Panasonic moves beyond TVs at CES to focus on businesses

After its recent exit from the high-end plasma TV market, Panasonic emphasizes how it will adapt its technology, including 4K camera and display expertise, for business customers.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read
Pansonic's Rance Poehler shows off the company's 4K 20-inch Toughpad at CES 2014.

Panasonic is more than a TV maker. That's the message the Japanese electronics maker wanted to get across on Monday during its press event at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas.

Less than a month after the company exited the plasma TV business, Panasonic came to the Las Vegas consumer-electronics trade show to talk about a slew of new products. But ironically, the strongest message the company sent during its press event at the world's largest confab for consumer gadgets was not about its consumer business but instead about how the company is using its technology and innovations to build products for the enterprise.

"We're taking the consumer technologies that you know us best for and re-imagining them in business solutions," Joe Taylor, chairman and CEO of Panasonic North America, said during the press conference.

4K for business
Rance Poehler, president of Panasonic System Communications Company of North America, talked about how the company plans to use its 4K camera and display technology to address business needs in all kinds of industries, including automotive, aviation, and even quick-serve restaurants.

"While many people are focused on 4K for the consumer, we are focused on bringing it to the business community," he said. "And we will offer the widest range of 4K solutions for the enterprise."

At Panasonic's CES 2014 press conference, executives talked up the company's 4K projector for use in places like museums and galleries.

He said the 4K display technology is perfect for museums or galleries where clear image projection is needed. And he talked about the company's newly announced partnership with Churchill Downs Racetrack, the home of the Kentucky Derby, to install a new 4K "Big Board" on the grounds of the famed race track. The 171-foot wide by 90-foot tall outdoor video board will sit 80 feet above the ground, giving race-goers a "crystal clear" view of replays, betting odds, and race results.

He showed off the high-end 20-inch Toughpad with 4K display that will hit markets soon. And he announced a new 7-inch Toughpad rugged tablet that Panasonic is calling the Toughpad FZ-M1. The thin, 7-inch tablet runs Microsoft Windows 8.1 Pro and will come with a high-end Intel processor. It meets all the typical rugged specifications and works in high or low temperatures. The tablet is also shock and drop resistant, which Poehler demonstrated by tossing the tablet off the stage during the press event.

Poehler also talked up the company's surveillance camcorder business. And Panasonic announced five new full-HD camcorders designed for home surveillance. Poehler emphasized Panasonic's long history of building surveillance cameras, stating that the company's first closed-circuit security cameras were sold as far back as the 1950s.

He said security cameras for businesses are very important and that 4K technology can be used to help reduce the number of cameras needed to cover a particular area, reducing overall cost.

Panasonic takes on CES 2014 with a lot more than 4K entertainment (pictures)

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Automotive industry
Executives also talked up the company's focus on the automotive industry, which is the largest growing division for Panasonic. During the press conference, executives touted the company's partnership with car makers Tesla and Toyota to supply them with battery technology. Panasonic also said it offers rear-view cameras and sensor technology, which will be big factors in developing self-driving cars.

The company also announced a partnership with Abbey Road Studios to develop in-car sound systems.

Consumer electronics and TV are not dead to Panasonic
While it's clear there's more of a strategic emphasis on business customers, executives emphasized that Panasonic is not abandoning the consumer-electronics market, including the TV business. To prove its point, it showed off several new products in this category, including some new LED LCD TVs, which the company claims will offer similar display quality to its former plasma TVs. But CNET Reviews editor David Katzmaier was not at all impressed by the announcements and said in his post it is "one of the least inspiring lineups of TVs I've seen so far at CES 2014." Ouch.

Panasonic shows off new compact cameras at the CES 2014 trade show.

Aside from the new TVs, the company also announced a couple of compact Lumix cameras, one with GPS and Near Field Communications technology embedded, headphones, a compact stereo system that supports Qualcomm's AllPlay standard, a wall-mountable home theater system, and some interface updates to its smart TVs.

The company also showed off its wearable Panasonic HX-A100D camera, and from Panasonic Beauty the moisturizing Nanoe hair dryer.

Kandee Johnson shows off Panasonic's new Nanoe hair dryer.

But the big emphasis and message the company seemed to be making at the show was that Panasonic is not just about TVs and it's not even just about consumer electronics.

"Panasonic is more than a TV company," said Taylor. "We're a company that's dedicated to creating a better life. A better world."

That's a pretty tall order, to say the least.