CES 2013: Samsung simplifies its smart TV experience

By Leo Kelion
Technology reporter, Las Vegas

Image caption,
Samsung has also unveiled ultra-high definition TV at the Consumer Electronics Show

Samsung Electronics has taken steps to simplify the interface of its internet connected televisions in an attempt to make them more user-friendly.

The South Korean firm is the world's best-selling maker of smart TVs, which allow people to surf the web and access other services via their main screen.

But along with other smart TV makers, it has faced criticism that many people rarely use the added functionality.

That has limited its ability to make money from the add-on services.

The company also announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that it would put a super-sized 110in (279cm) 4k ultra-high resolution LCD TV on display when the trade show started on Tuesday.

Ultra-high definition offers four times as many pixels as today's 1080p HD standard, allowing screens to expand in size without sacrificing picture quality.

Simultaneous viewing

Executives also said they would show off a 55in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display that could show two different shows full-screen at the same time.

Users must wear special glasses with built-in headphones to view one programme and block the other.

The innovation takes advantage of technology previously used to create a sense of 3D.

However, it is not the first to show off the concept.

Sony demonstrated similar technology in 2011, and despite Samsung's efforts some company watchers had hoped for more from the event.

"There were good announcements about smart TVs, 4k TVs and other connected devices," said Ichiro Ishiguro, an analyst at Hermes who has been coming to CES for 10 years.

"It sounds like they are doing what they have to do and are progressing as expected, but on the other hand there was nothing much surprising or exciting about the announcement today."

Recommended shows

Samsung said its smart TV interface had been redesigned to be "more visually appealing".

Image caption,
Samsung has unveiled a range of products as it looks to further boost its market share

Users now swipe through five panels which take them between shows being broadcast at that time; on-demand programmes and movies; photos and other content sourced from connectable devices; social networks and Skype; and finally smart TV apps.

The system also uses a facility called S Recommendation to suggest content based on the owner's past viewing habits which can take account of the way their choices change at different times of the day.

A new T-commerce service will also allow users to identify the clothes stars are wearing and order their own copy of the outfit on selected programmes.

To offer the new functionality Samsung has upgraded the equipment's computer processor.

Owners of the previous generation TVs will be offered an upgrade hardware pack which they can slot into the back of their set, making good on a promise made last year.

'Marriage saver'

Brandon Hill, editor of the Dailytech blog, said that while much of the technology was impressive it would probably remain too expensive for "normal people" for years to come.

However, he thought the ability for two people to watch different shows at once might prove popular once it eventually became available to displays targeted at the mass market.

"It might save a few marriages even though it seems a bit gimmicky," he said.

"It will definitely filter down to the consumer market but it will just be a few years before we see it there. I guess it's a nice thing to show at CES but for 'real people' it doesn't mean much now."

Samsung's event also introduced new smart devices for the kitchen.

They included a fridge-freezer featuring a compartment that can be switched between the the two states, and an oven that can cook two meals at different temperatures.

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