Ok, I finally had a chance to test it. The short version is that it's an ok value for the money as long as your video/audio setup can work with the single HDMI output.
Update: The WiFi section of mine failed after 2 weeks and it had to go back to Panasonic for replacement. Early reports on the reliability don't seem to be good, which is disappointing for Panasonic.
The box is very small and light, and the top cover seems a bit loose and creaky, which doesn't give it a feeling of high quality. But it's not like you're going to be handling it much.
To get started you just hook up the power supply and HDMI cable, turn it on, and go through the initial setup process.
First impression: The menu and background color scheme is simply horrible. Fine white or black text on a light grey menu background? What were they thinking? It's hard to read anything. The default backdrop looks like somebody threw up on the screen in technicolor, and the other 3 choices aren't much better. Fortunately you can substitute your own photo if you want. Menu layout is ok, but response is generally sluggish, and it doesn't help that the interaction model is inconsistent: sometimes you need to cursor to an item and then click - other times just cursoring onto the item activates it. Some items "ding" when you activate them, others make no sound and delay a moment before anything happens. Some of the pop-up keyboards are QWERTY, others are alphabetical order, others are numeric keypad. A few screens have information cut off at the edges by the slight overscan on my Panasonic plasma TV. I guess their human interface guy was sick the day they were designing this.
Video files can be played from a local USB drive in FAT or NTFS format. It does better than I expected with video file formats and codecs. It will play mp4 and mkv files using the H.264 codec, mpeg-2 files, and avi/xvid files. It can play VOB files, but it doesn't recognize DVD folder structure on a disk. I did run into a few audio and video codecs that it didn't handle among my avi and mkv files, such as divx. It has the ability to select audio tracks and subtitles within a file. I verified that it can select alternate audio tracks in an mp4 file, but I didn't challenge it with any files containing complex features. It has some trouble with non-standard aspect ratios, usually stretching any video to fill the screen, and no aspect ratio control is provided.
It does quite well displaying jpeg photos from a camera SD card connected with a USB adapter. Large hi-res photos show up almost instantly, and it properly orients the photos using the internal camera orientation tag. It even plays HD MOV movie files from my Canon camera - but unfortunately with no sound.
DLNA streaming worked fine from a Windows 7 PC or from my NAS, at least for the server-supported file types. I was also able to connect to network shared folders hosted by the Windows 7 PC and my NAS. It takes too many menu steps to reconnect to a folder you use regularly each time you want to use it though.
It insisted on a firmware update before it would allow me to access any internet apps, but after the update I was able to test internet video streaming, initially with YouTube. That seemed to work fine over a WiFi connection. I didn't encounter any WiFi streaming problems in my subsequent tests (until the hardware failed). My WiFi-N router is several rooms away, so the wireless reception seems to be pretty good.
Netflix also worked fine, once I got it going. The first 20 times I tried, it told me that it couldn't connect to Netflix, or it exited with a cryptic error. I double checked that Netflix was working fine on my other devices, I tried a wired ethernet connection, even though Youtube was working fine over wireless. I played with the connection settings. Eventually on the 21st attempt it connected and I was able to enter my account settings. It requires you to enter username/password for Netflix rather than using the device authorization code scheme.
Hulu Plus also seems to work fine. As with other devices, only the paid Plus service is supported, no basic Hulu free streaming.
You can download more free apps from the Panasonic Market, once you get connected and set up an account (it told me that it couldn't connect to the Market the first several times I tried). The account setup screens are a bit exasperating, especially with unreliable key entry and hidden password fields (and no, they provide no way to set it up from your computer instead), but at least you only have to do it once. The Panasonic Market has many of the common apps found in other Smart TV app stores, but by no means all. In addition to the major video streaming apps mentioned above, they also have Amazon VOD and Vudu (U.S. only of course). They have CinemaNow, Viewster and the WSJ financial news channel, but no Crackle, and no BBC News, for example. In this North America version of the product you can specify the country for the app store as U.S. or Canada to get slightly different apps, although of course you'll need a VPN or U.S. DNS setup to access U.S.-only services if you are in Canada. Verified that the major U.S.-only apps do work with the most popular commercial U.S. DNS services from Canada.
I took a quick look at the advertised web browser, which appears to be an add-on Viera Connect app rather than a custom built-in browser. As expected, it's not very useful: painfully slow to operate, crashes or freezes with any kind of complex content, and the edges of the browser window are slightly cut off.
A few other comments:
- There's an On/Standby button on the back, but it's unclear what purpose it serves. The unit can't be used without the remote control, so there would seem to be little point in having a button to turn it on.
- I see that the Viera Connect Skype app is available, although I had no way to test it without a compatible USB camera. This $35 Logitech model might work according to user reviews: http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-HDTV-Widescreen-Video-Cam/dp/B0040QE98Y/
(originally for Google TV, now heavily discounted, but apparently identical to Logitech's official Panasonic-compatible model)
Overall, if it hadn't broken fairly quickly, I think I would have been happy enough with it for routine use like watching Netflix or computer video files after getting through the initial setup and getting accustomed to the eye-straining menus.Edited by amesdp - 8/24/13 at 9:02am