15 September 2013

REVIEW: Panasonic Smart Viera TV

Very smart.

If Apple's recent announcement of the new iPhones left you feeling disappointed, you're not alone. Apart from what has now become a predictably dull product introduction from the one-time innovators,  we were also sad to see that there was no Apple TV update or similar living room gadget announced.

But whereas Apple may have missed a trick, one company that is soaring ahead in terms of cutting edge TV cleverness is Panasonic. Their latest offering, the Smart Viera TV is supposed to be everything that other technology companies aspire to achieve. We took delivery of our biggest gadget to date and prepared our eyes to be squarified.

We were sent the 47 inch version of the LED TV, but a 55 incher is also available. Straight out of the box we were shocked at just how thin the thing is. At the thickest point it is only 3.2 centimetres; something we found truly staggering. This means that should you be wall-mounting your new telly it will hardly stick out at all.

We weren't, so we were grateful for the included stand which looks pretty impressive with thick transparent plastic and chrome-looking metal. On the stand and plugged in, we were ready to rock.

For the uninitiated, a Smart TV is basically a television set that can connect to the internet in order to provide a wealth of additional features. The Smart Viera does this with aplomb and connecting to Test Pit HQ's wifi network was a doddle. For those wanting a wired connection there is also an ethernet port and several USB inputs.

The Viera's homescreen is spacious and lively, alluding to many exciting apps and features. Controlling everything is easy thanks to having the choice of two remotes; a conventional looking button remote, and smaller thumb-pad gadget for moving a cursor around easily. Which ever you employ making selections is easy and the TV reacts extremely quickly to commands.

There is also the option for voice control which - full disclosure - isn't something we used that much. We found it quite gimmicky and much preferred the more reliable jab at a remote. Still, it does demonstrate Panasonic's view of the future. Say bye bye little remote controls...

As for watching TV, the Viera quickly scans and sorts your Freeview and satellite channels, neatly arranging them in a clean and informative programme guide. Everything we watched looked sharp and realistic and needless to say any HD channel looked incredible. But more on that later...

The brilliance of the Smart Viera, we found, was the included apps. Netflix and YouTube come built in, as does Facebook and an internet browser that works just as quick as it would on your laptop.  Having these handy things come pre-installed is great, as we could log straight into our Netflix account and begin streaming immediately. Speaking of which, the Netflix app is superb and not once did the picture freeze while the stream buffered: well done Panasonic.

However it was while on Netflix that we were slightly freaked out. Watching The Hobbit in the Viera's high-def made Peter Jackson's prequel look a bit... cheap? It might just be from our own limited experience of HD but a lot of things seemed to suffer from being displayed by the TV's sharp LED screen and lost a certain cinematic quality. Not the Viera's fault in he slightest but definitely a consideration if this might be your first move to HD.

One feature that will certainly draw a crowd is the Viera's ability to turn 2D images in to 3D images. Although it is fully 3D capable (four pairs of glasses are included) it can also live convert ordinary TV and files into 3D. Granted it isn't done as smoothly as something filmed in 3D, it was still quite fun to watch your favourite show or movie in 3D. Eastenders has never looked so good.

As well as TV and internet streaming, the Viera also acts as a media player via the USB ports, a Skype device due to the built in webcam (it pops up from behind the screen), a place to show photos and videos from your phone by connecting wirelessly and a place to play games (several are included). All in all the Smart Viera should have enough to keep you entertained until the aliens land and destroy us all.

At the end of the day this is an amazing television. Yes it features everything you expect from an internet telly in late 2013, but with that super slim frame and the addition of 3D conversion, the Panasonic Smart Viera quickly becomes a must-have gadget.

Around £1600

Visit www.panasonic.co.uk

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