Google and Apple are talking, hinting and teasing about their take on upcoming advances in television. Samsung, on the other hand, has all-too-quietly actually been adding new features to its stellar line up of LED backlit HDTVs with hardly any technical notoriety. Perhaps if competition in this space cared about more than just pixel depth, refresh rates, upscaling and dare I say 3D, we’d be able to see more details behind what’s going on in the race to completely remove the set-top box from the home entertainment center.
To wit, there are four aspects of what Samsung has to offer that any company interested in entering the consumer television market should take notice of: Internet@TV Yahoo! Widgets, AllShare DLNA Media Sharing, Skype Video Calling, and iDevice Remote integration.
Support for Third Party Apps
You may recall Konfabulator, originally released in 2003 as a Mac OS X-only application before Apple came out with a very similar feature called Dashboard in its Tiger release in 2005. Yahoo bought Konfabulator in 2005, and it’s now branded as Yahoo! Widgets.
Samsung has adapted its line of HDTVs to take advantage of this technology right out of the box via a feature it calls Internet@TV. It needs no additional computer — no set-top box to wire up to the HDTV. Yahoo! TV Widgets come with the HDTV ready to run. All you need to do is connect the HDTV to the Internet. From Amazon Video on Demand to the latest movie rentals from Blockbuster, movie purchases for your in-the-cloud media library can be accessed directly from your HDTV without any intermediary set-top box or in-home device. You can even connect to your Pandora music stations.
There are Facebook, Twitter, Weather, News and Stock widgets that can all be accessed directly from the HDTV. While not quite the App Store just yet, the list of apps that Samsung has created is impressive to say the least.
Streaming of Personal Media
Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) has the support of at least 200 companies and has been integrated into thousands of consumer devices. Neither Apple nor Google appear to be among the companies that support this specification. Prior to 2010, only devices — not software — were certified by the group. This would explain why certain software solutions work better than others with certain devices. What’s become quite popular with gaming consoles is to stream media from a PC or Mac directly to an XBOX 360 or PS3, as these two game consoles support UPnP/DLNA specification.
Samsung also supports the specification which negates the need to have a set-top box like an Xbox or PS3 to watch content off of your media server. You can directly connect a Samsung HDTV to your home network and access any DLNA server on the local network. The included server software from Samsung is PC only, but there are Mac alternatives like Twonky Media and NullRiver MediaLink that can turn any Mac into a DLNA server.
VoIP Video Calling
In some of the newer HDTV models that Samsung has been building, there is an optional component available that will enable Skype calling directly from your HDTV. For about the same price as an old iSight Camera, this Freetalk TV Camera can be attached to any Samsung LED HDTV (model C7000 to C8000) via USB (yes, Samsung HDTVs have USB ports).
A little more Jetson than Dick Tracy, both Samsung and Skype have been working together to make this FaceTime like feature a Family Room reality.
iDevice support is the extra mile. Samsung has created an iPhone App that can be used as a remote control for its HDTVs much like Apple’s Remote. The app controls basic features like volume and channel with touch gestures and accelerometer motions. The remote app can also serve as a game controller, supporting some of Samsung’s more advanced apps. In addition, companies like Bianor are creating iPhone Apps like iMediaShare, which allows iOS devices to instantly share photos via DLNA to any Samsung HDTV.
It all makes sense if you look at the diminishing size and awesome capabilities of a modern smart phone compared to the ever-increasing size of HDTVs. Including something like an iOS or Android device into a 46″ or larger HDTV seems almost trivial. The era of set-top boxes is about to come to an abrupt end. Partnering with Yahoo, DLNA and Skype has made today’s Samsung HDTVs a well-connected, powerful and complete out of the box iTV solution that both Apple and Google will have to catch up to.