Samsung wants to make your TV feel less like technology. At least, that’s the idea behind the Frame TV: a swanky, minimalist television set that’s designed to look like a large picture frame.
The Yves Behar-designed TV was first showcased earlier this year as a sort of concept device, but now Samsung is rolling it out as a full-on consumer product. As you might expect, it’s not cheap: A 55-inch model will go for $US1,999, while a 65-inch model will cost $US2,799. A handful of different colour snap-on bezels will cost $US200 for the smaller model, and $US250 for the larger one.
For that cash, though, you get a TV that’s a bit more striking than the usual black boxes sitting in most living rooms.
Samsung has dabbled with this ‘lifestyle TV’ design before — the fancy Serif TV it launched in 2015 got at a similar aesthetic. The company says it wanted to harken back to a time when TVs were more like the wooden boxes that, indirectly or not, contributed to the vibe of a living room.
You can decide whether the Frame TV looks like something you’d want. For what it’s worth, though, I was able to briefly check out the new set at Samsung’s offices in New York earlier this month, and I can say that the TV is, in fact, nicely put together. You can still tell it’s a TV when you see it planted among actual picture frames, but it certainly feels less like a gadget.
To be clear, the Frame is still a LED Samsung TV at its core. It’s got a sharp 4K resolution, and it supports HDR10, which’ll give it more life-like colours with compatible content. There is some level of local dimming — a type of screen tech that boost contrasts and creates a more vibrant image — though it’s not as deep as on other Samsung TVs. There are a host of ports for HDMI, USB, and Ethernet, too, and the central smart TV interface is the same as it’d be on any other Samsung TV.
I’d have to spend more time with the Frame to make any judgments about picture quality, but Samsung likens it to the quality of its MU8000 series. So, it should be a step below the company’s highest-end TVs — which use a special ‘QLED’ technology for better colours — and instead sit in the upper mid-range area. Everything looked more than pleasant in my demo; just know that you’re paying for the design first and foremost.
The big hook here is something Samsung calls ‘Art Mode.’ The idea is that, when you’re done actually watching TV, you can flip the Frame TV into a separate mode that’s explicitly for displaying digital paintings and photos.
Samsung says the Frame comes with about 100 works of art from a few dozen artists and photographers by default. You can add your own photos through the USB port or Samsung’s Smart View app, which lets you beam content from your phone to the TV, though there’s no integration with photo apps like Instagram or Flickr.
Beyond that, Samsung is curating its art store in the US specifically for the Frame. The company says there’ll be more than 300 additional works in there, and it’s working with museums and curators to add more over time.
Those will come at a cost, though: You can add an individual piece for $US20, or you can get access to everything in the collection with a $US5 monthly subscription. Samsung pitched this as a sort of ‘Spotify or Kindle for art’ — that’s a stretch, but if you’re the collector type, it is a way to test things out beforehand.
The process of setting up an ‘Art Mode’ piece is fairly simple: Once you click out of the standard TV interface, you just scroll through a preview list of pieces — which are split up into categories like ‘Landscapes,’ ‘Wild Life,’ and so on — pick from a selection of different coloured borders, then put it up. Whatever piece you select will stay in place until you change it yourself.
Samsung says the Frame TV can also turn off and go into Art Mode automatically via a built-in motion sensor, which lets the TV know when people enter and exit a room. There’s also an ambient-light sensor that will change the picture’s colour temperature and brightness on its own.
The obvious concern with a TV that’s meant to be constantly active is that it will hog power, but Samsung down played that during my demo, saying it will only be about as hungry as a second cable box.
The other issue here is screen burn-in — the prospect of an image being ingrained on a display after being left on for too long. You’ll likely want to cycle through paintings every now and then to be safe.
The Frame TV can be planted on a table or stand, thanks to a pair of little stands. The whole thing is mostly designed to be hung on the wall, though, and to that end Samsung throws a flatter-than-usual wall mount and a thin and clear cable it calls the ‘Invisible Connection.’
That cable isn’t really ‘invisible,’ but it does allow the Frame TV to connect all sorts of various devices to your TV. Those devices still have to connect to a proprietary breakout box, and you’ll need another cable for power, but the hope is that you can hide that box away and let the Frame avoid the rat’s nest of cables behind most TVs.
Samsung has been pushing this ‘one cable’ solution for the past few years, but the clear cord is new for this year’s models. Samsung declined to share specifics on how that cable is constructed, but it said it uses Kevlar and ‘materials similar to those used in deep sea communications cables.’ We’ll have to test it to see how it holds up, but Samsung is promising no issues with durability or latency compared to a traditional HDMI cable. And because it’s clear, Samsung pitches it as being easy to paint over.
If it wasn’t already obvious, the Frame TV isn’t for everyone, from both a price and purpose standpoint. But within the context of premium TVs, it is an interesting value proposition. Instead of chasing the absolute best features and picture quality, Samsung is selling an aesthetic. It’s not the first company to try that, but relatively speaking, it means the Frame is immediately differentiated from almost anything else out there.
Samsung says it plans to make the Frame more widely available than the Serif, which was focused at museums, high-end furniture stores, and the like. Its hope is that positioning the TV as a piece of decor as much as a technical commodity will not only encourage people to want a TV in places beyond the living room, but help its appeal with cord-cutters, too.
‘We’re trying to, hopefully, create something that can appeal to those who think, ‘Oh, I don’t need a TV,’ because they have their phone or tablet,’ Samsung spokesperson Jeff Castaneda said. ‘If you have a TV that can enhance their living environment, then they will say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s really pleasing to me.”
It’s probably wishful thinking to hope that people who’ve mostly cut cable to save cash will want a $US2,000 TV set because it displays art. There isn’t much stopping people from wall-mounting a more affordable TV and casting pictures of paintings from their phones.
But, while it’s too soon to say if it will be worth buying, the Frame TV may still be worth a look for those who want a simpler way to make their TV double as decoration — and have money to burn.
This story originally appeared on Business Insider.