Hands-on with LG's webOS - perhaps the first smart TV platform to actually deserve the name

From the ashes of HP's palm tablets rises webOS, the first truly smart Smart TV platform
LG webOS hands-on

If webOS sounds familiar, it’s no surprise – this is the operating system that originally appeared on the ill-fated HP Palm range.

A lot has changed since then. After six months of working with the webOS guys in Silicon Valley, LG made HP an offer it couldn’t refuse and acquired the team for itself. Since then it’s been frantically beavering away to turn the originally portable OS into a TV platform.

And the end result? Perhaps the simplest and smartest smart TV platform there’s ever been.

Bean Bird: putting the cute into setting up a TV

LG webOS hands-on
LG webOS hands-on
LG webOS hands-on

Unless you’re an absolute TV nerd, setting up a TV has never been fun. On webOS it’s a different story. LG’s Bean Bird mascot teaches you how to use the motion-sensing Magic Remote and takes you through connecting your new TV to the internet, plugging in your extra sources and tuning in your TV channels in a way that’s more colourful cartoon than complicated menus. The whimsy won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the simplicity will. The only shame is that once the setup process is complete you’re unlikely to see the pudgy little guy again.

Colour and customisation is key, but content comes first

LG webOS hands-on
LG webOS hands-on
LG webOS hands-on
LG webOS hands-on

Calling up the interface is a matter of simply pressing the Home button, at which point a perfectly straight row of bold, colourful icons pops up from the bottom of the screen.

What’s crucial is that every feature is treated equally, whether it be live TV, an app, or an external source such as a games console or PVR. Icons are automatically moved to the left if you use them frequently, but the order can also be rearranged at will by picking icons up and dragging them to a new home using the Magic Remote.

Talking of apps, all of the usual suspects are present, including Netflix, iPlayer and Skype. And talking of live TV, if you get it from a set-top box such as Sky+ HD, you can tell the LG TV so that it brings in listings from the Sky EPG and even controls the box itself. Remember when Xbox One promised something similar? LG promises it will actually work right from launch.

READ MORE: Xbox One review

The equality between features and sources continues with the Today feature. Click it and a variety of content available that day is presented with poster-like artwork. This content could be a TV show being broadcast on Channel 4 later that day, a film available to stream from Netflix, or a boxset episode available on-demand from Sky. Click on it and you’ll be taken directly to it, and if it’s available from multiple sources you can choose which one to watch. Nothing in the initial selection that takes your fancy? Click once to refresh the lot.

It all adds up to webOS being a true hub for everything you might possibly want to watch. All of that fragmentation you get when trawling multiple apps and multiple sources for something of interest is gone. Content comes first, and your route to it has been shortened immeasurably. In fact, moving from app to app is practically instantaneous, and apps continue running in the background so that if you switch from an episode of Sons of Anarchy so you can watch a Premier League game, once the match is over you can instantly resume the biker gang soap opera exactly where you left off.

Hidden depth

LG webOS hands-on

Clearly the key aims of webOS are to make smart TV more fun and far more simple, but that shouldn’t be taken as sign of shallowness. Power users who run all of their kit through a home cinema receiver will be pleased to hear that the TV can detect and control (with some exceptions) all of these, too.

The team admitted that this is a slightly more complicated process than the Bean Bird step-by-step, but the extra work will be well worth it for the AV nerds out there.

Connect SDK – second-screen goes open source

LG webOS hands-on

Casting content from phone or tablet to telly is very much in vogue right now (see Chromecast, Roku), but LG’s looking to take it one step further by removing the need to have a dedicated version of whatever app you want to use on the receiving TV. Instead it uses a kind of web container, and that means developers don’t have to write their apps for a bunch of different platforms.

READ MORE: Roku Streaming Stick review

It’s called Connect SDK and it’s completely open and completely free to develop for, and it already works with a number of platforms, including Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and LG’s smart TVs, both webOS and older.

Right now it works with Plex (just use the Cast button) and Musixmatch, a new app that let’s you send your portable device’s music straight to your TV. It even includes lyrics for a bit of at-home karaoke. Only time will tell if loads more developers sign up, but the ability to get their content onto loads of devices without the need to create loads of distinct apps must be very appealing.

LG webOS initial verdict

LG webOS hands-on

From what we’ve seen so far, this seems to be simply the very best smart TV platform there’s ever been. It’s pretty and lightning fast, effortlessly simple but deep and feature-laden. Essentially, whatever type of user you are and however you like to use your TV, getting to what you want is quicker and more fun than ever before.

Here’s hoping the TVs themselves (check out the full list of LG's webOS models on our sister site whathifi.com) are just as impressive – the fabulous platform deserves equally fabulous hardware.

Expect our reviews of the first of LG’s new TVs in the very near future.