Samsung has launched its 2013 line-up of LED and plasma TVs with massive fanfare, pushing new features that make its TVs easier to use, and more responsive to the content being watched on them.
Note: Samsung has now launched its 2014 range of smart TVs. Read about them here: What you need to know about Samsung's 2014 TVs.
Samsung 2013 Smart TVs: Range
The hero of Samsung’s launch was its S9 Ultra HD TV — an 85-inch, LED-backlit, ‘4K’-resolution TV with a stand styled like a painter’s easel. Arriving in only a few of Samsung’s partner retail stores in June, the S9 will cost $40,000 in Australia.
The Samsung S9 joins the $16,000 LG 84LM9600 and $25,000 Sony X900 BRAVIA TVs, both of which have similar 84-inch panels. The Korean TV market leader says its unique features more than justify the S9’s higher price tag, and has said that at least a dozen buyers have already put down deposits to pre-order the TV locally.
More accessible than the $40,000 S9 is the rest of Samsung’s 2013 Smart TV line-up. As in previous years, the range is separated into several Series, differentiated by included features and screen technologies. There are 31 LED and four plasma TVs in the company’s 2013 range.
Top billing goes to the Series 8 (F8000) LED TVs, available in 75-, 65-, 60- and 55-inch sizes ($9,999, $5,999, $4,999, and $4,199 respectively). Below that, a Series 7 (F7100) has 60- and 55-inch variants ($3,999 and $3,299).
The Series 6 range is the mass-market line, with four variants within the Smart TV series (F6800, F6700, F6400, and F6300). The F6800 range comes in three sizes — 55-, 50- and 40-inches. The F6700 range will also have the same three 55-, 50- and 40-inch panels. F6400 has the largest stratification, ranging from a 75-inch screen to a 32-inch one, with 65-, 60-, 55- and 50-inch in between. F6300 has 55-, 50-, 40- and 32-inch screens — confused yet?
Prices have not been released for the entire Series 6 range, but the F6400 range will vary from $6,999 for the 75-inch to $2,349 for the 55-inch. The company’s cheapest Smart LED TVs are the Series 5 (F5500) — there are three 50-, 40- and 32-inch models.
The company also has two non-Smart LED TV series — the Series 5 (F5000), and Series 4 (F4000). The F5000 range has 50-, 40-, 32- and 22-inch sizes, and the F4000 has 32-, 28- and 19-inch models. 2013 is the year that Samsung has finally done away with the superseded cold-cathode backlights used in older LCD TVs, and has upgraded to LED lighting across the range.
Plasma TVs are not dead yet, although the company has drastically down-sized their production in recent years. There are two ranges of plasma TVs for Samsung in 2013 — the Series 8+, with 64- and 60-inch models ($4,299 and $3,999), and the Series 5+, with 64- and 51-inch variants.
The release of Samsung’s new Smart TVs will be staggered, with models being released between now and July — generally cheaper models will be released first, with larger sizes and more premium models hitting store shelves towards the middle of the year. The top-of-the-line, $9,999 75-inch Series 8 (F8000) will be available in July.
Samsung 2013 Smart TVs: Interaction
Just like last year, Samsung is heavily pushing the interactive side of its Smart TVs. The company’s killer feature this year is natural language — available on its higher-end Smart TVs like the S9, Series 8, and Series 6, the service has two aspects. The first is natural language recognition, with users being able to issue the TV commands in loosely-defined phrases, rather than set sentences with keywords as last year’s models required.
This speech-to-text feature lets users change volume, channels, navigate through menus, and ask the TV questions to which it will synthesise a response. Samsung says the TVs will be able to understand “almost anything” that is it asked.For all the Smart Interaction voice control, you’ll need to have a TV that’s compatible with the new Samsung Smart Touch Remote — it’s got a microphone inside.
Once a command has been issued, the TV will respond in kind — its text-to-speech function draws from the same library of natural language, with each TV storing thousands of pre-recorded sentences and delivering one or more, or a combination of several, as the situation demands. The system was developed locally in collaboration with Macquarie University, with half a million dollars of R&D funding from Samsung.
