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Cable or Netflix? Samsung’s Smart Media player stops asking you to choose

Samsung has just announced that its Smart Media Player, officially known as the GX-SM530CF, will be coming available on October 23 for $150. The new set-top box announcement is one of several we can expect this month, but it could be argued that this is the most important one. After ducking some FCC red tape, Samsung has managed to put together a media-streamer set-top box that does what no other can: replace your cable box. 

There are several streaming set-top boxes that have attempted to merge cable TV with streaming video-on-demand (VOD) apps like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant. Most of them, like Sony’s Internet Media Player and Vizio’s Co-Star, run off the Google TV platform; one exception is  the recently announced Vizio Co-Star LT. But they all work the same way: by passing a cable box’s HDMI signal through the box and on to a TV. Samsung’s is different because it works as both a cable box and a media streaming device. 

Samsung says its Smart Media Player comes packing over 100 apps. While it is likely most users will only take advantage of a fraction of those, it does give us an idea of just how much content can be delivered through the Internet-connected box. In addition to all the apps, users can mirror the screens of compatible mobile devices with the press of a button. Say you find a video on YouTube that you want to share with the family on the big-screen; just hit a button on your SmartPhone and the video will start playing on the TV. Of course, as a Samsung device, the new Smart Media Player will also work seamlessly with other Samsung devices via the company’s proprietary AllShare protocol.

Because the player will work based off of Samsung’s Smart TV interface, we can expect it will offer Samsung’s S-Recommendation engine, which makes content recommendations based on users’ viewing habits. What is not clear, however, is whether certain media server apps such as PLEX will be available. It is a safe bet that the box will be DLNA compliant, though Samsung didn’t specifically state so in its announcement. 

Samsung had to fight for the right to make this product because cable companies make more money renting their customers cable boxes than they do CableCARDs. But in the end, Samsung got the green light from the FCC, and for the first time, cable services and over-the-top (OTT) services have been blended into one box. [Editor’s note: TiVo rightly pointed out to DT that it was the first to house cable access and streaming media services in one box. We regret not drawing a clearer distinction between TiVo’s hardware capabilities and those of this device’s, which we feel are substantially different] This could shake things up at cable companies not just because of the potential for lost revenue, but also because Samsung beat them all to the punch. Only recently have talks begun between Netflix and cable companies. Could those talks be too little too late? 

[Update: Samsung’s purchase of Boxxee could be an indication that this latest device might support a cloud-based DVR service. Since the purchase, Samsung has been quiet about its intentions with the newly acquired assets. DT is following up on this element and will update as we learn more.]

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