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Samsung's simpler, smarter Tizen a no-show for most older TVs

The Korean electronics giant released an update to change the operating system on its first smartwatch, but it can't do the same for its televisions, a Samsung executive tells CNET. Owners of some 2014 sets will be able to buy "Evolution Kits" to change to the new software.

Samsung's new smart TVs will run Tizen, an operating system it has been developing for phones for years. Sarah Tew/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- Samsung may be releasing Tizen on all of its 2015 smart TVs, but most owners of its older sets won't be able to use the faster, more-intuitive operating system.

Starting this year, all of Samsung's new smart TVs will run Tizen, the operating system that's been under development for years at the South Korean electronics giant. The software simplifies the company's user interface compared to earlier Samsung smart TV operating systems, and it allows users to more easily connect their TV to nearby Samsung smartphones, tablets and smartwatches. Consumers will also be able to watch live broadcast TV on their mobile devices, anywhere on their home network, even when their TVs are turned off.

Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America, said on Monday it can't update older Samsung smart TVs to Tizen by pushing out a software update.

"It is not possible as far as I know," he said in an interview after Samsung's press conference at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. "We've been discussing that. Right now I don't believe we're going to be able to go back and combine those operating systems."

Samsung has made a big push to "future proof" its televisions. For the past couple years, it has sold a product called Evolution Kit that allows TV owners to update their devices to the latest technology by switching out a box instead of the entire television set. Samsung hasn't made as big a push with the kits as it did at previous CES shows, but it will be selling them again this year.

The company on Wednesday said owners of last year's H8000 and H7150 LED television sets as well as the pricey, ultra-high definition HU9000 and HU8550 TVs can update to the new operating system after buying a 2015 Evolution Kit. For 4K/Ultra High Definition TV owners, Samsung will sell a One Connect Box that updates not only the software but also the brains of the television, HDMI inputs and other items.

Samsung hasn't yet revealed pricing for the devices. Last year's Evolution Kits cost $300.

Owners of prior-year Samsung smart TVs, such as 2013 and 2012, won't be able to upgrade to Tizen, the company said. Still, Samsung plans to keep updating and supporting apps for its older smart TVs, Stinziano said Monday.

By putting Tizen in its TVs, Samsung may be able to do something it's so far failed to accomplish with smartphones and smartwatches -- make Tizen mainstream. The software's rocky road to market underscores the difficulties of creating a new mobile platform -- even for a company as large and influential as Samsung. The company ultimately wants Tizen to be the "OS of everything."

Companies typically don't provide updates that would completely overhaul their device operating systems, but Samsung did such a thing with its first wearable. It released its Galaxy Gear smartwatch in late 2013 with Android software. But in May, it introduced an update, delivered over Wi-Fi, that changed the operating system to Tizen. Most of its subsequent smartwatch line has used Tizen.

Stinziano said the company continues to sell Evolution Kits for certain lines of its TVs.

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"We've had a very nice year in TVs, and I think part of the reason is this message of future proofing has worked really well," he said.

Samsung isn't planning a Google Android TV. Samsung relies on Android for its smartphones and tablets, but it never really jumped on board with Google's television software. While it showed off such devices several years ago, it instead opted to create its own software for its TVs.

Google TV was critized from the beginning as too complicated. It also never lived up to its promise of allowing the full Web on a TV. Instead, popular content players such as Hulu blocked their sites offering free content.

Google last year reinvented its much-criticized Google TV software as Android TV. The company started selling its first streaming media device, the Nexus Player , in November, and other Android TVs from Sharp, Sony and others should hit the market this year. But don't count on one from Samsung.

"We have a great relationship with Google, of course, and we're always investigating and always talking about that with them, but for our needs and our consumers and for where we're going with the balance of picture quality and technology and experience, right now Tizen really fits the bill really well," Stinziano said.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. PT on Jan. 7 with information about Evolution Kits being available to update 2014 TVs to Tizen.