Review of the Panasonic Smart Viera TH-L42E6A, a ‘talking TV’ with Voice Guidance

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Friday, 19 July 2013 14:26pm

Panasonic’s 2013 range of Viera ‘smart TVs’ are the first in Australia to have a text-to-speech function which will be of great benefit to blind and vision impaired consumers. The function, called ‘Voice Guidance’, was developed in the by Panasonic in the UK, in conjunction with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Media Access Australia’s project manager Ally Woodford gave it a test.

I connected the television simply with the aerial cable and power cable. The TV can be connected to a range of external equipment to record or play video.

When I turned on the power there was no sound and no text instruction to suggest how to activate the Voice Guidance. The on-screen option was to select your viewing environment of ‘Home’ or ‘Shop’. I selected Home.

The next step was onscreen text to select a wireless or wired internet network. There was still no option for voice guidance. It’s at this point that I referred to the manual, which informed me that I would need to go into the Settings option in the Menu to activate Voice Guidance in the Sound setting. I had no choice then but to continue with the onscreen, silent set-up until the TV was tuned.

Setting up the wireless network, so that the TV can connect to the internet, was a bit fraught as there seemed to be no option to complete the password required (if your network has a password). I was stuck on the password page before working out that you needed to press ‘Return’ to store. This is not an onscreen option or prompt and took a search of the e-help manual (downloadable only until the TV is set up) to find this out.

Once the TV was tuned, I pressed the remote control’s e-help button. The TV then took me through a ‘tour’ of the TV and it was at this point that the Voice Guidance began, even though I was yet to set that option, suggesting it is a default setting of ‘On’. In reading out the 15-step tour to us, it failed to tell me to press the ‘Next’ or ‘Exit’ buttons though.

After the tour I accessed the Sound options in the Menu and scrolled to the Voice Guidance option. Not only can you select it as either On or Off but you can select the speed, volume and user level (beginner or expert).

With the Voice Guidance activated I turned the power off and on again. When the TV powered on again it read out the program channel, program name, duration of program and program start and end times. Voice Guidance continues when changing channels and for any button pressed on the remote, including volume level. Voice guidance for the Menu though is not supported, nor when using the internet.

The ‘Guide’ button on the remote brings up the electronic program guide. On the left is a list of digital channels, with the program you’ve been watching highlighted and read out. Users can then search via the arrow pad to the right to have future programs on the same channel read out, or up and down to select other channels. Each time the arrow pad is pressed the program title and duration is read out, including an option to ‘Press okay to store title’.  This will record the program but only if you have an external HDD (hard disk drive) connected to the TV via a USB connection. You will need to buy this separately. 

I connected a Panasonic PVR (personal video recorder) to the TV using an HDMI cable, but as I expected, once I changed the input from TV (in other words, once I was watching TV through the PVR), Voice Guidance was lost except for the use of volume control and the TV or Input options on the television remote control.

If you want to switch from the TV to an AV input, Voice Guidance reads the current connection out but not the options.

I also found that Voice Guidance will not tell you if the mute button on the remote control is pressed, although if it is pressed again, bringing the audio back, the volume level will be read out. Voice Guidance will, however, tell you if there is no signal (due, for example, to the antenna cable being loose or unplugged).

The verdict

On the whole, I was pleased with this TV and Voice Guidance, although the technology still has some way to go. It was disappointing that the Voice Guidance did not work when the TV was turned on for the first time, so a sighted person will still need to do the initial set-up. And, as noted, the settings menu is not supported.

However, once the TV has been set up, Voice Guidance conveys most of the important information that a viewer will need when watching TV, changing channels and searching for programs. Panasonic in the UK has said that Voice Guidance will be extended to more functions in the future, and it is to be expected that these improved models will be made available in Australia further down the track.

 The Panasonic Smart Viera TH-L42E6A, a ‘talking TV’ with Voice Guidance is available now from major Australian retailers. The price starts at $1149.

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