"DIDJA HEAR the news? Panasonic is getting out of the TV business," blabbed a buddy.
Uhhh, not really.
This half-truth started with a Reuters quote from a Panasonic executive that the Japanese electronics giant will shutter a huge plasma-TV factory next year.
That is true.
What nobody reported is why Panasonic is making the move: not to exit the TV business but to ease away from the profit-challenged HDTV category and speed the transition to the next wave of premium-priced "4K" Ultra High Definition TVs that deliver four times the resolution of today's high-definition sets.
A couple of obscure brands (Seiki, TCL) are already delivering bargain-priced 4K sets, but buyer beware. These are no-frills TVs without the circuitry to effectively up-convert HD content and process the demanding new UHD signals set to arrive in the second half of 2014 from satellite and cable-TV providers, chip maker Broadcom shared recently.
Truth is, today's Panasonic plasma-tech-based HDTVs, especially the top ZT60 and VT60 series, deliver an unbeatable picture.
But, as a Panasonic guy whispered in my ear almost a year ago, there's no way to make a plasma-based Ultra HD in the screen sizes most people want.
For the most popular sizes - 50, 55, 60, 65 inches - makers have to use LCD panels or the next big thing, OLED, which combines the best of LCD and plasma.
In with the Ultra
Gizmo Guy recently ventured to Panasonic's new Newark quarters to see the brand's first 4K Ultra HD set, the 65-inch Smart Viera TC-L65WT600, on sale this month at shop.panasonic.com and select retailers for $5,500.
The development team put this super set up against UHD sets from Sony and Samsung, all showing the same scene of a car zooming down a road. And, yes, the Panasonic image showed better, without the odd distortion of the competitors' sets at close viewing range.
I was told that that's the end result of the WT600's superior back-light scanning and ability to process 4K images up to 60 frames per second, versus the other TVs' 30 fps refresh rate.
To appreciate the difference between UHD and HD, hover close to an ultra's screen, letting it claim your whole field of vision. Nothing blurs, nothing seems soft focused - even in panoramic scenes full of small details. The range of colors is wider, too.
Multifeatured Web home pages (like phillydailynews.com) show amazingly well on Ultra HD smart TVs. Ditto content shot on 4K camcorders, tablets and phones, which the Panasonic lets you "throw" wirelessly to the screen or plug in via SD card.
Panasonic also claims "firsts" with the inclusion of HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2a inputs on the WT600, making it ready for those 4K/60 fps images coming soon (see sidebar) through next-generation cable and satellite-TV boxes, video-game systems and DisplayPort compatible devices, including the latest MacBook, Mac Pro and Windows PC with a 4K60P compatible graphic card.
Sony says its first UHD sets (starting at $3,999 for a 55-incher) will be "software upgradeable" to handle HDMI 2.0. Samsung intends to get there with a bolt-on-back adapter upgrading the processor.
Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy Online: ph.ly/Tech