Samsung SEK-1000 (2013 Evolution Kit) review: A brain transplant for Smart TVs

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I haven't fully tested Samsung's 2013 TV voice and gesture control yet to the extent I did last year , but after some brief tests I can tell the new version is much improved. It seemed to recognize show names I spoke more accurately, and the search results made more sense -- although since the TV can't fully control a DVR, you can't use the system to set up future recordings found via search. I also appreciated that I didn't need to jump through hoops to search; just hitting the remote's microphone button got me there. The gesture system, for what it's worth, is still tough to control and made my arm tired, but the addition of a nifty "gesture command" menu helps a little.

Rather than paste in my full description of the 2013 suite from my UNF8000 review, I'll just refer you there if you want more details. The version found on an Evolved 2012 TV is basically identical. The pages, apps, browser, search, and everything else seem exactly the same.

The main difference I found is that cable box control is a bit more sluggish than on true 2013 TVs, perhaps due to the 2012 TVs' wireless Bluetooth IR blaster (the 2013 models have a simpler wired version). There was more of a delay between commands, making menu navigation, in particular, a bit slower. As I describe in my reviews, however, using Samsung's remote to control your DVR cable box is still a massive pain given the need to use the virtual, onscreen "remote" for common DVR transport commands like Pause and Play.

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I didn't do a full picture quality evaluation on an Evolved TV, but the kit doesn't appear to have much effect on that aspect. I did measure the two TVs' grayscale and color before and after evolution, and the results were similar. The biggest difference I saw was somewhat reduced light output on the plasma after Evolution -- it went from 32fL to about 25fL. That's not a big deal if you don't have a bright room, but as I mentioned in my reviews, the already relatively dim 2012 Samsung plasmas need all the light they can muster. Black levels measured basically the same on both TVs both before and after the upgrade, and color was likewise very similar.

There are a couple of minor changes to picture settings after the upgrade. On both TVs the name of Digital Noise Filter changed to Digital Clean View, and there's a new Analog Clean View. Meanwhile, the LED's Auto Motion Plus menu gets an LED Clear Motion option, but it didn't have any effect I could discern. You also now get a Picture Off option to turn off the picture but leave the sound on, as well as the option to apply picture settings to different sources.

Other menus have other settings differences too, for example to account for the On TV settings and other new additions.

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The upgrade experience
The unique experience of performing a brain transplant on your Smart TV is one to be savored by a geek like myself, and the engineers at Samsung managed to make the process relatively simple, although not without a few hitches. Time spent varies widely for some reason -- my E8000 plasma took more than an hour thanks to a very large extra software update, while the ES8000 LED didn't seem to require that update, so it took about 15 minutes.

The first step is to make sure the TV has the latest pre-Evolution software installed. In the menu under Support > Software Update, Samsung's reps said Current Version should read 001047 or higher. At the time of review both of my 8000 review samples read 001051 after updating (but before I installed the kits themselves). If your version number is lower than 001047, select "Online" and the TV will download the latest software. Once downloaded, you also have to install it manually by selecting "Alternative Software." The TV should restart afterward; make sure the version number is correct.

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Next you'll power down and unplug the TV from the wall. The following step, and the first one I found actually satisfying in itself, was removing the Evolution Kit sticker on the back of the TV to expose the complex port designed to accept the kit's plug.

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Part of my satisfaction was marred, however, when I realized that on the PN60E8000 plasma, I also needed to deface another sticker (the one illustrating the bottom row of TV's AV connections) to expose the two small clip holes necessary to keep the kit mounted correctly. I ripped the sticker partway off for my installation before it occurred to me I could simply carve small openings in it. Nowhere in the kit's documentation does it mention the possibility that the clip holes might be concealed behind a separate sticker, so E7000 and E8000 plasma owners will have to find the holes themselves. My ES8000 LED TV doesn't have this issue; peeling away its Evolution Kit sticker exposes both the clip holes and the main port (and incidentally its kit mounts horizontally, not vertically like the plasma's.)

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I was also warned by Samsung's reps that I had to firmly embed the plug in the port, and they were right -- the fit isn't exactly easy. On the plasma I had to jimmy it slightly to get it to line up correctly, while on the LED it seemed to fit more easily. Once the kit looked properly piggybacked, a little lamprey to the TV's whale shark, I reattached the power cord, turned on the TV and crossed my fingers.

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Unlike with the plasma, which worked great, the LED's first response to its new brain was pretty scary. The first time I thought I'd bricked the set; the only thing on the screen after I attached the kit was colored static. I powered down, unplugged, detached the kit, took a deep breath, reattached and powered up again, This time I was greeted by a wacky, red-tinged picture. Convinced the TV or kit was hosed, I still repeated the process a third time, which was successful.

Immediately I was greeted by an onscreen graphic complete with a picture of the kit, the reassuring words "Evolution Kit detected," and a progress bar that moved quickly to 100 percent. A couple more installation screens appeared before the TV restarted again. The whole process took about 4 minutes from the time I attached the kit to the time an entirely new startup screen appeared, welcoming me to my "new" TV.

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My test TVs were both connected via Wi-Fi, but if yours has a wired Ethernet connection instead there's an extra step after the kit is installed. Remove the wire plugged into the TV itself and, using the included dongle, plug it into the kit.

The initial splash screen depicts the Ethernet connection and the new touch remote. You'll need to pair the new Bluetooth clicker with the TV. In my case I had to remove the battery cover and hit the little pairing button to get it to work, although the manual claims just hitting the power button should do the trick.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remaining process is basically the same as what I described in the UNF8000 review, from the Muzak to the network setup to the cable box control (my E8000 and ES8000 had to be re-paired with their Bluetooth IR basters) to the myriad privacy and terms and conditions policies. After finishing it took me right to the main page of the Smart Hub, and in many ways it felt like having a new TV.

It's worth noting that you can always devolve your TV by removing the kit and restoring the original 2012 software, for example if you buy it and decide to return it later. You may want to do so if you miss any of the minor apps deleted from the 2012 system. See Samsung's website for the full list (click the Manuals tab), and thanks to commenter yelwar for the heads-up.

Conclusion
Samsung is the leading innovator in smart TV technology right now, and I'd be surprised if another maker ( even Apple ) stole that crown in the next few years. The 2013 Evolution Kit's better remote and interface will appeal mainly to those already unsatisfied with their high-end 2012 Samsung TVs. For everyone else with a compatible TV, it's worth waiting to see what future kits have in store.

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Samsung SEK-1000 Evolution Kit - digital multimedia receiver

Part Number: SEK-1000/ZA Released: May. 15, 2013
Low Price: $99.99 See all prices

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  • Release date May. 15, 2013
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