Special report: inside Panasonic's Tokyo gadget paradise

Away from the R&D nuggets, the rest of the Panasonic Center is given over to the crowd-pleasing gear those school kids were bussed in to see.

The shear number of different product lines from Viera televisions, through Lumix cameras to rice cookers and washing machines underlines what the corporate talk of ‘manufacturing orientation’ means – Panasonic literally does make almost everything the modern household could need.

Home of the future

Speaking of the modern household, the final stop on our tour took us behind a velvet rope to an imagined version of a future living room. The first section of that was a home cinema packed with speakers and, of course, a jumbo Viera TV and a Panasonic Blu-ray deck.

The HD experience was undeniably stunning, but the content on show – an execrable music video – emphasises that it’s still early days for the triumphant disk format, with little material to choose from.

Watching garbage on thousands of pounds’ worth of gear reminded us of those avid hi-fi buffs who proudly show off equipment that costs more than a small car, only to flip the switch and regale all and sundry with a Dire Straits LP or worse.

Still, things took a turn for the better – or possibly even more outlandish; we’re not quite sure – in the final section, which was dominated by a gigantic video wall.

Everyone, it seems, has to have a Minority Report-style gesture interface these days and Panasonic is no exception. As the spokesperson told us, “Every home has walls, but they can always be used for more.”

“If you have money to burn and the research resources of a multinational,” she didn’t add.

Still the Digital Wall, as they called it, was impressive – whether used as a television, for email or as an entertainment centre, everything responded smoothly to being grabbed and moved around the display.

We got a particular kick out of the kids’ ‘room’ – a theme of sorts that included a virtual piano that can actually be played, a drawing pad and a basketball to bounce around the virtual environment.

The fact that the end point of our tour was something of a playground was appropriate, for that’s precisely what the Panasonic Center is – a place to poke and prod the stuff that we don’t really need in our lives, but which we secretly crave.

It may be largely about style over substance, but there’s no harm in having a little fun courtesy of what we once thought was a rather po-faced corporation, is there?

Next week, we’ll be returning to Panasonic to look at some of the things that do matter, as we run the rule over the company’s environmentally friendly eco house.