“Hi TV”, I exclaim as I attempt as a human being, to interact with a seemingly idiot, flat-screen 55″ wall-mounted display. Of course, this isn’t any ordinary display. This is Samsung‘s latest breakthrough in consumer electronics, its highly acclaimed SMART TV, the interactive home entertainment device of the future.
While this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the SMART TV in action, having previewed it last year and also in Bangkok at the recent Samsung Forum 2012, it was my maiden hands-on session with the device. In an exclusive 2 hour one-on-one session last week with Nicholas Siow, AV Trainer with Samsung Electronics Malaysia, I got to experience first hand, the Samsung LED 8000 Smart Series TV (UN55ES8000F).
Five years ago, this would have been totally weird. Imagine talking to a TV (go ahead, laugh why don’t you). Unfathomable. Of course, this is no longer far-fetched. In fact, as the likes of Samsung has shown, a truly interactive living room experience with your TV is very real. Now.
If the PC was the center of our universe about 10 years ago, Samsung envisions the TV to be the center of our digital universe of today. The TV, now the central entertainment device in the family, right in the living room. And the concept of the TV as we know it, has changed. It isn’t merely a tube, figuratively speaking, to merely consume what the TV networks feed you, it has become truly multi-dimensional, multi-functional.
It’s now a web browser, a social networking tool, a video recorder, a news reader, a digital recorder. And then some. It’s the digital hub of the living room, connecting all your digital devices – smartphone, tablet, PC, media player.
The new Samsung LED 8000 Smart Series TV (UN55ES8000F) isn’t the flagship, that honour goes to the 60″ LED 8000 (UN60ES8000F). However both offer similar innovative features and specifications, and defines Samsung’s vision of the TV.
Samsung’s TV and AV strategy as observed during the Samsung Forum, is built on three main pillars — Smart Interaction, Smart Content, and Smart Evolution.
There are several ways to interact and control the TV. With each Smart TV, you get two remote controllers (how last century and boring *snigger) – one conventional with a gazillion buttons and one with full touch controls called Smart Touch Remote Control. The fun part comes in the form of Voice Control. Say “Hi TV”, and watch the TV come to life with a menu of options appearing at the bottom of the screen. Switch channels, control volume, mute, access Smart Apps and further options. Yes, all via voice. And for those worried about accent and especially our ‘Manglish’, during tests it seemed to work flawlessly. Aside from picking some ambient noise occasionally, the Voice Control worked like a charm. Just a side note, the Smart Touch remote also has a mic built-in for voice commands.
If voice isn’t your thing, Samsung has also built Gesture Control into the TV. Hold your hand up for a couple of seconds and a cursor would appear onscreen. If you’re versed with the Microsoft XBox and the Kinect system, this should not be alien to you. Use hand gestures to navigate through menus and options. It does need a little getting used to and can get tiring after a while. Nobody is going to complain that you’re out of shape though, because those biceps will definitely be toned in no time!
This is made possible with the inclusion of a front facing camera. The face recognition is also ala Kinect (and Android 4.0 ICS if you may) allows for you to login and personalise settings. It also acts as a one-ID login for your social networks. I think this is a great feature. Personalisation is definitely useful, especially when it comes to social networking, or pulling of news feeds, customised to you.
Samsung has refined and improved the user interface and user experience of its SMART Hub. Featuring snazzier icons and overall more pleasant interface, Smart Hub is the center of all your digital content including cutting edge TV apps, services, social networking and web browsing. With the recent partnership with Viki, consumers get to high-quality HD TV shows, movies and entertainment news from around the world and subtitled in multiple languages. With over 1 billion streams and 200 million words subtitled in over 150 languages, ViKi has the most translated global video content available. Viki Premier currently offers over 1,500 apps on the Smart TV platform. Samsung promises more local content in the future.
One of the most interesting apps available is Family Story. Think of Family Story as a social network for your family. Organise and share photos, albums and videos and enjoy slideshows on screen. Send messages online and share content remotely. Cool stuff.
Several other apps I played with were fitness-based and also kid-friendly content. Under the fitness category, you can consume exercise-based content and even track your progress on the TV and on the go. Pretty cool. There’s quite a wealth of kid-friendly content which parents can control and monitor, too.
You can of course do your favourite web browsing, Facebook and Twitter on the Smart TV, and even Skype via their respective apps. By the way, since Smart Hub platform was launched in 2008, there are over 28,000 apps by the developer community. Why do we need a PC again?
There’s one thing to invest in a top-of-the-line TV and have it obsoleted in a year. Samsung has what they call an Evolution Kit. It’s exactly what the name says. It’s an upgrade kit that lets you easily enjoy upgrades to the latest technology services on your TV. At the back of each 2012 Smart TV models, just slot in the Evolution Kit to enjoy advancements in both TV hardware and software. No need to purchase a new TV every year! This proprietary system-on-chip (SoC) tech is unique to Samsung, the only consumer electronics brand to offer such a feature.
The 55″LED 8000 Series TV comes with a pair of active 3D glasses. Turn your 2D content into 3D on-the-fly and also control the level of depth you require. I have yet to experience great things with the 2D-3D conversion, and this isn’t specific to Samsung but with 3D TVs in general. Sounds too good to be true, and it usually is. Still much of a novelty, IMHO. Regardless, if you do watch actual, true-blue 3D content, then this would work as advertised. How about Avatar or Transformers 2 for a start, eh?
Content Sharing with AllPlay
With Samsung’s AllShare Play app, I was able to connect to the TV from my GALAXY S II via Wi-Fi Direct, then play my digital content on the TV, on the fly. AllShare is Samsung’s content sharing service that allows you to search for and play video, photo, and music files freely across many devices that support AllShare services, such as PC, TV, mobile phone, and digital camera. You can do this either wirelessly or with a cable.
The other cool feature is turning your tablet or smartphone into a full touch screen remote. By downloading the free Samsung Smart Touch Remote app via Samsung Apps or Google Play Store, your tablet or smartphone becomes an alternate controller. Very cool.
Premium Audio Dock
I also tested out Samsung’s premium Audio Dock with Vacuum Tube Amplifier (DA-E750) which is the company’s first dual-docking system for audio enthusiasts. The great thing is that it supports a broad range of Samsung’s GALAXY devices and Apple devices including the GALAXY series smartphones, iPhone and iPad via both docked and wireless connectivity.The DA-E750 certainly exudes sophistication with its mahogany finish. It features a 2.1-channel speaker with a built-in subwoofer channeling 100 watts of sound. It supports AllShare for Samsung devices and Airplay for Apple devices, or through Bluetooth.
The TV Evolution Begins
With some interesting features experienced on Samsung’s Smart TV during the session, I am compelled to think that this could very well be the future of our living room. Particularly Samsung’s take on connectivity, interactivity and content. And we’re only at the beginning of the journey. Things will get better, more interesting as we move along. For now, I think Samsung is spearheading a new generation of entertainment device and I’d really like to see what other competitors are envisioning about the box formerly known as the ‘idiot box’.
(edit)The only con (pre-requisite if you like), is the necessity for a fast broadband connection. While 1Mbps is the absolute minimum, I’d say a 3-5Mbps fibre connection is recommended. What would probably make sense in the near future is for Samsung to collaborate with telcos to offer Smart TV, fibre and digital content channel packages. Yes, like what Astro did last year with TIMEdotcom.
Samsung ended 2011 as the market leader for 3D Smart TV in the region with 47% market share and market leader for LED SMART TV in Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
Samsung Malaysia is set to launch its new line of Smart TVs to Malaysian audiences today.
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