Samsung Electronics Co, aiming for a 15 percent jump in TV sales in 2011, signaled an aggressive push into smart and 3D TVs this year in unveiling a procession of content and technology tie-ups with the likes of Comcast and Adobe.
The world's largest television maker is targeting 15 percent growth in 2011 sales of flat-screen TVs to 45 million units, and hopes to more than double shipments of pricier LED sets.
It aims to quadruple sales of 3D TV sets to around 8-9 million units this year, while aggressively promoting Internet-enabled TVs to goose up margins as severe price competition keeps profits razor-thin.
Shaken by their failure to inspire consumers in a recession with a new generation of TVs, major producers from Samsung, LG Electronics Inc to Sony all showed improved versions of 3D and smart TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show, hoping to grab a bigger slice of an emerging market where no single player dominates.
The fight over the connected living room, which enables viewers to hook up TVs to Web shows and software stored in the cloud and on personal computers, is not short of aspirants with technology heavyweights from Google Inc and Microsoft Corp to Apple Inc all joining the fray.
At the show on Thursday, Samsung TV division chief Boo-keun Yoon was joined onstage by a coterie of media CEOs, in a strong signal of its commitment to hawk an expanding line-up of Internet-enabled TVs, announcing content partnerships with Comcast and Dreamworks Animation.
Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told the audience his studio's animated 3D movies, such as Shrek, will be available out of the box on Samsung TVs, while Comcast CEO Brian Roberts touted his Xfinity on-demand online video service.
Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt demonstrated how his customers, through an application on Samsung's TV apps store, would be able to access the service from Samsung's smart TVs and Galaxy tablet.
And Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen announced that his Adobe AIR and Flash Player 10.1 would be would be made available also, letting developers craft apps for the in-built apps store.
Samsung this year aims to sell 12 million Internet-enabled TVs, which sport access to its TV Appstore, video-streaming site Hulu and social networking sites such as Twitter. The 12 million figure would make up 27 percent of its total TV shipments this year.
Smart TV is not a simple Internet-enabled device or a computer with a large screen and no keyboard, said Kim Hyun-suk, senior vice president at Samsung's TV division.
It allows consumers to lean back and have access to all kinds of applications and content, and connect with other devices in the home.
SMART VS DUMB TVS
Samsung booked the biggest showing area among CES participants this year in Las Vegas to showcase a plethora of products from smartphones and tablets to TVs and cameras. It dedicated a large portion to Smart and 3D TVs in particular, betting the global Smart TV market would grow to 30 million units this year.
DisplaySearch estimates that 21 percent of all TVs shipped in 2010 have Internet connectivity, and the segment is expected to grow at double-digit rates over the next four years, swelling to 122 million units by 2014.
On 3D, Samsung attributed its slow takeoff last year to a combination of high prices, a lack of available content, and the discomfort of having to watch TV with heavy glasses.
Most of those issues will be resolved to a large extent and the market will really take off, Yoon said. 3D premium has fallen to an affordable level, content keeps growing and glasses have also become much lighter.
When people buy a TV, they look for a product they can use for the next six to seven years. With all those issues addressed, consumers are now very likely to buy 3D sets.
In addition to a lack of 3D content, however, one of the biggest obstacles for the new technology is different formats.
Samsung, which controlled more than 50 percent of the global 3D TV market last year, is pushing for active-shutter glass technology, which requires special glasses with batteries, chips and switches to synchronize 3D signals from TV sets.
Some producers, led by Japan's Toshiba, are introducing glasses-free 3D sets, while LG Electronics is placing a bet on a new display called film patterned retarder (FPR) that makes glasses much lighter, as 3D signals are embedded into TVs.
Affiliate LG Display, which makes the rival 3D panel technology, hopes it gains traction by tapping major customers of LG Electronics, Sony, Vizio and Philips Electronics, raising the stakes in a head-on competition with Samsung.
Samsung argues moves by some TV manufacturers to introduce glasses-free sets could deter consumers from switching to 3D sets by stoking expectations that such technology may come soon.
Glasses-free TVs will deter 3D market growth but what people are missing here is that it's unrealistic to make 3D glasses-free in large screens and full high-definition at the same time. You have to sacrifice one of them, Samsung's Yoon said.
Such technology will be limited to small screen sets for single viewer and it's not ready yet for a larger living room-type model.
(Editing by Edwin Chan and Lincoln Feast)