Panasonic: TVs must become interactive portals to survive

A managing director in the company's TV unit said Internet services are now as important as picture quality and design

Televisions must evolve to become fully interactive and connected to online services in order to keep their position at the center of the home, according to a Panasonic executive.

Internet-backed apps and features, and the ability to interact with other wired devices like phones and tablets are now as important as picture quality and design, said Hirotoshi Uehara, a managing director in Panasonic's TV division.

"Smart TVs will continue to evolve to become interactive communication devices within the home," said Uehara, who spoke at the Computex exhibition currently underway in Taipei.

Panasonic's most recent sets support a Web browser with HTML 5, the new version of the markup language that allows developers to more easily create interactive sites, as well as cloud-based apps and services. Its TVs also interact with its smartphones and tablets, allowing users to flip pictures and video between the devices and use their handsets as television remote controls.

Uehara said the company has signed up "plenty" of programmers to its developer program.

He said the company's strategy also includes positioning TVs at the center of the coming wave of "smart" appliances, which can connect to online services and download software.

The television industry is nervously watching Apple, long rumored to be preparing its own TV. The steady backdrop of rumors about if and when the company will reveal such a device has increased recently, with the approach of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference from June 11 to 15 in San Francisco.

Uehara spoke just a month after Panasonic booked a US$10 billion loss for last fiscal year, the largest ever for a Japanese manufacturer. Along with domestic peers like Sony and Sharp, Panasonic has struggled to stem losses in its TV business, long a mainstay.

The Osaka-based firm has continued to back plasma technology as part of its TV strategy, which technically is superior to LCD in areas like screen refresh rate but has failed to catch on with other manufacturers. This means that production equipment and components remain scarcer and more expensive.

Uehara said the company will continue to offer both plasma and LCD sets

Computex, one of Asia's largest electronics and component shows, runs this week.

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