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Samsung Makes TV a Little More PC

Samsung’s ES8000 — a so-called smart TV complete with gesture and voice controls as well as a touchpad remote — is ready to hit shelves.

Attendants at January’s Consumer Electronics Show got a first glimpse at the new line of smart TVs, but the sets weren’t available until Tuesday, when Samsung announced pricing and shipping details for the interactive devices.

Personalization and control are two of the features that Samsung’s touting in its new line. The TVs will have built-in cameras and microphones that can be used for applications such as Skype. They also give the user different ways to control the device. The camera can enable gesture control, similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect, and can also employ facial recognition.

The TV is also equipped to be controlled by voice. Much like Apple’s speech-activated Siri service, Samsung’s ES8000 lets users control the TV, navigate content and give commands via voice.

The Clicker

Even with the new ways to control the TV, Samsung didn’t give up on the traditional remote control — though it did give the device an update. The new smart TVs come with a device the company calls the “Smart Touch Control” remote. Along with a touchpad, it also has a microphone to make voice control easier.

Users can also use a Bluetooth keyboard to interact with the TV, primarily for searching for content or apps.

The facial recognition feature is part of Samsung’s attempt to personalize the TV experience. When the TV recognizes a user by his or her face, it can immediately sign into a personal account, which can contain apps and access to accounts such as Skype or streaming services.

To handle all the increased functions at a quicker pace, Samsung’s new TV comes equipped with a dual-core processor.

In 2013, a yearly update that Samsung calls an “Evolution Kit” will be available for some of its smart TV models so that customers can receive the latest upgrades without having to get new hardware.

Samsung is offering four versions of the ES8000, sized between 46 and 65 inches. The 46-inch model will run at US$2,999; the 65-inch will go for $5,099.

Increased Power

Some of the new features on Samsung’s smart TVs — voice control, thousands of app possibilities, gesture control, etc. — might be a big draw to consumers, but they could also be a big drain on power. Samsung has equipped its smart TVs with dual-core processors to support the advanced features.

“As a whole, TVs are getting much more intelligent, and they need more processing power to keep up,” Alfred Poor, author of the HDTV Almanac, told TechNewsWorld. “A dual-core processor in a television doesn’t sound like overkill. It’s actually a practical value to have that processing power in there.”

Since the latest offerings in smart TVs from Samsung and other vendors often come with hefty price tags, the entertainment device is turning into more of an investment for the living room.

However, because digital media and entertainment fields are evolving so quickly, a TV might run for years after its software has become outdated. That’s why Samsung pairs the dual-core processor with the promise of the Evolution Kit, which will allow users to upgrade the software.

“We’re going to own our televisions for 10 years or more, and we need to be able to upgrade that software and keep the device current,” said Poor.

The Future Is Smart

As content selection increases, so does the need for a device that can more easily navigate through such a wide array of media and channels, Poor said.

“The whole push now involves how to we answer what’s on television,” said Poor. “It was hard enough with 500 channels of simultaneous programming, it was harder with video on demand, but now we have Netflix, Hulu, rent and buy subscriptions and even YouTube programming that is taking over how we watch TV.”

The best TV design, then, would make discovering, finding, watching and storing content a headache-free task.

“Being able to control your TV easily is the future, and smartphones can be a remote control in the living room,” Gerry Purdy, a principal analyst at MobileTrax, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s fun to see a fast market growing, one that’s poised for tremendous growth, because all our devices are going to be connected in some way going forward, and it’s going to revolve around that TV.”

The way the industry is evolving, that future might not be so distant, according to Poor.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re going to have to come up with a way where there is some kind of search for video and content that brings it all together. It has to be smart with recommendations so that you’re not just staring into the universe and trying to figure out what to watch,” said Poor.

Samsung didn’t reply to our request for further comment.

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