Smart Hub searches across multiple content providers

The lines between Microsoft’s Xbox 360 videogame console and smart TVs continue to blur, with Samsung unveiling a new line of TVs that feature voice and gesture controls to search for programming across multiple content providers.

The core of the Korean electronics giant’s new line of slick LED, OLED and Ultra High-Definition TVs is an updated Smart Hub, which analyses a users’s past viewing habits and suggests programs when spoken to through a remote.

Content appears when asked, “Is there anything good on?” or “Is there Premiere League on today?” Recommendations consider time of day, so kids get recommendations early and parents get different suggestions later in the evening.

In addition to promoting social networking on screen and displaying photos stored on mobile devices, the software searches across a cable or satcaster’s program offerings, as well as apps from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon, for example, and shows a film or TV show’s availability. The Xbox also does so through Microsoft’s Bing search function.

Samsung says it doesn’t need to worry about ties to content partners since it has none, whereas Microsoft competes with the likes of Amazon when it comes to digital content sales, limiting some searches.

Either way, the new software should have Hollywood salivating, with the on screen menus packaging studio entertainment in a pleasing and easy-to-navigate interface, making VOD and SVOD viewing at home more attractive.

Confident about the new software update, and not wanting to have existing customers feel left out, Samsung is offering the new Smart Hub features to consumers who already bought Samsung TVs through an “Evolution Kit” that plugs into the back of the sets. Connector is about the size of two decks of playing cards. Pricing was not announced but is said to range between $200 and $500, depending on the age of the TV.

Among new apps, Samsung expects multicultural content to be one of the fastest growing app areas in 2013, according to Joe Stinziano, executive VP, Samsung Electronics America, who also plugged “T-commerce,” the ability to shop for products and fashions seen on TV shows at the click of a button.

“It’s not about new features, it’s about changing the whole viewing experience,” said Kim Hyun-Suk, executive VP and head of the visual display business at Samsung Electronics during a pre-brief with press of the company’s new screens on Sunday night at THEhotel’s Mix nightclub.

And it’s the screens that should have the theatrical exhibition biz worried.

Samsung is among several companies that will start rolling out new TVs that measure between 60- and 110-inches this year.

Among them is an 85-inch UHD TV with built-in upscaling to convert existing 1080p content to 4K. Visuals were crisp and almost 3D like, which if consumers are willing to pony up the high price of the units, are sure to put pressure on theater owners to come up with ways to make leaving the house to watch a movie more attractive.

Another Samsung TV that was shown at last year’s CES, which uses shutter glasses to permit two viewers to watch different HD programs on the same TV at the same time, is finally set to come to market in 2013.

Organic LED has been slow to come to market due to manufacturing problems, but advancements OLED screens, which respond 1,000 times faster than conventional LED, has helped eliminate further delays.

Samsung’s new flagship HD TVs, the F8000 series, will come in sizes up to 75″ inches and feature a bezel only 1/4″ thick. The line will support the upcoming High Efficiency Video Compression codec, which permits much higher resolution images to be sent without eating more bandwidth.

Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics America, said the company is focused on four trends: the explosion of content and consumer demand for it; the redefinition of mobile computing; the need for more intuitive devices; and the Bring-Your-Own-Device trend at work.

In the BYOD space, Samsung is offering SAFE, a suite of software tools including VPN, contact and calendar management, security and other tools aimed at the enterprise. Move puts Samsung in competition with Google Apps and other cloud-based enterprise software tools. Samsung’s research says 85% of companies support BYOD.

Samsung also announced a touchscreen monitor aimed at the enterprise; several multi-media notebook computers, including one with a touchscreen; and the NX 300 smart camera with 3D capture through a single lens. Company’s 4G LTE Galaxy Note is also coming to Verizon later this month.

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