As soon as Panasonic announced that Netflix and Skype, among other services, would be added to its VieraCast interactive service for 2010 TVs and Blu-ray players, we wondered whether it would trickle down to the 2008 and 2009 models--namely the 800U, 850U, G10, G15, V10, and Z1 series TVs, and BD60, BD80, BD70V, and BD15 Blu-ray players. The answer, as confirmed by Panasonic Wednesday, is "nope."
The explanation from Panasonic is that the chip that handles VieraCast in the older models lacks the necessary embedded DRM (Digital Rights Management) code to enable compatibility with Netflix. That information is slightly more specific than what was said by Bob Perry, Senior VP at the company, in the latest update to his blog: "...due to the system requirement issues, Netflix cannot be added to pre-2010 models."
In short, we don't expect the company to ever make those older VieraCast sets Netflix compatible. The same goes for Skype, which requires a special jack to work with the yet-unpriced proprietary Panasonic camera/speakerphone needed to make video and voice calls.
We can understand current VieraCast owners not getting Skype, but lack of Netflix is a harder pill for them to swallow. First off, the service is exceedingly popular--a recent report calls Netflix "the 'gold standard' for new...streaming services." Second, it's available on numerous other devices, including select LG and Sony TVs, and Sony even upgraded its 2009 interactive televisions to stream Netflix last fall. Third, Panasonic itself raised expectations in pushing the expandable nature of VieraCast: it called the feature "infinitely upgradeable" at launch time and repeated the claim during Wednesday's demos, and even places a small square called "Coming Soon" on the VieraCast home page.
On the plus side, the company says other services, namely Fox Sports, Twitter, and Pandora, will make their way to older VieraCast models sometime soon, along with a spiffy new menu system. Pandora especially is nothing to sneeze at, although we question the utility of using your TV remote to post tweets (Panasonic is offering compatibility with wireless keyboards on new 2010--but not older--'Cast-capable models). We're also willing to bet that quite a few VieraCast TV owners have another device, like an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or TiVo HD, that allows them to stream Netflix anyway.
For those people who don't, it's worth mentioning that the Roku HD costs just $99.