There was a time when home electronics like televisions, record players and stereos were well-designed pieces of furniture festooned with wood, chrome and accents. They matched your decor. They fit in. They stood out in the right ways but didn’t take over the room in the wrong ways.
Today, the average television is black plastic slabs of monotony. Even the expensive “high design” televisions are monstrosities that belong more on the set of some Charlie Sheen sitcom than in a put together, tasteful living room.
But that’s not the case with Samsung and its new The Frame television. The Frame is a 4K LED display that looks like a framed piece of art sitting flush against your wall that features HDR. In fact, when it’s not in television mode, it displays ultra high-definition art of your choosing in an extreme low-power mode.
Even though Samsung is gearing up The Frame for a June 2017 launch in both 55- and 65-inch models and pricing hasn’t been announcted yet, I was given the chance to get a sneak peek of The Frame at the Samsung Lounge at the Frieze Art Fair in Randal’s Island, New York City.
WHAT IT IS
Upon entering the Samsung Lounge, I was offered a cup of coffee (in a real mug!) and was then escorted into a space dotted with sofas, chairs and a wall of art. My hosts asked me to try to point out which of the pieces of art were their new TV.
I had a bit of a hard time picking it out, honestly.
Small framed still-lifes, landscape photos and paintings were staccato’d by what I ultimately figured out were the new Samsung TVs. Flush against the wall, complete with wood frames and even what appeared to be paper mats, The Frame, sans cables and visible mounting hardware, does indeed look like a simple piece of art on the wall.
If you think you could achieve similar results by simply displaying your photo album on your current LCD television, you’d be wrong. That’s because The Frame uses a unique display that adjusts its light emissions based on ambient brightness and movement. It doesn’t appear to emit light, but rather reflect light like a painting or photo would. The effect is impressive and only dissipates once you move in close to look for pixels, much like you may a Seurat or Monet.
In fact, Samsung missed an opportunity here to display Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, inviting passers-by to move in close to see some 4k pixels in a nod to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
HOW IT WORKS
It turns out there’s really no on or off switch on The Frame. Well, there is, but the designers at Samsung are betting that you won’t use it. That’s because when you tell the TV you’re done watching TV, it switches to art mode.
When in art mode, The Frame uses a light sensor to adjust the brightness and color temperature of the display to mimmic an art frame. The appearance is more matte than shiny like most modern TVs, and less bright than you’d get from a standard LCD. As the room gets darker (or lighter), the art image adjusts to look more like a picture and less like a TV.
Motion sensors then determine if you’re even around the enjoy the art. If it doesn’t sense anyone around for a while, it shuts off completely. Then, when you return home or walk by, it subtly goes back into art mode.
Holding my hand over the light sensor to simulate a dark room, the TV adjusted its color temperature and brightness. The effect is subtle, but seemingly effective.
As for the art displayed on the TV, it comes with a selection of 100 paintings and photographs selected by designer Yves Béhar. I was able to look through the art setup menu, and, like other Samsung TVs, the interface is pretty straight-forward. Art categories include landscape, architecture, wildlife, action and drawings.
HOW IT REALLY LOOKS IN PERSON
I was impressed with what I saw, at least in the admittedly controlled conditions of the Samsung Lounge. One of the nice features of the TV is an included, almost-invisible, paper-thin cable that is the only wire attached to the TV as a way to make installation on walls almost transparent. The people at Samsung went a bit further and slipped the wire into the walls of the Lounge, making the art-frame effect even more impressive.
The Frame mounts on a picture-frame style wall mount that allows for micro-adjustment, much like hanging a framed picture.
Walking up close to The Frame reveals digital pixels just like any other modern television, which does undermine the effect a bit. One must ask, however, how often he expects to be that close to a TV even when viewing art.
The included art selection is acceptable, but not amazing. You can add your own images, of course, and Samsung says that Béhar and company are adding more selections and packages of art that will be available at additional cost. The selection of mats (the borders that go around the art before it reaches the physical frame) was a bit disappointing, but I’m told those are customizable.
The available frames in dark and light wood grains look convincing enough, especially when surrounded by matching frames on standard art as they had set up at The Lounge. The Frame comes with an aluminum frame, and Samsung says others will be available at launch for an undisclosed price. If you’re more of a stand guy, you can still put The Frame on one of those, but that would be defeating the purpose.
In TV mode, The Frame looks like a Samsung 4k TV for better or worse, depending on your TV tastes. It doesn’t do HDR, which is a bit disappointing, but given HDR’s format confusion and relative lack of content, one must weigh his desire for the format with the simple elegance of this TV and determine which is more important.
The Frame looks so nice that it’s an almost convincing trade-off.