NOWADAYS it’s not often that we get worked up to an excitement over a new smart TV range in the same way that a new smartphone or tablet or wearable technology easily does. Of course, this should come as no surprise given that our increasingly mobile lifestyles have us constantly looking out for things that would help speed us from one appointment to the next, from one destination to another.
Then again, not all smart TVs are powered by webOS, the platform on which global consumer electronics giant LG has launched its 2014 range of Smart TVs and Ultra HDTVs, one of which—the 49″ LG UB850T Ultra HDTV loaned to us by LG Philippines—we have been playing with for a few weeks now.
If you’re a huge fan of the Palm Pilot, then webOS needs no introduction. It is a Linux kernel-based operating system that Palm Inc. built from the ground up to replace its aging Palm OS Garnet, this as the company made the final transition from its best-selling personal digital assistants to the then-nascent product category of smartphones. webOS was a revolutionary platform—it was wicked fast, absolutely smart, with a graphical user interface that was not only downright gorgeous, but thoroughly intuitive. When we acquired our first webOS-powered Palm device, the original Pre smartphone, we never ever had to dig up the manual to work our way around and get productive with the Pre. Ditto with the Pre 3.
Then, HP—another technology giant, which acquired Palm in 2010—royally f@%#ed it up. Amid an internal upheaval, the company released three webOS-powered devices—two smartphones and one tablet—in the first half of 2011. Before year’s end, as the company faced both internal turmoil and a tough smartphone market, HP announced it was halting webOS device development and production. The decision left in the lurch the thousands who bought into and instantly fell in love with the platform, with not a few of webOS fans, ourselves included, wondering what would become of the beloved mobile operating system.
Well, now you can check any of appliance centers in your favorite mall to see what has happened to webOS since LG acquired it from HP in 2013 as a replacement to the aging NetCast platform that was then powering the company’s smart TVs.
The consumer electronics giant, headquartered in South Korea, has embraced the slogan “simple is the new smart” and, in an interview earlier this year with TheVerge.com, Colin Zhao, director of product management for LG’s Silicon Valley Lab, said the company sought to “make TV simple again.”
This, LG has accomplished for the most part with its new range of Smart TVs and Ultra HD TVs (also known as 4K TVs). The webOS powering these new web-connected TVs, it must be said, doesn’t look anything like the OS you once knew and loved on those ill-fated Palm/HP devices, having been stripped the user interface of subtle gradients for a flatter but no less appealing modern look.
The card metaphor that once defined the excellent multitasking capabilities of webOS has also been rethought and rejiggered, with both software and hardware features appearing as cards arrayed horizontally at the bottom of the display whenever you call up the home screen at the press of a button on LG’s Magic Remote, a motion-enabled remote that has got to be one of the best we’ve ever wielded in front a TV screen.
Each of those cards represent not just the apps (YouTube, web browser, Skype, etc.) that come with the smart TV, and the web-enabled apps you have downloaded and installed from the LG app store, but also your variety of inputs (external storage, set-top box, Playstation 4 and so on), and they appear as an overlay to whatever it is that you’ve had playing—and which, by the way, continues to play even as you go through all those cards. It makes for a thoroughly refreshing seamless experience, so unlike other smart TV interfaces that yank you from whatever it is you’ve been viewing and dump you onto a separate screen the minute you press on the home button of the remote.
LG’s iteration of webOS would make any fan of the platform proud—and easily make fans of new users, as well. Should it be any surprise then that the company’s market share for smart TVs and ultra HD TVs has grown considerably while newspapers report of the current struggles of its once seemingly invincible South Korean rival?
Beyond how webOS has redefined “smart” in smart TVs for LG, its 2014 releases, in particular the more affordably priced 49″ LG UB850 Ultra HDTV that we have been playing with, are beautifully designed and solidly constructed. The UB850 boasts of the slimmest bezel we have encountered on a 4K TV that the display—an IPS LCD panel that gorgeously reproduces high-definition content—might as well be frameless. Like its pricier sisters, the UB850 packs such technologies as HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, integrated HEVC decoder, built-in WiFi connectivity, auto-screen dimming and passive 3D capabilities, among others.
All in all, our weeks-long sampling of the 49″ LG UB850 Ultra HDTV has been a most pleasurable experience. However, before you bring home your Ultra HDTV of choice from the appliance store to attach to your Skycable set-top box, do tell the LG sales personnel, as there is some very minor hardware compatibility issue between the box and the Ultra HDTV—and which is easily resolved with some magic sauce from LG that only takes a few minutes to apply.
Gerard Ramos / Lifestyle & Entertainment Editor