Samsung’s TV R&D team seemingly never runs out of ideas: After giving the world a TV the size of a wall, a TV that looked like a giant phone and a TV that doubles as art, at this year's CES, the company debuted a TV that’s capable of turning anything and everything into a screen.
The new Samsung Freestyle is a portable projector capable of projecting video from 30 inches to 100 inches. It offers access to the very same UI and apps as any of the company’s other 2022 smart TVs, but that’s pretty much where the similarities to a traditional TV end.
- Weighing 830 grams, the Freestyle is designed for portability. “It's about the same weight as a coconut or cauliflower,” Samsung Senior Director of Lifestyle TV Product Marketing Stephen Coppola told me recently. The projector can be powered via USB-C from a wall plug or external battery pack.
- The Freestyle can be angled to use any free wall space as a screen, including the ceiling. It automatically calibrates the image to keep it in focus, level it and keystone it. “This is the magical feature on this device,” Coppola said.
- The projector ships with a modified smart TV remote, but can also be controlled with voice commands via a far-field microphone after a voice assistant (Google, Alexa or Bixby) has been enabled.
- The Freestyle ships with a lens cap that turns it into an ambient light projector, which is a pretty ingenious way of using a TV-like device for something that’s definitely not at all like a TV.
- Later this year, Samsung wants to sell an optional light bulb socket adapter, further doubling down on this “my TV is a mood light in its spare time” idea.
- There’s also a built-in speaker, which comes in handy in combination with far-field voice control. “There've been smart speakers, but never really a smart speaker with a 100-inch screen attached to it,” Coppola said.
The Freestyle is an intriguing product for gadget lovers, and could appeal to a lot to people who really miss going clubbing. But it’s also an interesting case study in the evolution of TV hardware: As people spend ever more time on their phones, TV makers like Samsung have struggled to figure out what the future of physical screens in our homes looks like.
Will people want modular TVs that adapt to the size of their homes? Will they want screens that double as smart home dashboards, exercise machines or home office teleconferencing setups? Or is the answer just to make TVs bigger and better and compete with movie theaters?
Samsung’s bet seems to be that at least for a subset of its audience, the answer is to give up on a physical screen altogether and replace it with something that’s nearly as portable as a phone. In other words: For the future of TV, Samsung is making the TV disappear.
Will that work? We might find out soon: The $899 Freestyle will be available for preorder this week.