• Web content: Picasa Web Albums, YouTube
• Network connection: Ethernet
• Price: $1800 (no hard drive)
An appealing idea underlies the Viera Cast Internet features built into several Panasonic plasma HDTVs (including the 50-inch model I tried) and upcoming Blu-ray Disc players: Why buy and install an external box when you can get a TV that has an ethernet jack and Internet-related features as standard equipment? Here’s why: Viera Cast in the form I tried it is too basic to compete with any of the stand-alone devices here. It lets you watch YouTube, it has rudimentary support for Google’s Picasa photo service (if you unplug the TV, it forgets your Picasa log-in info), and it links to weather reports, stock information, and business headlines. And that’s all.
The good news is that Panasonic plans to add a feature that will instantly boost Viera Cast’s appeal: support for Amazon Video on Demand’s 40,000-item movie and TV streaming service. It won’t offer high-def content or Disney releases, but for some people, it should be compelling enough to dispense with a box. Panasonic says to expect Amazon by this spring.
For additional elements of this story package, see "The Connected TV: Web Video Comes to the Living Room" (emerging technology for transferring Internet video to a TV); "Is Your Living Room Ready for Internet Video?" (setup tips); and "Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube Seek Big Break on TV" (content services).