CES 2012 Press Day: Samsung

Samsung opened their packed - and I mean packed, there must have been 1,500-plus people in the room - Press Day event with a bang. With an A/V production that seemed like it must have been designed by people with a background in the Super Bowl halftime show, Samsung President Boo Keun Yoon took the stage to deliver a statement on Samsung's future in the home entertainment space - a three-part philosophical strategy based around "Smart Interaction," "Smart Content," and "Smart Evolution" - against a background of interstellar animations and rave-level bump-and-thump. It was definitely the statement of a company confident in the future, which isn't something you can say for a lot of TV manufacturers these days.

As developed by a succession of Samsung bigwigs, The bold statements amounted to a pretty practical program for the near term. "Smart Interaction" means the further development of the company's Smart TV offerings, based around their SmartHub and associated app platform. "Smart Content" encompassed a whole range of things, mostly having to do with addressing the "lack" of quality 3D content, including expanded partnerships with producers of 3D content like NBC Universal (with whom Samsung announced a collaboration on a 3D version of Battlestar Galactica). Whether that makes for compelling, relevant, abundant 3D content remains to be seen. Samsung cited a pile of stats showing that 3D adopters so far really like the tech, and it's being offered more or less across the board in their new sets, but it still seems like content has a long way to go.

Also under the Smart Content rubric is casual gaming, coming to Samsung's TVs, and spearheaded, of course, by Rovio's omnipresent Angry Birds (who in keeping with the theme of the event, made an impressively loud entrance).

"Smart Evolution" may well prove the most appealing to consumers - what it means, in real terms, is future-proofing. While specifics weren't discussed, in its 2012 TV models Samsung is introducing a rear-panel expansion slot that will accept upgrade cards that should start appearing in the 2013 model year. Definitely something to keep an eye on as the TVs themselves incorporate more and more connected functionality (and it would remove some of the tentativeness about buying a Smart set versus an easily replaceable set-top streamer in addition to a dumb TV).

A central point (and one that's definitely becoming a meme at this CES - pretty much every company has a take on it) is the company's commitment (expressed by Samsung Electronics America prez Tim Baxter) to "breaking down walls between discrete devices" - integrating content experiences across all the screens consumers may have: tablets, smartphones, PCs. and the big, flat set in the living room. For consumers, this is most immediately going to be the addition of Samsung's current Media Hub (as found on their tablets) to TVs; content purchased on one device will be viewable on any. Also introduced was "AllShare Play," a cloudcentric, AirPlay-and-iTunes-in-the-Cloud like service which will better enable content sharing.

The company is encouraging developers to author multiscreen apps with a substantial cash prize (the "Free the TV" program); this years podium finishers - Freqshow (a music channel), Let's Play Stop (a word game) - and winner (Party Shots, a social photo sharing app) were announced.

A top mounted camera will be deployed across Samsung's Smart TV line, allowing for Kinect-style gestural control and face recognition. That in turn will enable apps like personalized fitness and exercise programs, education programs for kids, and (we're guessing) more gaming functionality.

As for what TV consumers will be seeing in the immediate future, there were two big product announcements. A new flagship LCD TV, the ES8000, available up to 75 inches, keeps last years slim bezel, but adds a nifty U-shaped stand, the top-mounted camera, and - most interestingly - a fast dual-core chip that will enable app multitasking. Want to jump away from your Netflix flick to check the local news on live TV? No longer will you have to quit the app and wait for the movie to reload when you return; the TV can keep running your apps in the background.

But the big surprise was a 55-inch "Super OLED" set (the Super OLED tech, according to Samsung, eliminates the need for a color filter - each pixel emits its own light, ultrafast motion response - supposedly resulting in better detail and blur-free motion). It also has the de rigeur "amazingly thin" ultra slim bezel, and the ES8000 feature set: camera, dual core, connected, 3D. We're very much looking forward to seeing one up close.

Perhaps most interestingly, Samsung told us that they'll be selling the OLED set in 2012, possibly trumping LG, who were unwilling to go out and a limb and promise a date. It's going to be an interesting year for TVs indeed.

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