Panasonic makes Internet-enabled TVs affordable to masses

It has been in the market for close to three years, but Internet-on-TV has failed to take off in India due to the high prices of the televisions.

That may be about to change.

Panasonic has revamped its Smart TV range with 30 new models that cost as little as Rs. 13,990, starting at 24 inches. At the higher end, a 55 inch Internet-enabled Smart TV from Panasonic would set you back by Rs 3.2 lakh.

Smart TVs are considered the future of Internet consumption, at least in terms of the sheer amount of Internet traffic that they are going to generate in the coming years.

The idea is simple — the flat panel TVs are simply equipped with a wireless networking interface — Wifi and Bluetooth, and a primitive operating system to support a basic browser, media players and some applications.

The result is a large-screen, living room device that has the potential to become your primary medium of ‘consuming’ the Internet.

Unlike a smartphone or PC, consuming the Internet on TV is less fatiguing, primarily as TV-viewing usually happens on a sofa, rather than a chair.

In addition, the strain on the eyes is also expected to be lower as the screen is several times bigger than a typical laptop or smartphone display.

As a result, consumers are expected to spend much longer consuming the Internet on TVs compared to PCs.

However, Smart TVs have not exactly been flying off the shelves in India. Besides Panasonic, Samsung and LG too have launched Smart TVs and invested considerable amounts in promoting them on the media.

However, so far, ‘smart’ (as in Internet-enabled) features have adorned only the higher end of the TV model range. Smart TVs typically cost about 15 to 20% more than what a similarly configured TV without ‘smart features’ would cost.

Besides, brands like Videocon, Sansui, Akai and Toshiba, which dominate the entry-level LCD TV market in India, are yet to launch or invest their marketing money in smart TVs.

As such, despite the advantages offered by smart TVs, take up has been limited.

Panasonic’s new offerings, however, may change that. The company is already notable for having a presence in nearly all the categories within the flat-panel TV market in India.

Unlike brands like Sony, whose models are found only in the mid to high end of the market, Panasonic has been present in the entry level as well, though without the ‘smartness’ so far.

Besides the now taken-for-granted applications such as a browser and a Youtube videoplayer, the new models have also tried to tie in the TV experience to the Internet.

For example, as Panasonic notes, the “Watch & Chat app enables you to stay in touch with your friends through Twitter or Facebook timeline which gets displayed on the side screen while watching TV.

“Now the sports fan can watch live games while upping the excitement by chatting with friends as the game unfolds. One can either use their smart phone or a Bluetooth compatible keyboard as a remote control for writing text.”

The prospects for smart TVs are high in India due to the extremely low PC penetration rates in the country. India is estimated to have just about 30 million PCs for its 1.3 billion people.

As such, many experts believe that unlike the West, where the Internet is associated more with the PC and the smartphone, in India, Internet will primarily be a TV phenomenon.

One factor that may constrain the adoption of smart TVs may be the low broadband penetration, especially DSL. India has only about 14 to 15 million landline based broadband connections.

Though several times that number of users have access to high-speed broadband on 3G, high costs, low capacity and low data caps will prevent the emergence of wireless as a truly viable method for data consumption on the Internet.

High Definition video, likely the most sought after Internet item on TV, will exhaust most 3G data plans in the time it takes to watch a single movie.

However, the TVs are still expected to do well in the urban markets, where the penetration of cheap and high-speed cable and DSL Internet is high.

Interestingly, most DTH operators in India have also started targeting this market. Players like Tata Sky and Airtel Digital have either Wifi or ethernet (LAN) interfaces on their set-top-boxes. These boxes can be connected to an Internet connection to enable IPTV services.

However, these services primarily offer re-runs of TV programs or movies, and are not aimed at tapping the whole of Internet, such as social networking.