conversion Lens.

The HC-V700 series is loaded with Panasonic's newly developed High Sensitivity Sensor. This model features a 28mm wide-angle setting and an Intelligent 46x Zoom and, like the 900 and 800 series, it can also film in 3D.

The HC-V500 and V500M are more compact models, and have Intelligent 50x Zoom and the HYBRID O.I.S., which reduces blurred effects on shots captured at all zoom levels.

The HC-V100 is has a full 155 minutes of recording time, and is designed to be a more compact alternative.

Finally Panasonic claims the new HC-V10 compact model boast far better image quality than its 2011 predecessor, featuring HD image quality with a dynamic 70x Zoom.

Lumix cameras

The DMC-FT4 and FT20 is the latest in the rugged design FT series, geared for active outdoor use.

The premium FX line now includes the DMC-FX80, while the DMC-LS6 is pitched as being especially easy to use.

The new TZ25 TZ30 are held up as strong in both still and HD video recording.

Home cinema systems

There are new full HD 3D Blu-ray Disc home cinema systems - the SC-BTT590, SC-BTT490, SC-BTT290, SC-BTT282, SC-BTT190, SC-BTT182, DMP-BBT01, DMP-BDT500, DMP-BDT320, DMP-BDT220, DMP-BDT120, and the 2D DMP-BD77.

They are all loaded with VIERA Connect, Panasonic’s cloud-based connected TV platform, and most have Smartphone Remote Control, DLNA capability, Wireless LAN capability, and Digital Music Connection for iPod /iPhone.

For speakers, the SC-HTB550 and the SC-HTB20 have a new ‘multi-positional speaker design concept’ which essentially means they can be arranged to fit a room nicely. The 2.1 systems can be arranged horizontally or vertically, mounted on the wall or a stand or detached for set up on a table or the floor.

The updated HC Series of compact stereo systems now includes the SC-HC57, SC-HC37, SC-HC27 and SC-HC17 series, and the SC-AP01.