Updated March 7 with more information and new videos.
Just two months ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung--along with all of its competitors--talked up its new line of of 2012 TVs. As is always the case at CES, the new product info was long on hype and short on details. That changed today, when Samsung began filling it a lot of the blanks.
No, the company didn't say a word about its "Super OLED" TV, and we don't expect to hear anything more on that until at least midsummer.
Samsung did release official pricing on its other TVs, however, updating the leaked pricing information we had earlier and confirming that, yes, high-end Samsung TVs will be pretty dang expensive (see the chart below). The company does offer many, many different step-down models, however, in a seemingly endless proliferation of model numbers and screen sizes, so chances are there's a combination that will appeal to you. At least, that's what Samsung hopes.
So what's new besides pricing?
The devil, or the deliciousness, depending on your perspective, is in the details. Here's what we've learned beyond pricing so far, most of it based on hands-on demos. For the full details on these new TVs, I again direct you to the chart at the end of this article, the attached blog posts, and finally the comments, where I'll try to answer any remaining questions I can.
The notes below are divided into two lists. The second list applies to features available on those TVs and others in the company lineup.
'Smart Interaction' TVs
Smart Interaction is the name that Samsung gives to the voice and gesture control feature on its its flagship: the UNES8000 and UNES7500 LED/LCDs as well as the PNE8000 plasma.
Screaming at your TV works now with the Samsung ES8000 LED TV
Key nuggets we've learned on the Smart Interaction sets:
- All have built-in cameras and microphones that can be employed in a number of ways, including voice, gesture and facial recognition, Skype video calls, and even what the company calls Samsung Mirror, which just puts the contents of the camera on the screen.
- The mysterious Smart Evolution feature is actually a hot-swappable CPU and memory module, which the company says will allow buyers of Smart Evolution-equipped TVs to swap in new, higher-performance hardware (at undisclosed additional cost) to enable new features. Samsung said it will allow such upgrades through 2016. Update March 7th: a Samsung rep clarifies: "While it could include processors or memory, I just wanted to reiterate that it's still too early to say for sure what's included as Samsung could also choose to include non-hardware components."
- Voice control seemed pretty balky in the demos we saw, requiring lots of repetition and enabling only basic commands. For example, a number of apps can be launched via voice (see the slideshow for details), but none currently allow any control beyond that.
- Gesture recognition seemed even more difficult to use than voice command. I don't expect either to offer the same level of refinement as Microsoft's Kinect update, for example.
- The external IR blaster likely won't have the same range of control as, say, a Harmony remote, but we still hold out hope that it can perform the basic commands for a cable box/DVR. We weren't told either way.
- The touch-pad remote worked pretty well, especially with the Web browser.
Talk to the TV remote
Notes on Samsung TVs in general
- Samsung's Micro Dimming is available on the ES6600 LEDs and up. Unlike last year's version on the UND8000, none of the 2012 models actually dim the LEDs. Instead, video processing is used to approximate dimming somehow. The step-up ES7500 has Micro Dimming Pro that "adds color and detail enhancements to the LED ES7500 for superior color and sharp detail" according to Samsung. It says "Micro Dimming Ultimate, available on the LED ES8000, analyzes the picture in hundreds of pieces to optimize the LED backlight and video signal for each piece in real time" for an improved picture.
- Every 3D Samsung TV comes with two pairs of active glasses, and higher-end models will get four. See the slideshow for details.
- The ES7000 and up LCDs, as well as the E8000 plasma, will get dual-core processors, which means faster response times for things like the browser and apps.
- The video search function on Samsung's Smart TV now appears to include Netflix, so it's closer to true universal video search than we've seen from any other TV maker. Hulu Plus is still missing, however.
- The Web browser, now based on the Webkit engine, was faster and more capable than before in our demo on an ES8000, although still not nearly as snappy as that of a laptop or tablet. The dual-core TVs are said to really help in this department. Samsung claims its browser is the only one to support the latest version of Flash. It's still subject to Web site blocking like Google TV, however.
- Links from apps like Twitter and Facebook can now be clicked on directly to launch in the browser.
- New exclusive Signature Series meta-apps Family Story, Fitness and Kids provide photo/calendar sharing, exercise-related content and "infotainment and games in a kid-friendly interface" respectively.
- The optional wireless keyboard ($99) is an improvement to use compared to the company's flipper remote from last year. It connects to the TV via Bluetooth and IR, can work with numerous Samsung Smart TV models as well as Samsung tablets and smartphones.
- We got more details and some hands-on time with AllShare Play, an improvement on the company's attempt to improve interactivity between its TVs and smartphones/tablets. In 2012 all Samsung Smart TVs will get access to 5GB of cloud storage for media.
- Per the press release: "All Samsung Plasma TVs will have Samsung's proprietary Real Black Filter, previously only available in premium models, to deliver improved black levels and color contrast. In the higher-end E6500, E7000 and E8000 models, Samsung will incorporate the new Real Black Pro to deliver even better black levels. The technology has an unprecedented ability to absorb external light reflections through an increased wedge depth, which leads to 'blacker' blacks, more-realistic pictures and higher color contrast."
- There's no picture quality difference between the E8000 and E7000 plasmas we were told of, although we might see some difference when we actually review them. There may not even be one between the E6500, E7000 and E8000 models; Samsung couldn't confirm that by press time.
- The step-down EH models are LEDs with a full-array design, as opposed to edge-lit. They have similar depth to a CCFL (standard) LCD and achieve cost reductions by using fewer LEDs, according to Samsung.
I have no idea when we'll be getting the first review samples, but as usual I hope it's sooner rather than later. Last year I had to buy Samsung plasmas because the company was reluctant to send samples; if that's the case again this year, I'll pull the trigger as early as I can.
If you have any other questions or comments about Samsung's 2012 line, leave them below.