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Panasonic goes all in for 4K Ultra HD

Panasonic touts a big lineup of Ultra HD products at CES as the technology moves into the mainstream.

For Panasonic, 2015 is all about 4K Ultra HD resolution, the latest television standard that delivers four times the resolution of full high-definition technology.

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Panasonic made a slew of announcements at CES for products supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution. James Martin/CNET

At its press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, the company announced an expanded line of four 4K Ultra HD series of TVs. They range from the flagship high-end "smart" or Internet-connected TV, the CX850 series, which includes voice command technology, to the CX800 series to the CX650 and CX600 midrange models that don't come with as many of the advanced bells and whistles.

Panasonic also showed off a prototype of a 4K/HDR Blu-ray and media player, as well as several new camcorders sporting 4K and full HD capabilities. The company also said it is joining the new UHD Alliance, a group that brings together TV makers, movie studios and broadcasters to come up with a new Ultra HD standard.

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TV makers have been hyping 4K technology for years. The technology is already available in many high-end TVs. In his preview of the Consumer Electronics Show, CNET TV reviewer David Katzmaier said that 2015 would be the year that 4K Ultra HD TVs would finally supplant regular HD 1,080p TVs in terms of providing the best picture quality in the widest range of products from the high-end to the mid-range.

As demonstrated by its announcements at CES, Panasonic, like LG Electronics, Sony, Samsung and other major TV makers, is a big part of this trend. In addition to the new TVs, Panasonic is also making the push for 4K Ultra HD resolution in camcorders and the upcoming Blu-ray player that will handle Ultra HD video.

The introduction of other 4K products makes sense. After all, why spend more money for a new 4K TV if there is no content shot in the higher resolution? This is also why Panasonic and others, such as Samsung, Disney, Netflix have teamed up to form the UHD Alliance, which was also announced Monday.

Still, Panasonic claims that it is offering more products with 4K resolution than any other consumer electronics brand. During the press conference, Julie Bauer, president of Panasonic Consumer Electronics, said with these latest products Panasonic now has "the widest portfolio of 4K products in the industry."

Here's a summary of the highlights of Panasonic's announcements Monday:

Televisions

A year after the company announced it was getting out of the plasma TV market, Panasonic announced four new LCD series of 4K Ultra HD TVs: CX850, CX800, CX650 and CX600. In total, the company will introduce nine new TVs in 2015. Each of these new Internet-enabled TVs will be controlled by the Firefox OS from Mozilla. The company says that through its collaboration with Mozilla, these new TVs will have an improved user interface that makes it easier to access content. And viewers will be able to get on-screen notifications from applications and, in the future, Internet-connected appliances.

The flagship and most expensive TVs of the bunch will be the CX850 series, which Panasonic claims offers picture accuracy comparable to "Hollywood studio monitors." This series of TV also offers a voice command feature.

Cameras

Panasonic announced several new Lumix compact cameras, including two new rugged cameras to its waterproof and shockproof line. But the highlight of its new camera lineup is the new series of HD camcorders.

Panasonic announced new 4K Ultra HD camcorders for the high-end consumer market. James Martin/CNET

Specifically, the new high-end Ultra HD HC-WX970, HC-VX870 and HC-V770 are, according to Panasonic executives, the world's first Full HD consumer camcorders to include a High Dynamic Range (HDR) Movie function. For more, check out CNET's take on these new camcorders.

Blu-ray player

In an effort to create a market for Ultra HD content, Panasonic also showed off a prototype of a 4K Blu-ray player. The product will be based on new standards that are expected to be adopted for Ultra HD Blu-ray as well as including other new technologies, such as high dynamic range (HDR) and immersive audio.

A spokesperson for the Blu-ray Disc Association said at an industry event last year that he expects the first products that play back 4K video to be in stores before the end of 2015. And Panasonic's prototype is likely a first step in this direction.

Streaming services such as Netflix have already begun offering some content at 4K resolution. But streaming services are limited by bandwidth constraints, and compression technologies must be used to more efficiently manage delivery of this content over multiple networks, so there is a need for a product that will play physical discs at high-quality 4K resolution.

The new UHD Alliance that Panasonic and others have joined says it will soon release an "outline on a technology road map for the rapid evolution of UHD technology worldwide."

Beyond 4K

While 4K was certainly the focus of Panasonic's press conference, the company also announced a slew of other products. In audio, it introduced four additions to its headphones lineup. And it revived its much loved Technics audio brand Hi-Fi systems. It has been six years since Panasonic has introduced new products for this brand. The new products are the Technics R1 Reference-Class System and the Technics C700 Premium-Class System.

And to demonstrate that the company is more than just a TV maker, executives also highlighted several other new products for the home, such as a slow juicer and gluten-free bread maker, as well as beauty products, such as the Wet/Dry Women's Hair Removal Systems.