Wireless HDMI has been on the cards now for so long, we'd given up expecting it to ever arrive. There have been plenty of problems with it over the years -- not least in the UK a regulatory issue that would have made selling devices using the technology illegal. But it seems that all of a sudden, the legalities and other problems have been solved and Panasonic's latest TV, the Viera Z1, has arrived to prove the point.
The 46-inch Panasonic Viera TX-P46Z1 costs a fairly staggering £4,200, so it's immediately beyond the reach of most people. Indeed, at this price, you could have bought yourself one of the excellent 60-inch Pioneer Kuro TVs. You're paying for the very latest in technology -- and the only 1080p TV that does its 'Full HD' thing wirelessly. The Sony Bravia ZX1 can only manage 1080i over its wireless link.
The idea of such wireless functionality is that you can bolt the TV to your wall without needing to worry about HDMI cables and the like. It also means that the back of your TV won't look like there's been an explosion in a cable factory. You can put your Blu-ray player, games console and other AV junk somewhere out of the way, and connect them up to the media receiver. All you need to do is make sure the wireless transmitter can get its signal to the TV and you're good to go.
We ran some unscientific tests, and we're pleased to see the wireless signal isn't easy to disrupt. The wireless signals operate around the 50GHz range, so they aren't easily disrupted by other transmitting equipment and the signals bounce well off walls to ensure maximum signal strength.
This TV is certainly interesting, and we'll be putting it through its paces to see if it lives up to our expectations. We're going to be paying particular attention to the quality of the wireless picture and comparing it to a directly connected device over HDMI. Keep an eye on the TV reviews channel for our findings.
The Z1 is incredibly thin, especially when you consider that it's a plasma TV. In theory, plasma TVs could be thinner than LCDs, because of the way they function, but the problem has been fitting in the electronics. This has been solved by removing all the sockets, tuners and other gubbins.
The design on the Z1 is totally different to other TVs in the Panasonic range. It's silver, rather than black for a start. The base, shown here, also has an interesting paint effect on it. We're fans already -- although silver is never our first choice of TV colour.
At the front of the reciever, you'll see there is that most Panasonic of additions, an SD card slot. You also get HDMI in, VGA for connecting computers and composite and S-Video connections, for camcorders and the like.
There are three HDMI sockets at the back, into which you can plug all your HD hardware. You'll also notice that there's an HDMI output and a proprietary data/power connection which feed the wireless transmitter. Optical audio output is also provided, to connect this receiver to an AV system.
Scart sockets are provided too. It's just one of those things you have to get used to. Look at them there, like little black abysses of failure.
You also get stereo RCA sockets for audio in and out, as well as component for analogue HD video.
The wireless transmitter is quite large, but can be placed anywhere as long as it can get a signal to the receiver. We've run some tests, and in our large office, it's not essential that this has line of sight to the receiver.
At the back of the TV itself, you'll find the matching inputs for the wireless receiver box. The HDMI is a standard socket, and there is no reason you can't connect an HD device directly, if you don't want to use the wireless functionality. But if that was your plan, why spend four grand on a TV?
Here is the wireless reciever box. This bolts on to the back of the TV and pokes its head out from underneath the screen to pick up the wireless signals. Attaching this to the TV isn't mandatory, you can tuck it away somewhere, but be aware that hiding it too well will degrade the wireless signal and produce picture problems.
Here's ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins trying his level best to disrupt the wireless signal and mess with our setup. Curse him!
The good news is, at this point, the TV was around 20 or so metres away from the transmitter, but the picture was still received with only the occasional break up. At this distance though, we're outside the intended operating range, so disruption is quite likely.
At this range you can block the signal with one Goodwins hand, but when the TV is closer to the transmitter, blocking the signal is much harder. In the average living room, it's unlikely you'll ever manage to do it -- unless you're wearing lead pants.
At this sort of distance, the picture on the TV still looked terrific. Of course, we were too far away to actually see the TV and we can't think of many houses that have a lounge big enough to have the two parts of the system this far apart.
Still, it worked, and certainly stirred our geek tendencies. Perhaps we'll try some more tests at some point...