HDTVs have become so commonplace, retailers such as Best Buy think they're necessities and not luxuries. For consumer-electronics companies to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, they need novelty. To that end, look at what Samsung's doing with its latest batch of televisions. The new Series 7 sets are being sold with two key features: They're ultra-thin thanks to some clever lighting designs, and they'll come with on-screen Net-connected widgets.
The new TVs are among the first in the world to make use of side-lit LED backlighting for the LCD screens. Most LCD TVs use a back-lighting system to illuminate the color pixels on the screen; initially, the tech was based on cold-cathode fluorescent tubes, and more recently, matrices of LEDs which are better thanks to lower power consumption and improved contrast. But the usual configuration requires the LEDs to be behind the screen's surface, and that defines the depth of the entire TV unit.
With the new design, the LEDs are arranged around the top and bottom of the LCD, and scatter light across its face with the aid of light-guiding panels. The result is a much more slender and lighter unit, down to 10.8mm for some of the new Samsung TVs which the company notes is about four times thinner than competitor's designs.
The Series 7s also have some very basic computing tech built in which allows them to display "Internet@TV"—a "widget bar" across the screen on command. This system is intended to provide users with at-a-glance access to useful information, such as the weather report, news and sports headlines, email, or Flickr feeds (Samsung and Yahoo supply the widgets). And it sounds pretty handy—after all, many of us spend a significant amount of time staring at the TV, so adding useful info to its display is a definite boon, albeit a system that you have to navigate using a less-than optimal remote-control input. It seems to connect the basic TVs up for widgets you'll need a network wire, and a wireless card is an optional extra.
TVs are clearly going to become just computers with huge built-in monitors in the coming years (my TV is already just a second PC screen and isn't even connected to an antenna or cable feed), so Samsung's merely taking the first steps in this direction from a consumer electronics point of view. Widgetized, Web-connected TVs are bound to be replicated by other manufacturers—after all, your PC, smartphone, home phone, Chumby, and maybe even your fridge already have the tech.
The Series 7 units are due imminently and come in 40-, 46-, and 55-inch screen sizes.