"Hi TV, power on," I say, as if talking to myself. As if wishing aloud that I had telekinesis. I'm alone in TechnoBuffalo's gaming room, staring blankly at my reflection on the TV set. I wait as it warms up and flickers on.
Even after a few days of fiddling around with Samsung's flagship 46-inch Smart TV, I feel awkward, consciously aware of this strange new interaction—this isn't your typical home entertainment routine. This sensation is something new. Being in command like this, barking orders, is an interesting proposition for a new generation of living room technology. A passive, familiar experience is being changed into an active one.
I can tell my TV what to do, and it obliges. No remote necessary. It makes me want to chuck my 32-inch Vizio from 2005 in the garbage. This is the future.
I navigate to the TV's Smart HUB where all my apps and content live. If you own a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360, it's essentially like the dashboard. It gives you a central place to access every setting, app and function. Netflix is there, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant—the necessities. Even Angry Birds.
Design & Picture
But, design and quality are expected characteristics of a Samsung TV. I'm not surprised the LED, full HD 1080p resolution is hypnotizing, or that it sports an equally premium design. As a Smart TV, this isn't about either of those things. Samsung wants its embedded capabilities to be front and center.
The TV itself is a gorgeous, premium site to behold, an exhibit of pristine engineering. It's practically bezel-less, edge-to-edge; the screen melts into your wall. And it's unfathomably thin, only 1.2-inches at its thickest, which is negligible when propped up in your living room. Picture frames containing family portraits are thicker.
If Samsung hasn't officially been recognized for their Smart TV design, it should be. Looking at anything else with any significant amount of bezel, or thickness, is like staring into the gullet of a port-a-potty. Samsung's TV shines like something that would appear in a futuristic Science Fiction movie.
And the picture looks fantastic. Colors are vibrant, lines are crisp and blacks are deep, reproduced as if one were there, crawling through the Mines of Moria. This is an premier frontier of technology—the model we received retails for $2,119.99—and it's been appropriately fitted to reflect that. At night, in a dimly lit room, watching The Dark Knight Rises, one cannot complain.
The TV itself is a gorgeous, a premium site to behold, an exhibit of pristine engineering.
Like any new piece of technology I use, I immediately checked to see how apps performed. Samsung can have the most advanced Evolution Kit onboard, but if it doesn't actually perform well, then even the most recent processor is moot. Fortunately, everything booted up and ran without incident. Only the annoyance of forced updates marred the experience. Streaming content through Netflix was great, and games like Angry Birds ran smoothly (though motion controls were another issue, which I'll address).
Using the TV's catalog of Smart features was the most interesting aspect of my experience. I found that, for the most part, the TV understood my commands and acted appropriately. Turning the TV on is as simple as can be, likewise for bringing up options when watching content. But most of the steps you perform can be done just as quickly (probably quicker) with a physical remote. For example, simply turning off the set requires one to say "Hi TV. Power Off. Ok." That's, what, about four to five seconds of speaking? Otherwise all you need to do is press your remote's power button.
Gestures, on the other hand, were annoying and frustratingly poor. In fact, trying to trigger actions by waving my hand in front of the TV's camera rarely did anything. I often found myself waving my hand, and then frantically my arm, without any response from the TV. Imagine how that would look to peering neighbors. "There's Brandon waving at his TV again."
Face recognition seemed to work only when it felt like it, even in a room with adequate lighting. It was as if I was interrupting the TV's camera from a slumber.
Samsung includes a Smart Touch Remote with the TV as well, designed as a minimal companion that doesn't inundate users with buttons. Instead, it comes with a touch pad that allows users to scroll and tap to highlight and navigate through content. But that's if and when it decides to work, which is not often. Let's just say that if you expect the small pad to be as responsive as a laptop touch pad, you'll be hugely disappointed. You can press and scroll, but it doesn't always respond. When it does respond, there's a large delay.
Luckily, there's a standard remote that's included, as well as smartphone apps for iPhone and Android handsets. There is certainly no shortage of options, which is nice in a sense. But, overall, there doesn't seem to be quite enough refinement and focus on the experience Samsung is trying to push consumers toward. Why use a Smart Touch Remote or any of the Smart Interactions when none are very good?
It takes time to get used to a TV that allows users to control the experience with their voice or limbs. I felt awkward barking commands aloud, but mostly because this was the first time I've ever instructed my TV to do anything at all (unless I'm watching sports). Being that it's connected to the Internet, is nice and convenient; however, if you own a home console, its capabilities aren't nearly as elegant and easy to use.
For watching movies, playing video games and using Internet-connected apps, the TV performed admirably. Its Smart capabilities—gestures and voice recognition—need work and more focus. The HUB is great, and it gives households a centralized location that improves the overall experience. That is, in the end, I think what will be most appealing to consumers, especially for those who frequently use streaming services.
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