On March 20, Samsung held its New York line show at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street. The event featured Samsung’s new line of smart TVs and three celebrities — model Kate Upton, Eli Manning, and rapper Flo Rida — and it was hard to tell whether many of the media types were more interested in the TV sets or the celebs. Of the celebrities, who drew the most attention? Clearly, it was the comely Miss Upton, especially for the guys carrying pro-level cameras.
Despite the temptation, I kept my focus on the technology.
Although Samsung was emphasizing Smart TV, the biggest attention-grabber was the company’s new, very high-end, 85-inch UHD-TV. Apparently figuring that LG and Sony had underpriced their 84-inch UHD-TV offerings (at $20 thousand to $25 thousand), Samsung’s MSRP is $39,999. If you can get past the fact that this big TV costs as much as a small BMW, you will appreciate the beautiful image and the advanced technology.
Samsung National Trainer Jesse Rowe fielded overlapping questions from several press people, and did it knowledgeably and with good humor. The LCD panel for the set is made on one of Samsung’s Gen 8 panel-manufacturing lines. The finished TV “floats in its frame,” which is Samsung-speak for the user being able to move the screen vertically in its frame-like stand, as well as being able to tilt it.
As with all of the company’s premium smart TVs, this 9000 Series UHD-TV has all of the Smart TV bells and whistles, including voice control, gesture control, facial recognition (so the TV will present your preferences intstead of your significant other’s) and a touch panel on the remote control. When you first turn on the TV, you see the “Smart Hub” by default, which provides access to five different file folders of content, which Samsung calls “panels.” The five panels are Social (social media), Apps (such as Netflix, Pandora, TED, Fitness, etc.), On TV (live TV shows and movies), Movies & TV Shows (from streaming services), and Photos, Videos, & Music (your own media stored on your network). There are different ways of exploring each panel.
“S-Recommendation” learns your viewing habits over time and offers customized recommendations that span all the panels and present the choices independent of their source. With voice control, you can tell the set how to narrow down the options. ”Smart View” can push content to the TV from your tablet, smart phone, smart camera, etc.
All sets at the 7500 model level or above make use of the Evolution+ kit. Each set can be upgraded to the specifications of subsequent models for four years after manufacturing date by buying a $299 module that replaces the module on the back of the set. The module contains hardware as well as firmware updates. For instance, the module that updates 2012 sets to 2013 specifications contains the new quad-core processor. The kit also contains the latest touch remote control.
Let’s return to some of the specific features of the UHD-TV set. It has 2GB of memory for app storage and storing downloads, and, significantly, has a full-array backlight with local area dimming — which Samsung calls “Precision Black Dimming.” The UHD-TV set does three stages of video processing within 720 cells based on local color, contrast, and detail, and combines it with the local area dimming. (Smaller non-UHD sets use a smaller number of cells, with the cell size being roughly the same independent of screen size. With these other sets, the number of levels of video processing depends on where the set sits in the model line-up.
FHD premium sets have edge backlighting (or edge-lighting) and do local dimming of the LEDs in the edge-light. The F8000 level is the only FHD LCD-TV with all three levels of dimming. Note: Samsung was not stating the number of cells used in the video processing, but had no objection to my taking a photo and counting. Regardless, the video processing was demonstrated in detail on the UHD-TV set, and it does its job very well. Native 4K static images were beautiful, and 2K to 4K up-conversion was impressive. Pre-orders for the set are being taken now, and the set will be in 30 specially selected retail locations by the end May. A 110-inch version will be available late this year, Rowe said.
Samsung is still making plasma TVs, and the premium F8500 uses a “Deep Black Algorithm” to deliver impressive black levels. The set contains a quad-core processer, native support for HEVC-encoded content, and all of the Smart TV features. The set produces excellent images.
I’m a great fan of plasma television technology, but the handwriting is on the wall. Plasma TV market share is in the single digits and falling. It is just a matter of time before manufacturers will not be able to sell enough units to justify the cost of running their factories. But that time is not yet, at least as far as Samsung is concerned. A company rep told me, “Samsung does not see any end to plasma at this time.” Samsung, he said, sees two robust markets for plasma: 1) videophiles, and 2) people looking for the largest screen they can get for their dollar.
Samsung was also showing some high-end audio products. A wireless audio system and dock (for both iOS and Galaxy devices); a 2.1-channel, 310-watt soundbar; and a 5.1-channel, 1000-watt home-theater system (with access to Samsung’s smart TV system through the integrated Blu-ray player) were interesting primarily for their vacuum-tube pre-amps. The tubes were used as a prominent feature of the industrial design, as well as for their purported improvements to the audio quality. (The tube-vs.-transistor debate has been going on for decades and is not likely to stop anytime soon.)
Finally, there was the MX-FS9000, 2560-watt Giga Speaker system with dual 15-inch sub-woofers and lighting effects suitable for the Starship Enterprise entering warp drive — or maybe for DJs. (Promoting the speakers was Flo Rida’s part of the program.) The system has Bluetooth connectivity. The idea of 2560 watts from a teenager’s iPhone is truly frightening.
Posted by Ken Werner, April 1, 2013 9:37 PM
About Ken WernerKenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.