Smart TVs are suffering from the same problem that most phone vendors suffered from when they first got “smart”: the UI and the software usually sucks. Thankfully, LG has resurrected an old soldier to fight the battle for your entertainment dollars. Welcome back, webOS!
For those playing at home, webOS was a mobile operating system invented by Palm and subsequently flogged off to HP. HP stuck it on great devices like the Touchpad tablet and the Veer smartphone, before deciding a week after the release date that it didn’t want to make webOS stuff anymore. A CEO change-up saw HP dump stock of the Touchpad in the greatest tech fire sale in recent memory, and webOS was sadly shelved. That was, until, LG bought it for its TV business.
webOS will live on a significant percentage of LG’s TVs in 2014, so it might be tough to escape the beautiful new spin on the old favourite.
When you first turn on your new webOS TV, you’ll be greeted by the cutest mascot ever. He’s called Bean Bird, and in case you can’t figure it out, it’s an animated bird in the shape of a bean. LG created Bean Bird because it knows people hate set-up, but even worse, most people don’t do it which leads to a crappy experience for customers.
The Bean Bird wizard is awesome, because it actually fools customers into setting up stuff without answering any questions or following any obnoxious procedures. Pairing your Wiimote-like Smart Remote, for example, is taken care of by ‘poking’ Bean Bird a few times at the start of the wizard. By doing that, you’re actually pairing the remote and calibrating it to your panel without even knowing it. That’s how you do set-up. Bravo, LG.
The magic continues once the set-up is complete on the awesomely colourful new dashboard.
Complete with a new cursor straight out of Google Maps, the dashboard features all the apps you’d expect to be on a smart TV presented intuitively in a ribbon at the bottom of the panel. The current input selected is in the background rather than having the dashboard take up the whole screen like it does on LG’s Smart Home right now.
webOS for LG TVs puts content and apps in a timeline: past, present and future. Past are all the apps you have previously opened which are held in suspension to the left of the dashboard ribbon for instant multi-tasking and smooth switching. Present stuff is the inputs you’re currently watching, and future stuff is kept in LG’s Time Machine PVR.
In-between are all the usual apps like news and social networking. Rather than call them “Cards” as they were previously titled on webOS, LG is just going to call them apps to save people being confused now.
You’ll notice all of those default apps being shown off like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant are US-only apps. We’ve since found out that it doesn’t matter, as the LG webOS TV will now allow you to tinker with your DNS and IP address to fool it into thinking you’re using it in the US. Hello, streaming services.
webOS will be made open source (developers will still have to contact LG for a dev kit mind you), which means you’ll see plenty more apps for your TV that you’ll actually want to use.
LG’s voice and gesture recognition is now much smarter too. You can raise the volume with one finger, and mute it just by holding your fingers to your lips like you’re making a sssshhhh gesture. Cute!
All in all, it’s the best piece of software we’ve seen from LG in years, and we can’t wait until its on our TVs.
You can buy LG’s webOS TV right now in Australia. The 100Hz, 55-inch 55UB850T TV will set you back $2996.
Alternatively, if 55 inches isn’t enough for your super-massive living room, there’s a larger model also on offer. The 65UB980T is a 65-inch super-premium model, with largely the same feature-set as the 55UB850T — Ultra HD, WebOS TV, built-in Wi-Fi and 3D — but with a 200Hz native refresh rate for smoother fast-motion video. JB has its price pegged at $5996, although other retailers should have similar prices as well.
Video by Brent Rose
Campbell Simpson also contributed to this article.