Panasonic is getting attention at the Consumer Electronics Show for its big, thin and wireless TVs. It's showing the world's largest plasma...

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LAS VEGAS — Panasonic is getting attention at the Consumer Electronics Show for its big, thin and wireless TVs. It’s showing the world’s largest plasma — a 150-incher — alongside dazzling, inch-thick, 50-inch diagonal models coming in late 2009. It’s also highlighting a wireless system that beams full 1080p content from a Blu-ray player to a high-definition screen.

But I think its sleeper announcement here is a line of Viera-brand Internet protocol televisions that it plans to start selling this spring.

The IPTVs connect to the Web and display online video, photos and other content. They look like any other flat-screen TV and, yes, they have the obligatory access to YouTube videos.

But what’s really interesting is how Panasonic is taking that Web connection to the next level. It’s treating the TV-screen real estate the way the tech industry treats PC and mobile-phone displays.

When you switch the Panasonic to its Internet input, the screen becomes a home page with a collection of widgets that you click to pull up online services, such as photo and video sites. This would be perfect for Hulu’s online TV library and Microsoft’s streaming NBC video from the Olympics.

I’d think these sets would take the wind out of Comcast’s announcement today that it’s boosting its “on demand” video library and TiVo’s Monday announcement that it’s giving subscribers a new way to get user-generated video content from sites such as YouTube on their TVs.

How much longer are people going to buy boxes and pay service fees if they can easily connect their sets directly to free (ad-supported) online high-def video libraries?

A Panasonic spokesman was vague about who will get access to the screen real estate but said the company is talking to a number of organizations. He wouldn’t disclose prices.

I hope it keeps the prices close to those of standard TVs, opens the screen to developers and gives users a choice of which applications to run. Will it let developers put the same widgets and applications they’re developing for social networks, phones and PCs on its mainstream TVs? How about a purely online Xbox?

It’s been obvious for some time that televisions would eventually connect directly to the Web without having to go through PCs or another gadget.

That will accelerate the shift toward a future where the majority of video content comes over the Internet (assuming there will be decent broadband and the network can handle it). I’m taking these sets from Panasonic — the General Motors of the consumer-electronics industry — as the biggest sign yet that it’s really, finally happening.

On the road

with a concept

There wasn’t a lot of news in GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner’s keynote speech Tuesday afternoon, but the crowd patiently waited for the big draw that everyone was expecting: the first public unveiling of the Cadillac Provoq.

The Provoq is a concept fuel-cell vehicle that puts GM’s upcoming “E-Flex” power system into a crossover/wagon platform that’s larger than the previous showcase, the still-not-ready Chevy Volt.

The Provoq uses a hydrogen fuel-cell system to extend the range of the plug-in electric vehicle. It also has a solar panel on the roof to power electronic accessories, and nifty touches such as grill louvers that close at high speed to improve aerodynamics.

Wagoner didn’t give specifics about when the Provoq will be available or how much it will cost.

Brier Dudley can be reached

at 206-515-5687 or