When we checked out LG's booth for an overview of the company's brand-new smart platform, webOS, we didn't know what to expect. In a previous life, webOS was Palm's (and then HP's) last attempt at a mobile operating system, and it was... average. Unfortunately for webOS, it had to contend with Mayweather and Pacquiao in the ring, otherwise known as Android and iOS. It didn't stand a chance.
Fast-forward to February of 2013, when LG decided to buy webOS from HP for use in smart TVs. No one knew whether LG would use webOS' technology to enhance its preexisting smart TV platform, or make something completely different. After demoing this new interface at CES 2014, the answer is definitely the latter, and I mean that in a good way: webOS is shaping up to be something special.
What Is It?
webOS tries its hardest to be an unintrusive smart TV platform, and from what we've seen, it is. LG has divided the interface into three parts: past, present, and future. No, it's not A Christmas Carol-themed, but yes the whole concept is a bit of a stretch. Here's the rundown:
- The present is all of your favorite apps
- The future is your entire catalog of apps
- The past is apps you have previously used
Bear with me. The main webOS interface is a colorful bar at the bottom of the screen that shows your apps. The "home" bar, if you will, is the present. By pressing a tab on the left—using LG's redesigned motion-controlled Magic Remote—you can get to "the past," while tabbing over to the right will show you "the future."
webOS is really a beautifully designed smart TV platform. The main bar at the bottom of your screen is stylish, but never overbearing. The last thing anyone wants while watching TV is an interface that distracts you from the content you're watching. LG thankfully avoids this, while still adding a UI that you actually want to use.
And use it you will. From what I saw, the most impressive aspect of webOS is how fluid it is. Switching between the past, present, and future is lag-free, and launching apps is a painless affair. Even the best smart TV platforms we've seen can get sluggish at times, and make me pine for a Roku box or Apple TV. That doesn't seem to be the case with webOS.
Content & Features
Expect all of your favorite streaming platforms on webOS, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, and M-GO. Also, Dish's new Virtual Joey app that was unveiled for LG's previous Smart TV platform, will also be available on webOS (we confirmed this with a Dish rep).
And just like LG's previous smart platform and its Google TV interface, users will be able to link their cable content into the UI. This is big, and it's really a feature that no smart TV should leave out: Accessing your cable content in the same interface with all your streaming apps really makes you feel like you're choosing TV shows a la carte. It doesn't look like webOS can access your DVR content at this time, though.
As far as features go, there are a few standouts on webOS. An app called Today shows movies and TV shows that are popular at the moment. According to an LG rep, this content will be constantly changing. Loading up Today at 2PM might show you that Pacific Rim and Anchorman are currently popular, while an hour later you might see Pawn Stars and Breaking Bad. Clicking on one of the movies or TV shows listed will bring up all the sources where you can find them, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Vudu.
webOS even incorporates a fun way of learning to use your new TV. When you first boot up, you're greeted by a sleeping penguin. There are instructions to poke the penguin with your remote in order to wake him up. It's not revolutionary, but it is adorable, and might help less tech-savvy consumers get acquainted with their smart TV.
Then there are voice and gesture commands, which we briefly demoed. Voice commands worked pretty well: Just speak into the microphone on your remote by saying a phrase like "show me Family Guy." The right-side of the screen will populate with results that would let us watch Family Guy. Not bad.
LG's new finger-based gesture commands are a different story, though. The process involves standing up straight, raising your arm up, extending your finger, and then wagging it slightly. This will bring up a menu with options to change the channel and volume, as well as power off the TV. The whole process is reminiscent of Samsung's gesture commands, although instead of clenching your fist to make a selection, you close your finger like Danny from The Shining.
The gesture process took way too long to get started, and moving your finger to select an option was a bit too sensitive. The one feature that did work pretty well was muting the TV, which involved bring your finger to your mouth as if you were shushing someone. It's a total gimmick, but I got a kick out of it.
The Bottom Line
LG Smart TV is dead.
No, not LG smart TVs—I'm talking about its previous internet TV interface, called LG Smart TV. We saw some great displays from the Korean company at this year's International CES, and the release models will all ship with webOS. In fact, we were told that most of LG's TVs will have webOS. This is a good thing.
With a totally redesigned interface that's fast and fluid, not to mention a pleasure to look at, webOS is shaping up to be a top contender for the smart TV crown. We'll be sure to give you an in-depth look at LG's newest platform when we get one of its 2014 TVs into our labs. Hopefully, one of the original developers of Palm's operating system is smiling somewhere right now.