It’s a well-known fact that technology iterates. It continually gets better, faster and more functional. This is true across all its forms, offering consumers tools and gadgets that can make their lives easier and more enjoyable. Importantly though, what is also true is that more often than not these iterations are merely incremental improvements, offering largely the same product as before but ever so slightly tweaked.
Maybe the technology is slightly faster – for example, a 2.6GHz CPU over a 2.5GHz one in a computer – but it is not delivering something radically new; it does not offer a road map for future advancement.
At other times, a game-changer comes along. A piece of technology that reaches into the future and pulls back a slice of what’s to come – a recent example, arguably, might be Apple’s Siri personal assistant.
The smart TV is about to do the same for consumer televisions. By converging the TV’s traditional high-resolution display with the computational power, connectivity and software of a PC, as well as the motion-control abilities of next-gen consoles and the type of voice-recognition and command systems made famous by Siri, smart TVs are soon to be the digital heart of every household.
From cloud computing, data storage, email and social networking, on to exercising regimes and games, through to video calling, word processing and weather reports, this new generation of televisions offers users the potential to collapse a plethora of electronic devices into one central hub, streamlining their day-to-day activities and blurring the lines between a work and leisure device. To see how smart TVs are set to accomplish this, We takes a look at the Samsung ES8000 S8, exploring its hardware, software and features which are transforming the ‘idiot box’ into something altogether more clever.
Benefits of a smart TV
Personal computer – Smart TVs incorporate components traditionally found in PCs, such as hard drives, processors, memory and cooling fans/panels, letting users store and access media and data files.
Games console – In-built camera motion-detection capabilities, plus a variety of digital app stores, allow games and fitness applications like those demonstrated on Xbox Kinect to be accessed.
Mobile phone – Thanks to the voice-recording and recognition hardware, as well as high-definition integrated web cameras, smart TVs also enable users to make voice and video calls via Skype.
HDTV – Of course, smart TVs also mean users can enjoy their usual TV shows in standard-definition, high-definition or 3D, the latter made possible via active-shutter 3D glasses included with most models.
Tablet – Accessing websites via a capacitive touch panel is a key selling point for tablets. The smart TV takes it one step further by making online content accessible via both gesture and voice controls.
The new remote controls
The ES8000’s ability to be manipulated by gestures is thanks to a motion-tracking camera. The camera automatically detects users in front of the screen and then locates and tracks hand movements. When the TV is on, the user activates gesture control by waving once; this locks the on-screen cursor to the user’s hand. Then you can navigate the screen and its options by simply moving your hand. To simulate a cursor select, the user just closes and opens their palm.
While we are talking about the ES8000’s camera, it also functions as a recognizer for the set’s facial-recognition software. This can be used for Skype video calls, or for a facial login to the user’s personal Smart Hub account. As with gesture control, this works by the camera automatically detecting the user’s face with a mapping tool, and then matching their characteristics with those calibrated on the set.
Voice control is equally advanced and is made possible by a wireless IR blaster; this is a small cone-shaped peripheral that connects to the TV wirelessly via Bluetooth and communicates with the set-top box (satellite or cable, for example) to grant control over volume and channels, among other things. This is especially important, as without it, the ES8000’s voice control would be limited to crude up/down commands.
A selection of pre-programmed instructions each activate different aspects of the television’s and set-top box’s control schemes. Voice control is initiated by the user saying, “Hi, TV”. Once this has been activated, it offers fine management of channel selection, volume and power, as well as several other functions. For instance, if you wanted to change from channel 3 to 27, you’d simply say, “Hi, TV. Channel 27.” The voice-control function even lets users vocally log in and out of various accounts and services.
The race to 5K
Next-generation TVs are leaving ‘HD’ resolutions in their dust, doubling and tripling them over colossal panels.
While today TVs are marketed on their ability to output images at ‘HD’ resolutions – maxing out at 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) – the future of consumer products promises far greater resolutions. Indeed, showpiece panels already have been developed that output images at twice, or even three times, those figures. 4K screens – named due to their horizontal resolution of approximately 4,000 pixels – more than double that of 1080p screens, and as such, allow for crisp image reproduction on far bigger units. A good example is the Panasonic TH-152UX1, which delivers 4,096 x 2,160 across a 386-centimetre (152-inch) set. Despite its awesome size and resolution, the UX1 costs USD 500,000 and is made to order, so screens like this won’t be going mainstream anytime soon. Regardless though, the UX1 gives a taste of the current race to 5K – a race that is accelerating at a furious rate due to many filmmakers already shooting on 5K video cameras (such as on The Hobbit).