Cramming televisions, refrigerators, Ultrabooks and cameras into its 45-minute Press Day presentation, Samsung executives, despite favoring suits over turtlenecks, took a page from the Steve Jobs "One More Thing" Playbook of theatrical press conference segues, using phrases such as "But we didn't stop there" to transition from one aspect of the consumer electronics experience to the next. By the end, it would hardly have been a surprise if the company had actually hauled out a sink that connects to a user's calendar to prioritize which dirty dishes need to be washed first.
Accounting for around half of the polished presentation, televisions emerged as the South Korean giant's biggest news -- not surprising, given that the company had been teasing some sort of home entertainment announcement over the last few weeks. Here's a breakdown of the new products Samsung brought to CES.
A Refined Smart Hub that Learns Your Preferences
Though picture quality will likely remain the foremost criteria when consumers look at new televisions, a smooth user interface has become increasingly important as the divide between computers and Smart TVs narrows. Executive VP of Samsung Electronics America Joe Stinziano accordingly took to the stage to explain a refined version his company's Smart Hub, the interface through which viewers navigate a Samsung set's various capabilities. Responsive to both voice and gesture controls, the revised system is divided into several sections: content that's on at that moment; streaming video available on demand; photos and videos streamed from connected devices such as smartphones; social media integration, including not only trending videos but also Skype; and apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
The interface is bolstered by a new S Recommend feature that suggests content by observing viewing habits, going as far as analyzing which programs a user prefers at given points during the day. Other capabilities include an E-Commerce function. If a viewer sees an item he or she likes on TV, such as the jacket an actor or actress is wearing in a sitcom, this capability allows him or her to purchase the item with the click of a remote.
A Modular Path for TV Upgrades
Samsung USA president Tim Baxter said Samsung's upcoming TVs will be the first to support the new high-compression HDVC codec, which is advertised as allowing higher video quality over lower bandwidths. Citing a CEA study that found over 60% of Smart TV users stream content to their televisions from the Internet, he said such technology will be important to the user experience and that the company's newest TVs rely on a quad core processor to power both the uptick in quality as well as the "almost human" interactions offered by the new Smart Hub. That doesn't mean owners of Samsung's 2012 models will be stuck with buyers' remorse, however. Stinziano showed an Evolution Kit that extends the new capabilities to these older sets. Installation appeared simple in the on-stage demonstration; the handheld kit clicked into the back of a television in only a few seconds.
A Variety of New TVs
Among the new TVs Samsung debuted, the F8000 is the model most likely to show up in consumers' living rooms. The new LED flagship model retains the elegant, thin design of last year's version and, reflecting a consumer preference toward larger screens, will be available in sizes up to 75 inches. Pricing details weren't revealed, and the largest of the F8000 offering is sure to put a dent in any buyer's wallet -- but the company also unveiled several other models aimed at especially well-heeled TV enthusiasts.
One was a new 55-inch OLED TV. In addition to the vibrant colors for which OLED screens are known, the model offers a MultiView mode that allows two people to watch different full HD programs at the same time on the same screen. Enabled by OLED's refresh rates, which are around 1000 times faster than those offered by regular LED screens, the process requires special glasses that include ear buds so that each viewer can enjoy independent audio.
The flashiest -- and likely most costly -- of the new models was Samsung's 4K Ultra HD set. The presentation included a gargantuan 85-inch version, which is in line with the sizes most other 4K TV makers have been showcasing, but Samsung is exhibiting an even bigger 110-inch model at its CES booth. That larger model checks in at over 9 feet across. "We would have brought that one today but we weren't sure we could get it through those doors," Stinziano deadpanned.
The Rest: Cutting-Edge Refrigerators, 3D Cameras, and Ultrabooks, a new Galaxy Tab, and BYOD
Aside from TVs, Samsung's T9000 refrigerator received the most attention. Pushing consumer culture ever closer to the Internet of Things, the model includes an LCD panel that parents can use as a baby monitor and that features built-in apps such as Evernote. Users can switch portions of the T9000's 32 cubic feet between refrigeration and freezer modes based on need.
Some of the other items Samsung demoed had already been unveiled, such as the Series 7 Ultrabooks and the NX camera with 3D capabilities. Presenters also said a new Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet with LTE connectivity would be available to Verizon customers later this month, and though mobile devices didn't receive a great deal of attention, executives made several references to BYOD ambitions, promising new features, including MDM functionality, as the company tries to further infiltrate the enterprise mobility landscape.
Nominate your company for the 2013 InformationWeek 500 -- our 25th annual ranking of the country's most innovative users of business technology. Deadline is April 12. Organizations with $250 million or more in revenue may pre-register now to receive more information.
Server Market SplitsvilleJust because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.