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Samsung gets Sm'art with art for the cloud

Samsung's attempting to paint a new picture for art collection with a system that incorporates electronic art panels and a large database of digital art for sale.

One minute you may be in the mood for a Degas, the next for a Keith Haring or an Ansel Adams.

That's part of the idea behind Samsung's Sm'art Gallery Panel, a product in development that lets you rotate digital wall art according to mood, decor, and occasion--with no buttons or remote required. The panels, however, are bigger and fancier than a typical electronic picture frame. Prototypes have LCD screens measuring at least 45 inches; a fancy frame like one you'd see around a brick-and-mortar painting; and a high resolution that spotlights detail, color, and even texture, as in brushstrokes.

A digital rendering of an oil painting by Kent Wallis as displayed on a 45-inch portrait LCD display developed by Samsung and Planar. The displays are currently in prototype form, with tests expected in the next couple of quarters. Samsung

Expect to see ambient light sensors too, that can help save energy by turning the panel on when someone enters the room, and can also adjust the device's brightness according to the time of day.

But here's where it really gets interesting: Samsung's Sm'art technology will extend beyond hardware to incorporate a library of licensed digital works for purchase, much like an iTunes for digital art, photography, and digitized versions of classic works. Using a smartphone or tablet, consumers will be able to search the database by genre, artist, color, and so forth, and then upload works to their panel for displaying.

"We really think that the digital fine art market has a great opportunity to create a new ecosystem for consumers to be able to capture, share, purchase, and then actually view the art just like they do in a gallery today," Scott Birnbaum, vice president of new business at Samsung, told CNET during a product demo in San Francisco this morning.

The Sm'art system has been in the works for about four years (to get a better sense of how it works watch the below video by my colleagues Jared Kohler and Kara Tsuboi), though Birnbaum was scant on some details. We don't know how many works of art will appear in the digital library at launch (we're also not sure exactly when that will be), but we do know Samsung is currently talking to a number of artists and art-licensing companies.

On the hardware side, Samsung has partnered with display maker Planar to develop two prototype displays--one 21.9 inches wide by 33.9 inches tall offering a 1:1.5 aspect ratio (portrait), and one 48 inches wide by 27 inches tall offering a 16:9 aspect ratio (landscape)--and that the digital canvases will initially target the premium market. We don't yet know how much they'll cost, however, a factor that naturally will hold sway over whether the panels end up adorning the average living room.

While hard-core art collectors will probably always want real, tangible works, we could see the Sm'art Gallery Panels appealing to businesses that like to rotate their wall decor, as well as to digitally savvy consumers who lean toward contemporary styling and like the idea of swapping out artwork with the flick of a touch screen.

But the Sm'art model could end up being most tantalizing for artists (or "smartists," as Samsung likes to call them), as they will be the ones to determine prices for their work, as well as how many of a given piece can be sold.

In addition, the digital library could give virtual unknowns a new avenue for showing their work to potential art afficionados in much the same way musicians have leveraged MySpace and YouTube to get discovered and gain new fans. In fact, we may just have found the next great artist today. During his demo, Birnbaum beamed a painting by his 22-year-old daughter--and she's good!

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung hangs future of display art on Sm'art frames