Television. Been around since the 1930’s, with an evolution that has been interesting and non stop. It wasn’t that long ago we had a Philips K9 TV in the house (no remote – that was an extra $600 in 1984), and in recent years we’ve had the rapid shift towards flat panels and high definition viewing, supported by the content industry. And yet the concept is still remarkably similar: a screen 1 or more gather around for knowledge, entertainment and disconnection with reality. I often wonder if ‘TV’ will actually become more a personal viewing exercise, with viewers opting for a tablet or similar and the comfort of their own environment, rather than the shared experience of many people watching (and the inevitable commentary…. “what is this cr*p”?)
I had the privilege of being introduced to Samsung’s new QLED range of Televisions a few days ago. These are due in the NZ market in May 2017 and continue the evolution of LED-LCD display technology, with colours and pictures that are strong, vibrant, bright and a joy to view. The current technology buzz in the TV display world is OLED, which is an early lifecycle technology that emits light (to assemble a display pictures) in a different fashion to the more mainstream LCD TV`s.
While it’s fascinating to see the evolution of technology and the promises these improvements bring, I tend to focus on how these compare to the here and now. Television is a well penetrated product into most people’s lives, and you’ll find one in most homes and places of work around NZ and the world, and they continue to function day in and out without too much fuss. The switch from the older tube technology to Plasma and subsequently LCD came with the usual hallmarks of new methods; the old technology had better colours, was more fluid and better saturation (so pictures looked more natural and so on), while manufacturing quality of early technology often meant the lifespan of a TV was adjusted from 25 years down to 10, and even 5 for some types until common sense (and sales trends) kicked in.
In the range below, the Samsung panels are an evolution of LED technology and not OLED. While that’s interesting, how these panels perform and what they offer is more valuable than what`s under the metal/plastic.
Declaration: I have 3 Samsung TV’s, acquired between 2007-10. A 27” that had it’s screen die 1 day before the end of the warranty (on boxing day no less), but which Noel Leeming had repaired and is still going strong 10 years later (disappointingly, when you see so many flash new models these days). A 37” with a bezel (the plastic edging around the screen) that has cracked from several house moves), and a little 22” doing duty in the bedroom. All the TV`s operate fine, and for me (and I expect a great many people) they will only be replaced when they stop working… meaning the market for Samsung’s new models as always is somebody seeking a replacement for various reasons. The highpoint of features and functions for me is equipment that’s 7-10 years old, meaning anything new will certainly be appealing. I am a researcher and make considered purchases, meaning features, form, function and most importantly for such a major appliance, ability to elegantly mount and position in the house.
65” glory – Q8C $7,999 75” of curve and style – Q8C $13,999 55” of Smart Viewing – Q7F $5,199
In the pictures above are the mainstream models being shown, on a gloomy day in Te Papa in Wellington. I deliberately took photo’s of the TV’s against their bright background, so the performance of the display can be somewhat thought about. On display is a variation of flat-to-wall, and curved screen models. Retail pricing by model is typical of this type of new product, and I expect market pricing will differ somewhat by the end of the year (In the model distinction, F means Flat and C means Curved):
75” - $12,499
65` - $7,199
55` - $5,199
75` – $13,999
65` – $7,999
55` – $5,999
88` - $34,999
75` – $17,999
65` - $9,999
All panels are 4K displays with nearly no bezel at the edges, have superb clarity and brightness, downward firing speakers, beefed up user interface for control (with some good executions of control), a remote control that doesn’t have 200 buttons and some good thoughts for wall mounting. The control software is based on Tizen, a linux alternative with it’s roots in smartphone land, and has been driven by Samsung/Intel as an alternative to Android. A quick search of the web indicates it’s had an ignominious introduction, which you’d expect of anything new taking on established players, but on the TV`s at least it functions smoothly and quickly.
As usual, the downward firing speakers have limited ability to shift air meaning all the TV’s would benefit from a separate speaker system just to have adequate sound; it’s a shame all manufacturers have gone this way on premium models, as it feels just a little cheaty to expect all consumers to have a ready made home theatre setup to support a beautiful panel: I can’t stand box speakers and their wires being on display just to support watching TV.
A significant point of interest for me was the connections on the back, and the very real questions around how to mount the TV nicely on a wall, connect the huge plethora of other devices one would reasonably expect to it, and keep it all nice and tidy. Samsung’s answer, first introduced in some premium models last year, is the control box. This unit connects to the TV via a bundled 5m fibre cable (the white cable above), and has connections for HDMI x4, USB2 x3, Gigabit Ethernet x1, Optical out x1. 1x UHF tuner (with F-Connector). The control box is the brains of the whole package, and the fibre cable allows for an elegant way of mounting the telly and hiding the wires. A 15M cable option will be available, circa RRP$400.
In the second picture, you can see a panel that pops off – on the whole range, this is where Samsung’s mounting bracket is installed, and allows the TV to be mounted flush to the wall (curved or flat TVs). The bracket cost is up to $300 for the 55/65” range, and $350 for the 75”. The third picture gives an indication of the panel.
Finally, the remote control is a neat little affair that is channeling other simplified silver remote controls, and operates on both Bluetooth and IR. The unit has voice control (hence the need for Bluetooth) as well as standard TV functions (IR), which is interesting… I would have thought going for full Bluetooth the more elegant step but there you go. It works fine and has a decent range and function. There are also the Samsung Smart View apps for Android and iOS, which act as soft remote controls, and can also be used as alternatives to an Apple TV or Chromecast to transmitting from your phone to the screen (I didn’t have a chance to try this out though, so not sure how well it works). Samsung also support Steamlink, meaning a PC can be connected over the home’s LAN with gaming happening on the TVs, something which sounds quite promising and no doubt has a few details in its setup.
The screens perform beautifully, display and function is very good (as you would expect at this price range), sound is ok, there has been some decent thinking into wall mounting and addressing the explosion connecting different devices brings to the modern viewing experience.
The interesting comment from me was on the evolution of apps; Netflix, Lightbox, Neon, Hulu, Amazon all had apps available. Notable absence was TV3 and TVNZ, to which the response was that these folks weren’t developing for Smart TV anymore, focusing instead in channeling their effort into Freeview Plus and making their content available that way (which is a shrewd move: Having witnessed first-hand the level of work required to directly support Smart TV’s with a media app, the investment in human power vs benefit is horrendously skewed. Far more productive to focus on one source). The Smart interface had some genuinely neat tricks around source handling (elegant swapping between an Xbox, Blu-ray player, streaming content from a connected USB stick and so on), and performance never felt like the unit was chugging along or working hard.
I’ve never been a fan of Smart TV’s, historically because of the commitment of the manufacturers to keeping the OS supported, enhanced and feature rich, and I hope the launch of this range is a commitment from Samsung to keep supporting what they build for the reasonable life of the TV; after all, I expect my next TV to last another 10 years, and I would be disappointed with any brand that dropped support of its software quickly for the next big thing.
I’m keen to see where this range is at around October/November in the market, pricing and performance wise. Samsung have a real opportunity here to make some inroads, and judging by the Boxing Day sales in Dec 2016 have absolutely cleared the warehouses to support this new range.