I own two first generation Samsung SMART TV’s. They’re exactly alike. I’m describing the mid-range 40″ LED model that comes with built-in Internet capability (there’s a more affordable version that doesn’t come with Internet). It has all the bells and whistles of a modern day flat screen LED TV including 4 HDMI ports and one USB port, being 3D-ready, with Ethernet port (for wired Internet), 1080p + up-scaling and all that. I own two because one was a wedding present.
In the past 2 months, Samsung had given me a very in-depth look at the new line of SMART TV’s for 2012. And deep inside I felt really bad about the current one I have in the living room for a number of reasons. The following is a comparison between the 2011 SMART TV and the 2012 SMART TV line for those who are interested to invest in a unit. But before that, some notes:
What makes it valuable: Built-in apps that can potentially enhance your living room viewing experience
Nothing particularly epic to write home about. The app marketplace doesn’t have that “killer app” that you would want to run instead of watching a Blu-ray movie.
In terms of social, you get the usual plethora of Facebook and Twitter. There’s also Picasa, GTalk and Skype — the latter is most useful for long distance living room video calls. The bummer: despite being a SMART TV, the first generation model doesn’t ship with a built-in web browser. You absolutely need to do a firmware upgrade to have this installed.
The most useful stock app: YouTube. Because the television is situated in the living room, I load up my favorite playlists and the TV upscales the quality, if it isn’t already in 1080p. If you’re asking what my favorite series to watch is, well it is a show called TANKED on Animal Planet, a show that focuses on epic marine aquarium builds.
OK so apart from that, nothing to write home about.
This is where it all changes. Although Samsung shares the same app marketplace across TV’s, the same firmware upgrade (that comes out of the box) offers so much more swoon than the previous model. Call it a hardware issue on the part of the 1st generation units, but the new SMART TV’s have access to a number of features including:
a. All Share – if Apple has iCloud, Samsung has All Share across a wider breadth of devices: smartphones, computers and TV’s. I forgot what it’s called, but Samsung has a “timeline” sort of thing where you can showcase family photos in a very elegant way on the TV
b. Viki Premiere – streaming service for Asian telenovelas
c. Angry Birds. But more on that later.
You have the remote control as a default to browse the UI. It’s a semi-chore as there is a 1 second delay to the controller. Response time can be improved by using an iOS device or an Android phone with the Samsung Remote application which is free to download. Keying in items on search (for YouTube) is a tad difficult unless you have a wireless keyboard remote (sold separately) or make use of your Android device’s keyboard.
You have the same options above but also have access to a special voice remote controller and hand gestures similar to the Kinect. The 2nd generation models come with a built-in webcam which was a mere accessory if you had the first. The webcam is used for video conferencing and for hand gesture movements, moving the open palm of your hand like a mouse and making a quick fist when making a selection. The “Minority Report” interface opens up voice commands so that you don’t need to use the remote control. It only functions as an authority device in a very noise room but other than that you can control your television with just your voice and hands.
Both these technologies are amazing to demo, but honestly I’d still stick the remote control because I’m an old fart like that. Kids would love it though. I think this is one of those tipping points where kids just get things faster than the older generation.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a solid flatscreen television with extra features that can actually be engaging for the family with the right equipment (i.e. webcam + wireless keyboard controller). The firmware upgrade adds the browser functionality which is good, but nothing else.
The new models come with slots that allow you to upgrade “modules” within the television. Samsung is the only SMART TV manufacturer that has enabled consumers to buy upgrades to the TV which you can slide in and out from the back panel. This includes faster processors In other words, you will always have a new flat screen TV every year if you choose to purchase the upgrades.
One thing though — they completely removed the 40″ model which means these TV’s will come at a higher price point.
If you’re in the market for a SMART TV, now is the time to buy one because this new generation of flat screens have been future-proofed. There will always be new features on the way (including a gesture-based Angry Birds upgrade). If you look at the other offers, only Samsung seems to have an ecosystem that was thought through with Viki Premiere, All Share and the modular upgrades. So that’s that: there is no contest. Choose Samsung when you’re looking for a SMART TV.