Samsung’s motion-sensing cameras on top of premium TVs also get an upgrade — they’ve changed from super-low-res VGA cameras to not-so-low-res 5-megapixel units. This is enough for them to successfully distinguish each of a user’s hands, making two-handed gestures like rotating and zooming possible, in the same way that multi-touch on a touchscreen works. Face detection is another big part of the camera’s role, logging users into their personalised home screens in the same way as Panasonic’s 2013 TVs.
Samsung 2013 Smart TVs: Content
TVs aren’t any good if they don’t have anything screening on them, and Samsung’s got that message loud and clear. There’s two big draw-cards for the 2013 range of Samsung TVs — the first is a revamped and revitalised Smart Hub interface that’s smart enough to know what you want to watch, and the second is a content deal that should be a big value-add for sports fans.
The new Smart Hub looks very similar to the grid-style layout of the apps on Apple’s iOS, or the app draw on Google’s Android smartphone operating system. It’s no-nonsense: there’s a long line of recommended apps up top, and a larger grid of all the apps you’ve already installed. Navigation seems faster and smoother than in previous years — likely an advantage of the new TVs’ superior processing power.
Most users generally use their TVs mostly for watching free-to-air digital TV, and Samsung is banking on this for its S-Recommendation feature. What S-Recommendation does is keep track of what you’ve watched, and of any content questions you might have asked, and pick out shows that it thinks you might be interested in. It learns your preferences each time you watch TV, so it’ll get more refined with time. It can also be configured for individual users, tying in with face recognition where it’s available. It’ll work with your free-to-air digital TV from when Samsung’s new TVs hit the shelves, and should support the in-built Foxtel app by the end of the year.
Samsung made the bold claim that its new TVs let Australian viewers access 90 per cent of the entire world’s televised sport. A lot of that comes from the comprehensive coverage of ESPN3 on the included Foxtel app, which requires a subscription, and most of the other content is through a service called LiveSport TV. It’ll cost you around $60 per month, but it’s got a whole mess of sports included from hockey to rugby.
Samsung 2013 Smart TVs: Evolution
Samsung made a big song and dance about its premium 2012 TVs being compatible with a plug-in box that would upgrade their hardware and software — the Smart Evolution Kit. The first Smart Evolution Kit is here, now, and it does everything it promises to.
The price is significantly higher than Samsung said it would be — between $249 and $299, instead of around $129. This is to do with the hardware that’s inside the Kit, like a quad-core processor, as well as the development costs that have gone into making the new Smart Hub interface and apps compatible with older televisions.
Samsung 2013 Smart TVs: Availability
Samsung’s range of 2013 TVs will become available from April to July, depending on the model. Here’s a list of the rough availability of the flagship models in each range:
• Samsung Series 8 Smart LED TV 75” (F8000) – RRP $9,999, available in July
• Samsung Series 8 Smart LED TV 65” (UAF8000) – RRP $5,999 available in June
• Samsung Series 8 Smart LED TV 60” (UAF8000) – RRP $4,999 available in June
• Samsung Series 8 Smart LED TV 55” (UAF8000) – RRP $4,199 available in April
• Samsung Series 7 Smart LED TV 60” (UA607100) – RRP $3,999 available in June
• Samsung Series 7 Smart LED TV 55” (UA55F7100) – RRP $3,299 available in May
• Samsung Series 7 LED TV 46” (UA467100) – RRP $2,399 available in May
• Samsung Series 6 LED TV 75” (UA75F6400) – RRP $6,999 available in June
• Samsung Series 6 LED TV 65” (UA65F6400) – RRP $3,999 available in June
• Samsung Series 6 LED 60” (UA60F6400) – RRP $2,999 available in May
• Samsung Series 6 LED 55” (UA55F6400) – RRP $2,349 available in April
• Samsung Series 8 Plasma 64” (PS64F8500) – RRP $4,299 available in April
• Samsung Series 8 Plasma 60” (PS60F8500) – RRP $3,399 available in April
Read more: Buying guide: LG’s 2014 TV range