Smart TVs universally have horrible interfaces, and it seems like Samsung knows that its prior efforts haven't been up to par. The company has shown off its new user interface for 6400 series and up TVs here at CES, and after spending time with it we're glad to report that the old design has been tossed out of the window for one that takes a bit of inspiration from the Xbox 360. Five main screens are central to the design — On TV, Movies & TV Shows, Photos & Video, Social, and Apps — and as you pass through each you're presented with either recommendations, trending content, or other highlights. Samsung comes up with its recommendations by tracking what is watched, and on the movies page it'll pull in upcoming films from your cable box as well as selections from Netflix, Vudu, Blockbuster, CinemaNow, and Samsung's Media Hub. Similarly, The social page pulls in trending shows, Twitter and Facebook updates, and popular YouTube videos. The media page, meanwhile, offers content from other devices in your home using Samsung's AllShare DLNA service.
That's a lot of information, and if you have multiple people in your home you could imagine it easily getting all mixed together. Samsung is running first-time users through a sign-up process to get all of your account logins, and on 7500 series or greater TVs it'll know who's watching, thanks to facial recognition. In addition to identifying your face, these TVs offer the gimmicky voice and gesture-based controls. They've been improved since last year, but they're still not useful and they are not accurate enough.
Despite some layout improvements, the interface as a whole truly isn't fast enough. Animations when switching from screen to screen are plagued by image tearing and general laginess. Moving between icons is also far too slow — Samsung's addition of quad-core processors isn't able to handle what simply appears to be poor software. These issues also permeate to other parts of the interface, like the toolbars that pop-up on screen when using gesture controls and the cumbersome virtual remote that manifests itself to supplement the touch remote. Samsung also offers to replace your set-top box's guide and interface by using an included IR-blaster (the same as last year), but judging by the speed of the interface it may not be advisable to use it.
Ultimately, Samsung's attempts to control all of your content don't work, and, more importantly, the Smart Hub interface doesn't solve a problem. Instead, it presents users with an overflow of information. Depending on the accuracy of the provided recommendations, users may want to spend some time in Samsung's interface, but otherwise, people may still avoid it.
The 2013 Smart Hub is an upgrade over last year's rough interface, however, and Samsung is allowing people to upgrade using the Smart Evolution Kits that it announced last year. We got to see one for the first time today; it's a relatively small plastic box that plugs into the back of 2012 TVs lets them run this year's interface. A representative told us that it'll ship with a new remote, and will cost between $200 and $400. No word on when they'll be available.