How Panasonic aims to take on games consoles

Panasonic online gaming
A multi-player racing game, downloaded to each TV via the upcoming Viera Connect Market

While other TVs are getting smarter, Panasonic's Viera Connect platform is getting fitter.

On display on the Japanese giant's IFA 2011 booth was a healthy range of accessories that included a £1,800 treadmill with Wi-Fi that syncs with an app available on any 2011 Panasonic TV.

It should give other online TV hubs a run for their money. "It works with Google StreetView, so you can run around Central Park in New York," says Panasonic's product specialist Steve Lucas. "The quicker you run, the faster the images are refreshed on the TV."

The iFit Live app even takes the relief into account, adjusting the height and angle of the Wi-Fi card-equipped NordicTrack treadmill.

Special pre-mapped training programmes for 10k, half-marathon and marathons will be available soon, while the app also makes it possible to race another user and see exactly where they are on a split-screen map. Other apps and accessories include Wii Fit-style digital scales and wristbands to monitor a pulse.

Your local gym may never be the same again, though there's plenty more passive virtual reality on offer from Panasonic's new drive to develop Viera Connect's online multi-player gaming.

At the booth we witnessed four players on a multi-player racing game, downloaded to each TV via the upcoming Viera Connect Market, Panasonic's new online app shop that's due to go live in October.

Graphically it was impressive. "Obviously downloaded games to a TV can't be pirated as optical media can," says Lucas, "so this level of security will, we hope, be very attractive to games developers."

Basic control over apps and games will be possible from the bog-standard Panasonic remote control that ships with all 2011 TVs, though the manufacture and marketing of accessories will come from third party vendors. There's also a suggestion that some existing games controllers in the market will work, though details weren't available.

Viera games

Lucas confirmed to TechRadar that a selection of such games will be live at Viera Connect Market's launch: "We're still finalising what the payment structure will be, but once that's done there will be games sold through Viera Connect Market from the start."

You won't find anything like this on the other brand's smart TV hubs; this kind of dial-in-and-share idea for its apps is something that's unique to Panasonic.

It's all part of a drive to improve the scope of Panasonic's online hub, spearheaded by the launch at IFA of its Viera Connect Developer app.

Panasonic treadmill

HOME RUN: Viera Connect lets you run round Central Park from your living room

"We're inviting software developers to sign-up, with between US$129-599 buying various levels of support, depending on experience," says Lucas." The higher fee gets a developermore support, and more access to dry-run their apps on a test server prior to launch.

Developers will also need a 2011 Viera TV, though Lucas confirmed to us that this year's crop of Panasonic Blu-ray players (and possibly some 2010 decks, too) will soon be updated from Viera Cast to the far superior Viera Connect.

Unfortunately, it will need to be a lite version - the chipset in all its Blu-ray players won't support online payment for apps or games, something that's integral to Viera Connect's new direction.

"The pro rata cost of putting the latest chipset into Blu-ray players is much higher than a TV," explains Lucas. "We had a big opportunity to have a much more powerful Viera Connect service in our 2011 TVs, but cost and performance dictates where you can put that chipset."

On its new TVs, that chipset means the end of the DIY firmware update; new apps and services will become available on Viera Connect without any manual updating. "On an iPhone you have to update each app manually, but here it all happens in the background," says Lucas.

Talking of smartphones, Panasonic also used IFA to announce a remote control app for Android handsets as well as an update to allow its iPad 1 app to work on an iPad 2.

Whether a racing pulse or racing car is your thing, Panasonic certainly isn't standing still as it tries to push its Viera Connect service into the domain of games consoles and beyond.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),