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Panasonic Targets the Plasma Void

Mar 16, 2009 9:11 AM, By Rebecca Day

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Panasonic TC-P54Z1

With Pioneer's Kuro line no longer a differentiator for independent retailers, Panasonic is targeting the void with its new flagship Z1 ultra-slim 54in. plasma TV, which measures 1in. thick at its deepest point.

Custom integrators concerned over the loss of a high-end plasma brand when Pioneer announced plans to exit the TV market last month may want to shift their gaze to Panasonic. With Pioneer's Kuro line no longer a differentiator for independent retailers, Panasonic is targeting the void with its new flagship Z1 ultra-slim 54in. plasma TV, which measures 1in. thick at its deepest point. Also on tap for the specialty market is the newly announced G15 series of 42in., 46in., and 50in. plasma TVs.

The 54in. TC-P54Z1 will be available this summer at a suggested retail price of $5,999. Bundled with a wireless HD kit including transmitter, receiver, and loudspeakers, the TC-P54Z1 has an outboard tuner box that sends signals from 30ft. away. Additional features include VieraCast, Panasonic's Ethernet-based Internet TV service, four HDMI inputs, 24p playback, a swivel base, and THX certification for video displays. The Z1 will also support an IP camera that Panasonic plans to introduce this summer, enabling consumers to view camera feeds on their TV without a wired video-distribution system.

The G15 series, a counterpart to the mainstream G10 series, is a recent addition to the Viera lineup. The three models will be available exclusively through limited distribution, according to Kate Beck, national product category manager for Panasonic, who previewed the new TV lines at a press briefing in New York last week. Beck confirmed that the exclusive line would not be available to "big-box companies." Instead, Panasonic is targeting limited-distribution retailers such as those who are members of the Home Theater Specialists of America and Pro Buying Group. G15 series TVs are due in stores in June at suggested retail prices of $1,499 (42in.), $1,799 (46in.), and $2,099 (50in.).

G15 models have a thinner frame and a slightly gray base but otherwise pack all the features of the G10 series. The step-up G15 series carries a $100 premium over G10 counterparts. Features of both series include including VieraCast, THX certification, a PC input, a narrowed bezel, and an SD image viewer with AVCHD playback. Prices for the G10 series are $1,399; $1,699; and $1,999 for the 42in., 46in., and 50in. versions that are due in stores this month. A 54in. version ships to dealers in May with an MSRP of $2,399.

According to Beck, all new 1080p plasmas from Panasonic incorporate the Neo PDP that promises higher moving-picture resolution and contrast ratios of 40,000:1 native and 2,000,000:1 dynamic. The Neo PDP panels are also said to be brighter, thinner, and more energy efficient than previous panels. The company is pushing its 600Hz Sub-field Drive technology and 1080 moving-picture resolution specs as a counterattack to 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rate wars on the LCD side. Beck noted that Panasonic LCD TVs with a 120Hz refresh rate achieve a moving-picture resolution of 800 lines, compared with that of a Panasonic plasma set at 1080 lines. She said most 120Hz LCD TVs top out at a moving picture resolution of 600 lines.

Panasonic has also beefed up its LCD line with SD card slots and iPod compatibility. The X series comes iPod-ready with a universal iPod dock that connects to the TV. Users control the iPod on the Viera display. iPod TV models carry list prices of $599, $649, and $799 for 26in., 32in., and 37in. models. The 32in. and 37in. models are due in stores this month; the 26in. model ships in May.

In Blu-ray Disc, the company showed its three new players for 2009, including a VHS/Blu-ray combo player that upconverts VHS video to 1080p resolution. All three Blu-ray players sport VieraCast, making use of the Ethernet connection required for BD Live. VieraCast includes programming from You Tube, Bloomberg, The Weather Channel, and the Picasa photo-sharing site. Videos from Amazon on Demand will be available on a per-movie fee-basis in May.

Prices of the Blu-ray players are $299 for the DMP-BD60, which replaces the DMP-BD35, and $399 for both the DMP-BD80 and DMPBD70 Blu-ray/VHS combo player. The BD80 boasts stepped-up audio features including 7.1-channel analog outputs and heavy-duty feet to minimize vibration. All three players provide 1080/24p output to deliver film-like images without the need for conversion.

The company also displayed the portable Blu-ray player that was announced at CES. The DMPB15 will have an MSRP of $799. The new Blu-ray line ships in April.

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