@CES: Samsung Hat-Tips Kinect On Smart TV Gesture Controls, Content Bonanza

Samsung, on a high after releasing some strong mobile numbers last week, today became the latest consumer electronics brand to hang its name on to some of the more buzzy trends in TV this year: gesture-controlled television, apps, 3D and cloud-based content. In a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it detailed these as some of the latest additions to its “Smart” TV strategy. And with a tip of the hat to those who are pushing back against the never-ending drive to renew hardware, it offered a solution, too…
Samsung is a behemoth in consumer electronics already: Boo-Keun Yoon, president of Samsung Consumer Electronics, said that 1.7 billion units of Samsung electronics goods were sold last year, or roughly two items every second. However, even if the company remains very focused on unit sales, it is also attempting to lay more groundwork for a future where it will also need (and want) to compete on the services beyond the hardware. That’s an area where people like David Eun, who was recently appointed to oversee global media initiatives, will be expected to contribute some bright ideas. And that was, essentially, where the bulk of its TV announcements fell today:
No more new TVs? Well, just one more. Samsung said that Smart TVs sold from 2012 will be equipped with card slots in the back that will let the TVs get updated with all their latest software updates (note: Samsung is using its own proprietary platform for its connected TVs — not Google’s as it has done with smartphones and tablets). These cards will start to ship from 2013. “Our smart TV will get smarter every year, without you needing to buy a new TV set,” promised Samsung’s president Tim Baxter. With the company silent on pricing today, you can probably expect that these newest, no-need-to-renew devices will be sold at a premium. One unveiled and showcased today: the ES8000.
Gestures. A big nod to Kinect here and what it is doing in the connected, interactive TV space at the moment. Also a possible precuror of what we might see coming from Apple? (NSDQ: AAPL) In Samsung’s version, users will be able to use their voices and movements to navigate and control their sets, starting from its SmartHub UI, where all interactive content resides. Samsung also showed off some of the other features that will come with it, such as Fitness, a personal training service that will tailor special workouts for each user.
Samsung Apps. The company has had 20 million TV apps downloaded to date, from among some 25,000 TV apps, with the numbers still growing. The newest addition: those loveable Angry Birds from Rovio. They will come both in the form of games — as well as at least one (possibly more) dedicated channels featuring shorts with the characters. This is also a sign of how Rovio is diversifying and getting as much mileage from those birds as it possibly can. (The Mickey Mouse theory of merchandizing and branding.) This may be Rovio’s first connected TV deal, but it probably won’t be the last. Nor will it be the only content aimed at younger folks: Samsung is also launching a dedicated portal for kids.
Cloud-based content. Samsung will be extending its Media Hub, already on tablets and smartphones, to TVs: it will give users the ability to watch on-demand movies and TV shows seamlessly between different devices. This kind of service has essentially become table stakes in the connected TV world, so no surprises here. However, here’s a thought: while you might assume the Media Hub will only work on Samsung devices, that’s not entirely clear yet, either: the company is keen on releasing APIs — right now to developers wanting to work on its own platform, but potentially I can imagine this also working to make different vendors’ devices more interoperable, too. Other cloud based services included a nice-looking photo-sharing service it calls “Family Story.”
3D services. Another buzzy concept that has yet to really take off. Samsung’s take will be a 3D streaming service, which it will run in partnership with content partners. Today it named NBC (NSDQ: CMCSA) Universal as one, which will contribute shows like a 3D version of Battlestar Galactica to the mix.