If you thought we went to CES back in January to get the goods on all the new 2012 hot products, I guess you’d be wrong because new gear season has just started. Yesterday Samsung unveiled the details on their complete line of 2012 TVs which includes 43 LCD models and 16 plasma models.
The company said that its goal this year was to “redefine what a TV can be,” according to Joe Stinziano, Samsung senior VP of home entertainment (US). To fulfill that, the new products include features such as a dual-core CPU to enable faster task-switching and app launching; integrated digital cameras for video chat and smart TV features; voice and gesture control; a new touch-pad remote; and a new integrated web browser.
I was invited to check out some of the new models last week (and sworn to secrecy until this week). In particular I spent time with the top-of-the-line ES8000 LED TV. This model includes both gesture and voice control features, plus a newly designed Smart Hub interface (for internet-connected content), a new remote option and some picture improvements.
Smart Aleck TVs
On the smart TV front, Samsung is paying extra attention to social connections, and that means more than just Facebook and Twitter (those are included of course). Samsung says social services are their third most popular features on their smart TVs, and the new interface includes better integration of social networking.
A new Family Story app is sort of a Facebook for the TV owner’s family—it’s a cloud-based networking app for up to 20 members of a family and is available through Samsung smart TVs, Blu-ray players, HTiBs and tablets. Some of the features of Family Story include photo sharing, memos, calendars and reminders. Visually it’s more attractive than Facebook and looks like it was made from the ground up for displaying on a large screen.
A Fitness app works with the TV’s embedded camera and an optional Wi-Fi scale to lead users through exercise routines. (Note to Samsung—it would be great it app locked the users out of certain channels until they’ve met their goal weight). Using the camera, you can add your picture to some of the onscreen videos to workout alongside the trainer. Yes, I think this is weird too.
The most innovative aspects of the new TVs are the smart control features. Face Recognition allows you to easily log into your use profile—for things like social networks or premium streaming content.
While some models will now come with a cool new touchpad remote (and an optional full keyboard) the real control innovations are invoice and gesture. Gesture control involves waving and pointing to do basic things like adjust volume or more advanced things like navigate web pages. The voice control features allows you to change channels, select inputs or adjust the volume. If you use a receiver to control your volume or a cable box to change the channels, an included IR flasher will send the voice signal (converted to infrared) to the necessary box to perform the action. Both voice and gesture, it should be pointed out, are not replacements for a handheld remote, but they’re nice additions and might come in handy when your remote is out of reach or stuffed under a cushion. Voice didn’t always work well on the model I tried, but that was not a full production unit and didn’t have the system’s final firmware—plus I think I talk too fast for it. Unfortunately you can’t customize it to respond to things like, “Hey TV, shut up.”
Smart features are fun, but picture quality is the first thing people look for in a new TV. Samsung’s 2012 LED models include micro dimming contrast enhancement on more models this year (available on a few models last year). An updated version of the feature (called Micro Dimming Pro) adds color and detail enhancement and finally the top version (called Micro Dimming Ultimate) adds more dimming areas and optimizes the LED backlight and video signal in real time for each dimmable zone.
The top line ES8000 LED features an ultra slim bezel and new “U” shaped stand (shown above).
A new EH line of LED TVs, less expensive than the ES models also sport a slim bezel, and many, such as the EH5300 include smart TV features and built-in Wi-Fi.
Plasma TVs, though there are less of them than LEDs, also have had some tweaks. All models have the Real Black Filter, thought the higher-end models (E6500 to E8000 series) move up to the new Real Black Pro which has improved the ambient light filtering capabilities of the panel, making for better contrast.
Dual-core processors, available in the ES7000 to ES8000 models and the E8000 plasma models, improve the TVs’ performance when toggling between online apps.
All of Samsung’s 2012 plasma and LED TVs will be full-steam ahead 3D.
Below is a rundown of the new TV models, pricing and availability:
Series/Model Size Class (inches) Estimated Selling Price Availability
ES8000 65 $5,099.99 TBA
ES8000 60 $4,399.99 March 2012
ES8000 55 $3,749.99 March 2012
ES8000 46 $2,999.99 March 2012
ES7500 60 $3,999.99 March 2012
ES7500 55 $3,379.99 March 2012
ES7500 50 $2,929.99 March 2012
ES7500 46 $2,599.99 March 2012
ES7100 60 $3,799.99 TBA
ES7100 55 $3,149.99 May 2012
ES7100 46 $2,399.99 May 2012
ES6600 60 $3,379.99 TBA
ES6600 55 $2,719.99 March 2012
ES6600 46 $1,929.99 March 2012
ES6500 65 $3,899.99 TBA
ES6500 60 $3,179.99 March 2012
ES6500 55 $2,519.99 March 2012
ES6500 50 $2,079.99 May 2012
ES6500 46 $1,729.99 March 2012
ES6500 40 $1,499.99 March 2012
ES6500 32 $999.99 TBA
ES6100 60 $2,899.99 April 2012
ES6100 55 $2,199.99 March 2012
ES6100 50 $1,729.99 June 2012
ES6100 46 $1,399.99 March 2012
ES6100 40 $1,199.99 March 2012
EH6000 65 $2,649.99 TBA
EH6000 60 $2,099.99 February 2012
EH6000 55 $1,549.99 February 2012
EH6000 50 $1,249.99 June 2012
EH6000 46 $1,079.99 February 2012
EH6000 40 $849.99 February 2012
EH5300 50 $1,199.99 June 2012
EH5300 46 $1,019.99 March 2012
EH5300 40 $799.99 March 2012
EH5300 32 $579.99 March 2012
EH5000 50 $1,149.99 June 2012
EH5000 46 $979.99 February 2012
EH5000 40 $749.99 February 2012
EH5000 37 $649.99 February 2012
EH5000 32 $549.99 February 2012
EH4000 32 $419.99 February 2012
EH4000 26 $329.99 February 2012
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.