Samsung officially unveiled its new Smart TV experience at CES Monday, along with a way for users of existing Samsung TVs to upgrade: Samsung’s Evolution Kit will allow anyone who bought higher-end 2012 TVs from the company to basically swap the smarts — CPU, memory etc. — by attaching a black box on the back of their TV.
Sounds like a really good idea, save for one detail: Samsung hasn’t officially released any pricing for the Evolution Kit, but I was told by representatives at a press preview event Sunday night that the company is aiming for “sub $500” pricing, which means that the suggested retail price is likely something like $499.99. And here’s the kicker: Samsung wants you to buy one of these every year.
Samsung’s new Smart TV UI looks neat
Now, don’t get me wrong. The new Samsung Smart TV experience is a huge improvement over the cluttered UI that has been shipping with existing models. Not only did the company clean up the UI, introducing five separate screens with fluid transitions as opposed to trying to cram everything onto a single home screen, but there’s also a lot to like about some of the built-in discovery elements.
For example, your TV is now keeping track of what you like to watch, and will recommend new content based on those viewing habits. Samsung also added smarts to its voice control, including natural language processing, so you won’t have to learn robotic voice commands to interact with your television anymore. Or so goes the theory anyway: the company didn’t actually demo this part Sunday night because of concerns over the noise levels at the preview event.
Check out a few photos of the new UI, then continue reading below:
Do you really need a quad-core processor for this?
All of this, plus a new remote control with touch D-Pad, will be included with Samsung’s new high-end TV sets. Consumers who bought a higher-end 2012 TV will be able to buy the Evolution Kit, which will also come with the new remote control. So what makes this black box so darn expensive?
The Evolution kit contains a 1.2 Ghz quad-core Samsung processor as well as 4GB of RAM. A Samsung spokesperson told me that the processor in particular drives the price, and the speed shows: transitions from screen to screen are extremely fluid. But is that kind of eye candy worth the extra money?
Most of these features described above should work just fine without a hugely expensive CPU. A number of LG’s new 2013 TVs, which the company showed off at CES Monday morning, also offer natural language processing — but are powered by dual-core processors. And Google TV devices have been doing pretty solid voice recognition with a cheap ARM processor, simply by outsourcing the task to the cloud.
New year, new Evolution kit
But for me, the biggest deal-breaker is that Samsung is apparently already working on a next-generation Evolution kit that will be ready to replace this year’s kit in 2014. That way, you’ll always have the latest Smart TV experience — but you’ll also always have to pay through the nose for it.
Of course, paying $500 for a smart TV upgrader may not seem as much when you’ve paid a few thousand dollars for your TV; but I suspect that most people spent that much money on their TV set because they really value picture quality, and not because of its smarts.
Most consumers still only use one or two apps, if at all, and they don’t really need a very complex UI to do so. And there are plenty of second-screen apps recommending things to watch. Some of these apps, like Dish’s new second-screen remote, can even change channels and know what you’re currently watching. Chances are, consumers will go for a combination of iPad and Apple (s AAPL) TV, Roku or even Google (s GOOG) TV instead of spending heavily on a converter that promises to be outdated in a mere 12 months.