CNET First Look
Samsung's Evolution Kit gives a brain transplant to smart TVsA cool idea and an innovative way to combat Smart TV obsolescence, the 2013 Evolution Kit effectively replaces the brains of certain 2012 high-end Samsung TVs.
-Hi. I'm David Katzmaier from CNET and this is a 2013 Samsung LED TV with a 2013 user interface. Now they've completely blown your mind, let me tell you a little bit about Samsung's Smart Evolution Kit, that's how this magic is accomplished. The Evolution Kit is a little black box. You can buy it today for about 200 bucks. It also includes a brand new remote control that's a big improvement over the 2012 version. The idea is that you graph this little box into the back of your compatible 2012 TV and it upgrades it to have all of the new 2013 Smart TV functions and features that includes a brand new user interface with cable box control and an on TV recommendations engine. There's also a new web browser and the warm feeling that your TV is no longer obsolete. Once you take the kit out of the box, installation is a DIY affair. You have to pull a sticker off and from there you can plug the kit right into proprietary port on the back. Once installed, the relatively thin kit doesn't spoil the form factor this thin TV is much, although it does run pretty hot. Also for using a wired connection, you're gonna need to connect to Ethernet port directly to the kit via this dongle as opposed to into the TV as before. You'll also need to pair the new remote with the television and go through a setup process that involves pairing the Bluetooth dongle again and getting all the program information from your cable provider. There might also be some additional software upgrades to get your 2013 TV to snuff with a 2013 kit. First thing you notice after you upgrade the TV using the Evolution kit is this new On TV screen that includes six currently playing programs as well as six programs that are playing in the near future from your current cable provider. The idea is that the system will learn as you use it to suggest new shows that you might like better. There's also an integrated electronic program guide included with the system, although it's not quite as good as some of the better program guides found on today's DVRs. There's the rub, if you're a heavy DVR user, this On TV system isn't all that great. That's because the remote control doesn't include a lot of the direct DVR commands that most people like to use, for example, play and fast forward. You can get to those commands using a convoluted system involving a virtual remote on the television itself but it's not nearly as convenient as using buttons on your own remote control, which of course Samsung's 2013 TVs include a standard remote control, but usually a universal remote or DVR remote will do the job a little bit better. If you're not a heavy DVR user, however, Samsung system is a little more appealing especially if your current cable box UI is a little bit under par. In addition to that On TV's section, there's four more pages in Samsung's UI. One called movies and TV shows, allows you to browse and search for on demand content from sources like Netflix, Vudu and a couple of the other integrated services. There's also a dedicated page for apps, a page for social media which integrates Facebook and Twitter, as well as a page that allows you to check out your own local media by USB or DLNA. And it holds a very organized system and I do like the design a lot better than 2012's. Aside from the design, however, the improvements are pretty slight compared to the 2012 system. Another improvement that comes with the evolved TVs is better voice control. You can speak into the microphone and get a lot better recognition of a lot of the phrases that you're gonna use to search, as well as commands that you'll give to the TV. For example, volume up and down. Gesture controls a little bit better than it was last year but my arms still got tired waiting around TV and it's really not all that useful unless you lose the remote control. Speaking of remotes, the Evolution Kit does include Samsung's improved 2013 touchpad clicker which is a huge step up from the old 2012 model. There's very few buttons on it however, so as I referred to before, you're gonna have to use a virtual remote control to get to a lot of the commands. Aside from that, it's a great remote especially if you use the browser a lot because the touchpad comes in really handy when navigating web pages. While it's a big upgrade for Smart TV features, the Evolution Kit really doesn't do anything to improve the picture quality and doesn't really add much to the TV aside from these additional smart features. So, unless you're really unsatisfied with the 2012 Smart TV features, it might be worth waiting until 2014 or later to use the upgrade. That's right, anybody who bought a compatible 2012 Samsung TV or even 2013 TVs that work with Evolution Kits will be able to re-up in following years when Samsung releases the 2014 and future version of the kit. I'd like to see what kind of features those future kits introduce but right now, the 2013 upgrade is relatively mild. That's a quick look at Samsung's 2013 Evolution Kit. I'm David Katzmaier from CNET.