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Up to $500 to upgrade your TV? Samsung, are you kidding me?

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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.

17 Responses to “Up to $500 to upgrade your TV? Samsung, are you kidding me?”

  1. Mr Samsung

    Firstly the box is being suggested at the cost of 300 dollars according to the recent reports, so this puts a bit of a different slant on the argument. This cost is affordable as oppose to buying a new TV. Yes I agree the old one becoming obsolete is a bit of a joke but that’s life. As far as Apple supporting old devices, what like the ipad one which is totally abandoned??

  2. Yevgeniy Morozov

    Disagree! In few years smart features will become strong market driver. Why wouldn’t you hesitate to spend 500 bucks on new Iphone? This upgradable kit is the same sort of things, especially if it is being reused by few family members.

  3. Rob Stevens

    This is, of course, assuming you’ll buy one every year. You probably won’t. But if you can get an upgraded experience on your old screen every three years or so, it’s not so bad.

    That said, I would never use this stuff. Can I just get a high-quality “dumb” screen, please? There’s a reason why my first HDTV didn’t even have a tuner in it. There will always be something better, and I don’t want to be locked into a proprietary solution.

  4. I was expecting the evolution kit to add atleast two additional HDMI inputs, after seeing how they cut the number down to only three on the 2012 model lineup.

    • Rob Stevens

      Of course they won’t. They don’t want you to have more external options. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take more HDMI ports away when they realize that the more ports they offer, the less likely you are to spring for their box.

  5. Ram Kanda

    I think this is actually the smart move (no pun intended) and it’s what I was hoping Apple would do (and hope they still do). You don’t have to upgrade each year. That’s the thing. And when your TV is feeling too old and sluggish to run all the new apps, you can buy an upgrade box. The monitor is still fine for a long time. Look how long HI-DEF TVs have been around. If you bought a great 1080P screen 10 years ago and could have just upgraded the internals a couple times, you would have always felt as though you had a brand new television. This is the promise of a desktop PC but for your television, with modular components that you don’t have to chuck out when one part feels old or fails.

  6. modsuperstar

    Sounds like they basically want you to buy their equivalent of an “Apple TV” yearly instead of actually having a sensible software update plan. Say what you will about Apple, they don’t typically leave their devices behind high and dry. Usually you can get at least 3 years of current software from them.

  7. modsuperstar

    So basically they want to sell you their equivalent to the Apple TV every year instead of rolling out software updates. Sounds very much like their early Android approach with stuff like the Galaxy Tab. Want software updates? Upgrade to the newest device, sorry that device you bought less than a year ago is now obsolete.

  8. Srini Vemula

    I think attaching a HTPC to a barebones TV(With out smarts) can make it a whole lot smarter and just open up a slew of options of Programming, Gaming, Storage etc… I think this has been one of the most under rated upgrades you can have your TV. Computer manufacturers have a segment here (there are product offerings, but the marketing and messaging around them is quite less/flawed.), which they are loosing out.

    • I agree with you totally. I am so disappointed that I hopped on the “Samsung” loyalty bandwagon. I have everything from camera to pad to cell phone. I failed by purchasing the Smart TV. I thought Samsung was the industry leader for the technology. I never dreamed they would take the revenue stream from the initial technology and then abandon their customers, by not offering a grandfathered upgrade or by back in regards to the new improvements they immediately rolled out on such a high end purchase. The SmartTV cost is more than a computer or cellphone and the company should have treated its customers better. They are turning out to be just another Apple….it is so disappointing.

  9. realjjj

    The quad core driving the price up statement is the funniest thing this year,yet.
    A quad core A9 based SoC would cost them under 20$ if they would buy it but they don’t, they just make it..
    The price is also said to be 200-400$ not 500$ and that’s still way too much.
    Sadly , this is how the industry works ,they see any new feature as an opportunity to gauge prices instead of a chance to offer better value.
    Doesn’t matter much anyway , this TV circus is ridiculous ,nobody knows what to do so they just try random nothings and drown it all in marketing BS.

  10. Samsung is indeed kidding you. I have it on good authority that at the end of their press conference they will say “we were only joking Janko!!!”

    I like someone complaining about something that people don’t need to have. Brilliant!

    Why is it media companies hire morons?

  11. Ryley Ameden

    Samsung is the company that people are not paying enough attention too. The fact that they are planning to provide a smart TV that out ways anything that 75% of current TV owners have in their house is outstanding. While the price tag will surely be 499.99 and that is pricey to have to spend each and every year (as they want) I am user will quickly see that the benefit outweighs the cost.