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A Living Room (Embedded) Vision: Samsung Brings Image Sensors To The Television

The persistent rumors of an impending Apple-branded television (likely integrating, among other things, the functionality of today's standalone Apple TV STB) seemingly has other consumer electronics manufacturers motivated to get out in front of the folks at One Infinite Loop, judging from the news coming out of Las Vegas. Although Logitech's Google TV experiment wasn't exactly a stellar success (for the record, I own a Revue, along with a suite of accessories including the optional webcam...more on that in a moment), Google recently updated its TV-tailored O/S to an Android 3 (Honeycomb) foundation, complete with Android Market-sourced application support.

Sony released its second-generation Google TV systems this week...joining it were several notable Google TV first-timers, such as LG, Samsung, and Vizio. And although first-generation Google TV systems were based on Intel Atom SoCs, Google and its partners have switched to ARM-derived ICs from Marvell and MediaTek. To be clear, Samsung's Google TV plans are currently schedule-unspecific. Nearer term, Samsung is pitching http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/01/smart-tv-google-apple-ces/all/1homegrown Smart TV platforms running an internally developed O/S and application software stack. And if you think you're reading a Microsoft Kinect product sheet as you peruse the Samsung Smart TVs' specifications, your confusion is understandable.

After all, they contain multi-microphone arrays for voice recognition functions complete with ambient noise suppression. They also embed cameras for gesture interface support, to turn on and off the set, to launch and navigate among and within apps, and to intuitively search for content. The cameras also enable various face detection- and recognition-based capabilities, able to (quoting GigaOm's coverage) "differentiate between members of a household, giving them access to personalized profiles, preferences and apps based upon their previous activity". No word on whether or not the cameras contain stereo image sensors or support depth discernment in some other way, such as Kinect's structured light technique.

Presumably, too, the microphone-plus-camera combo will support both Samsung- and partner-developed videoconferencing systems, which was the key feature touted for Revue's image sensor accessory. Ironically, just last week Jeff Bier had an email conversation regarding Cisco's pre-CES stealth announcement of the shelving of its Umi consumer videoconferencing system. I happen to be a big fan of sooner-or-later TV-based videoconferencing success, and as such I don't see Umi's failure as a contradiction to that prognostication. Umi's fumble instead had to do with implementation shortcomings:

  • A standalone (versus TV-integrated) setup that
  • Relied on proprietary protocols and
  • Was expensive both out-of-box ($599) and per-month ($9.95 subscription fee), not to mention
  • Cisco's relatively unknown brand awareness and retail presence with consumers

Conversely, I suspect we'll soon see image sensor-inclusive and Internet-tethered televisions hit the mainstream market, implementing widely adopted videoconferencing protocols such as Google Chat (with the Voice and Video Plugin), Skype, and...at least for Apple sets, should they ever actually appear, FaceTime. And once those videoconferencing-rationalized sensors and associated embedded processors are pervasive, as I pointed out mid-last month, developers will find plenty of additional interesting uses for them.

For more coverage on Samsung's CES Smart TV news, see: