“A TV is, in a lot of cases, not really on for more than four hours a day,” says Yves Béhar, founder of the San Francisco design studio Fuseproject. “So the rest of the day, the 20-plus hours, it’s really a black box. You look at a wall and it has sort of a black void there.” In attempts to make the box disappear, TV manufacturers make their displays thinner and thinner. But of course, that does nothing to minimize the 55-inch cave entrance on your wall.
So Samsung teamed up with Fuseproject to create The Frame. The Frame is a TV that, instead of disappearing through a minimal footprint–or even disappearing by becoming a sculptural object itself like the Samsung Serif–disappears through sheer disguise.
With a magnetic bezel, owners can snap on art frames ranging from black to wood veneer. And rather than turning off when you’re done watching television, the TV goes into an art mode, displaying over 100 different artworks curated by Samsung, ranging every taste from oil painting to digital art to architectural photography (with third parties able to sell their art for the platform in the future), complete with an optional digital matte that surrounds the image. “It’s part of a great humility of the project,” says Béhar. “We chose to make the display fit into your home rather than a piece of shiny technology that sort of glistens in your home.”
Béhar is an art lover who treats Fuseproject as a gallery, and his partner Sabrina Buell is an art advisor. The duo is a power couple in the San Francisco art scene, so naturally, Béhar wanted to test an artistic TV first hand. He developed The Frame’s first concept by hanging a TV among his own artwork at home to see if it might blend in. From there, Fuseproject met with master framers to develop the snap-on aesthetics.
What you’ll notice quickly is that it’s not just a clever frame that establishes the frame aesthetic. The Samsung logo has been quietly embossed on the side. And the TV has also been designed to mimic display conventions of artwork, too. For instance, it can be placed on a Samsung easel base to float without a table, rested against the wall casually like a print you were too busy to hang, or even hang on a wall more like art than any TV you know: A hook is screwed into your wall, and the TV is simply hung upon it, leaving virtually no gap.
The Frame’s design comes down to Fuseproject’s faith in Samsung display and sensor technology. The display itself is a 4K UHD (high dynamic range) screen. But its cleverness is in its onboard suite of sensors, mirrors, and processors, which measure the light levels and activity inside your home. These sensors allow the TV to not just display art when someone is in the room (otherwise, it really does turn off), it allows the TV to display the art with adaptive brightness to early morning or evening light. This all happens automatically, much like the iPhone matches a room’s ambient lighting.
“It certainly isn’t the first time people think about putting an image or artworks in a frame but what makes the big difference is the complexity Samsung was willing to tackle with the integration needed to make it work,” says Béhar. “What we didn’t want it to do was look like a light box. Digital frames look like that.”
In this sense, The Frame was and is a risky play. The design theory is sound–in fact, by allowing The Frame to be a thicker TV, it has more room to fit all these electronics inside, and fit them inside for an unannounced price I’m told is focused on affordability–but with any shortcoming of the core technology, the entire project will look more like bad skeuomorphism than a real piece of art. It will be a spy TV in disguise–a supersized version of the tacky digital photo frame we all gave our moms eight years ago before they politely just stopped using them.
[Photos: via Samsung]