Samsung Smart TV Throws Down a Challenge

"We've heard the rumors, too," said Dan Schinasi, senior manager for HDTV product planning at Samsung, when I asked what he knew about Apple's plans to introduce a multimedia-meshing  Apple TV with unique control features.

 "I think we're making the point today that we're already there," said the Samsung man. “We're ahead of the curve."

Meet The Future: He was referencing the just launching 5th generation of Samsung Smart TVs, most especially the top-of-the-line ES and PNE 8000 series of LED/LCD and plasma televisions which offer every kind of "smart" user interface known to man (living or dead)  on top of the expected excellent picture quality (in 2D & 3D) and sleek cosmetics.

 Samsung’s new internet connected TV products were demonstrated to a press contingent in New York yesterday, 24 hours before Apple was about to uncover its newest toys.

Show ‘n Tell: For starters, you can “wake” the new Samsung Smart TVs to action with face recognition, voice command and gesture - waving and clenching a hand to select and  "close the deal" on an input, web site  or app from Samsung's growing number of "signature services" like “Family Story” (creating a private social network for show ‘n tell.)

Even motion/voice controlled channel selection from a satellite or cable box is neatly integrated on these Smart TVs with special software and a wireless IR signal blaster.

Top 2012 sets also come with a slim, touch pad remote control with built-in noise-cancelling microphone for more intimate voice steering of operations.  (My demonstrator couldn't get the voice recognition to cooperate, but the room was super-noisy.)

You may also run these Smart TVs from a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet or with a $99 wireless QWERTY keyboard (slim, light, full size.)

But Wait, There’s More: The sets also feature AllShare Play interactivity - for wirelessly moving content from one Samsung gizmo to another, with 5GB of free storage in the cloud.  Can’t wait to see images from a Samsung digital camera popping up on the display screen of a Samsung refrigerator.

 And there's a product upgrade path (called "Smart Evolution") for the 8000 series TV sets achieved through a special bay on the back.  Just plugging-in a new module could instantly upgrade the microprocessor from dual to quad-core, tweak picture performance and install a bigger/faster feature set. "This is real, “ said the product planner.  "The upgrades start in 2013." (How about putting a flash-based content recorder back there, to  save, say, YouTube concerts?)

Who’s On First:  Samsung and Apple are often at each other's throats over design patents. When, that is, Samsung isn't happily selling component parts to its archrival.

So I couldn’t help but sense yesterday that the company really was throwing down the gauntlet at the gang from Cupertino. Essentially saying “Go ahead Apple, make my day. Take us to court. Just try and claim 'prior use' on these features. Hell, we’ve got a room full of reporters who’ll testify they saw it here, first’.”

Post-Script:  Be forewarned that the fullest featured  Samsung sets will be costly. The LED edge-lit ES8000 LCD series arriving this month starts with a 46-inch set at $2,999, a 55-inch at  $3,749, a 60-inch at $4,399 and later-coming 65-inch at $5,099.  Similarly spiffy plasmas (my preferance) are less - $2,199 for a 51-inch PN51E8000, $3,079 for the 60-inch PN60E8000. With Samsung’s new  “Unilateral Pricing Policy” there won’t be much discounting.

Don’t care about face/hand/voice gesturing and upgradeability? Samsung’s new “value” EH  sets are much more affordable (and may be discountable.) A well featured, back-lit LED 50-inch EH6000 carries a $1,249 list, the 46-inch  EH5000 will start at  $979.  Oh, and Samsung’s gotten the price for super-light 3D glasses down to $20. Way cool.