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Announced today and available from mid-April, Samsung’s new range of LED and plasma ‘Smart TVs’ build on last year’s ‘connected’ television concept by adding web browsing, interactive access to social networking sites, plus powerful networking and search tools for gathering all the home’s digital content, wherever it resides, onto the big screen.

The features are part of the Smart Hub, Samsung’s name for a suite of functions – that include AllShare (DLNA) wireless media sharing. Skype and the HD TV app store it launched last year – as well as the one-screen user interface that provides access to them. Smart Hub is, in turn, a pillar of Samsung’s 2011 Smart TV concept, to which picture quality, 3D and design are also assigned.

The barely-there bezel

The latter is worth some attention, with many LED Smart TVs flaunting a super-slim 5mm bezel. It doesn’t just look schmick, it’s a real technology statement, with Samsung’s engineers managing to squeeze all the necessary electronics and edge-LEDs that light the panel into a space less than one-fifth the width (28mm) of last year’s models.

Samsung's Series 7 LED TV.

Plasma doesn’t miss out in the design department, with the company’s Plasma + 1 treatment reducing the size of the bezel to provide an extra inch of screen diagonal without increasing the physical size of the television. So a 60 inch plasma panel is now a 61 inch panel, with the largest models topping out at 64 inches. To boot, some models sport a profile that is up to 50 percent thinner than 2010 models (which is good, we suppose, for those who like to admire their TV from the side).

There 41 new televisions comprising 25 LED, 10 plasma and 6 LCD models, with 22 of these qualifying as Smart TVs. Most of the Smart goodness is concentrated in the LED range, a clear indication that this is where Samsung’ reckons the TV smart money is. The premium LED ranges are the Series 7 and 8, with the topline 55 inch D8000 costing $$4699. A 60 inch version will be available in late April. At the top of the plasma Smart TV tree is the 64 inch D8000, prices $4299.

Web browsing on a TV

The browser is set to Google by default (it can be changed) and web pages are optimised for display on a big HD screen, with zoom and tab functionality provided to make getting around easy.

On the top flight LED and plasma D8000 models, a flip-style remote – with conventional TV buttons on one side and a QWERTY keyboard on the reverse – make text entry super-quick. Up to three windows can be opened at one time, and clearly, it’s the more visual internet experiences that are going to be best. Think watching catch-up TV from the likes of ABC’s iView, or viewing movies trailers and other video clips.

Then there are those tasks that we tend to carry out on the PC or smartphone while sitting in front of the TV; things like paying bills, ordering groceries, watching ourselves get outbid on Ebay or checking webmail. All these can be done via select Samsung Smart TVs, although we reckon it’s the shared web experiences – planning holidays and booking entertainment tickets – that will probably benefit most from the big screen net experience.

Social TV

Catching up with social networking sites can also be performed via a Smart TV, with Samsung’s Social TV function allowing you to run apps for Facebook, Twitter and Google Talk on the HDTV screen simultaneously with live TV programming. So you can contribute via Twitter to the ABC’s Q&A show, make comments to Facebook friends about what you really think about the chefs on My Kitchen Rules, or exchange sporting banter with mates in another site via Google Talk while watching the big game.

The Flip QWERTY remote (above) is a real asset to Social TV functions, so it’s a shame it’s supplied with only two Series of Smart TVs, although Samsung says it will also be available as an optional extra for other models. An alternative is to download the Smart TV app from Apple’s app store or Android Marketplace and use its virtual keyboard on your smartphone or tablet device.

You have three choices on how to view posts tweets and chat: to the side of the main TV view in ‘blogging mode’; as a transparent overlay on the screen, with a smaller TV window and larger border for the social media app (like a picture-in-picture); or, if you really, really like your friends, in full screen mode, dispensing with the live TV view altogether.