My interview with Panasonic’s consumer group director didn’t start well. I told him how this was the last Panasonic product I had in my house:
That dismays Richard Tassone a bit, who said he was “sorry to hear that”. But the fact remains that consumers can be harsh in all their desperate clamouring for the new shiny thing, and established brands can sometimes be victims of their own long-term success.
I don’t recall ever having had a problem with Panasonic, the brand. It just hasn’t been front-and-centre for me when it comes to buying specific items.
But next year, Panasonic will turn 100. That’s a remarkable achievement for a consumer tech company. It has more runs on the board in this space than just about any other consumer electronics brand you’ll see in JB Hifi or Harvey Norman.
While Richard might be disappointed I haven’t bought a Panasonic product since CDs murdered the golden age of cartridge gaming, there’s a sense the company understands TV buyers head for the Samsung, LG and Sony stands first.
I know that because I just came out of an obviously significant Panasonic launch event where there was talk of a “national roadshow” and even an “education campaign”. The star of the show was undoubtably its foray into OLED television. “Master OLED”, to be precise, with a 65″ model launching in July to pave the way for the marquee 77″ version to come in November.
77 inches. It would take an average woman three steps to get from one end to the other. If you want one in your bedroom, you might need to renovate – it’s 10cm wider than a king size bed:
But size isn’t everything, and that’s where the unusual step of embarking on an education campaign comes in. My learning started with Panasonic’s team being very insistent that I make it to this launch.
Yes, they’d fly me over from Tasmania. They even organised another ticket in about 10 minutes flat when I missed my first flight by a good hour. Which was embarrassing.
Here’s what the fuss was all about.
The launch was in the Maritime Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency, Sydney. The familiar tech media faces milled around, ate some little quiches, and waited for the big doors to open, which they did:
This was interesting:
I thought they were props, but before I’d sat down, the very talented Hanna Oblikov and the Aston Cellists materialised and began playing:
That was impressive. I think they had to be on hand all day, as there were at least two more trade groups getting the same demonstration later in the day and evening.
It set the mood dramatically, but in a good way. We then got talking.
Tassone opened with the point that Panasonic had nearly been around 100 years. They’ve now been making tellys since 1952, colour ones since 1960, and were the first partner for the inaugural CES tech show in 1967, so they’ve more than established their industry chops.
But he didn’t muck around too long. It was pointless too anyway, because everyone was peering around him at the blacker than black screen he was standing in front of:
You can tell even from a distance that OLEDs are a major step up, and the reason why is surprisingly simple. But first, a quick history lesson.
The TV viewing world discovered plasma and started dumping their bulky CRTs in the late 90s. Panasonic was at the leading edge of the revolution, after buying Plasmaco in 1996. To give you an idea of the price of new tech then, its rival Philips in 1997 had four 42″ screens on display to the retail public in Sears stores across the US. The $US15,000 price tag included home installation.
The display was “only about four-and-a-half inches deep”:
That was just 20 years ago. Since then, our choice of TVs has expanded to include LCDs, LEDs, 3Ds, Ultra HDs, Smart TVs and QLEDs.
It’s got to the stage where you’re almost too scared to buy one for Fear Of Missing Out. (Luckily, Business Insider is there for you, helping you how to choose the right TV.)
Panasonic’s research suggests its rusted on fans haven’t been convinced either, for the best part of a decade. It sees its biggest market in those who bought one of its plasma screens and are holding out for a definitive upgrade.
And it hopes the EZ950 (66″) and EZ1000 (77″) are what they’ve been waiting for, and that they’ve got them to market quick enough so Panasonic fans don’t jump to the competition.
In a nutshell, OLED screens can produce true black colours. Blacker than priest’s socks, even. That’s because they don’t try to reproduce the colour black at all. They simply switch the pixels off that are supposed to be showing black.
Simples. But what a difference it makes, and who can show the truest, blackest blacks is the new industry standard when it comes to choosing your next TV.
Douglas Campbell, category manager of AV and Imaging, told us how the new processors also controlled all the other colours, pixel by pixel. He said that was important because all TVs before generally got skin tones wrong. Getting them right was “critical for emotional portrayal”, which is something I’d never considered, but apparently, Hollywood production teams do, and that’s why Panasonic teamed up with them to get the EZ OLED series right.
Of course, there’s more to new TV technology than switching off some lights. OLED is what is known as a “self-emitting” technology, which means you don’t need a backlight, which in turn means thinner screens.
I tried to take a side-on pic to show you how thin the screen was. Sorry, but you get the idea:
And there was a tour of all the other things Panasonic was pushing this year. I felt sorry for the new LED TV range, which got virtually no love from the tech media.
There were Blu-ray players, DAB radios, amazing sound everywhere from every time someone from the PR team touched a touchscreen. Everything’s getting so high-end these days, the most impressive point of difference about this speaker was the fact it had a handle:
And I found myself genuinely admiring it for that.
But at the end of the speaker parade, the one item that caught my eye was this:
Now that’s a proper Bluetooth speaker – 10 speakers pumping out 1700 watts says so.
It will also definitely look dated in about seven months time, but if you’re like me and wanting it for the twin karaoke mic inputs, you gave up caring what other people think long, long ago.
All these things were very important to Panasonic, but I had to grab Tassone for another chat about one thing he mentioned when spruiking the OLED.
For all the talk of true blacks, education campaigns, organic LEDs and how to properly pronounce “Technics” (Europeans say “Techniques”), the thing that had bugged me all morning was how to get stuff on my phone to show on a TV.
That’s because the night before I had once again regretted not packing my Chromecast and spent way too much time trying not to pay $16 to watch a movie on my hotel TV.
This is now the familiar ritual. I’m going to go right through it, just in case you’d forgotten how onerous it is.
Yes, screen mirroring. Click.
Yes, yes. Click
I know I’ve got at least V4.2.2, Jelly Bean. Click.
What? I’m holding the remote; that’s how I got here.
Now I have to input a code from that same remote. Click.
It was at this point I realised I needed to look at my phone. That was when I realised the latest version of Android – Nougat – had disabled Miracast on my Nexus 6P.
This was new to me, but not to the pages of people complaining about it on Google, as I soon found out.
There was a workaround involving rootkits and dev options on my phone, which didn’t work.
I installed three different apps claiming to smooth out the process, which didn’t work.
So, FFS. End up with Netflix on the laptop on a chair:
This is 2017. It shouldn’t have to be this way.
So when Tassone briefly mentioned how the EZ1000 was of course, packaged with Panasonic’s “swipe and share” technology, boy, was I ready to hear it. Point your phone at the TV, swipe off the top of the small screen, and content magics through the air to the big screen:
In fact, that video is from 2012.
Panasonic haven’t gone silent at all. I just haven’t been listening.
And that is exactly why it sometimes pays for company to launch “education campaigns”.