SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — A live streaming demo of Netflix’s forthcoming “House of Cards” in Ultra HD streaming was among the highlights of a media tour of LG Electronics Silicon Valley software development lab here, where some of the company’s top software engineers showcased the benefits of new WebOS-based smart TVs, Ultra HD TVs and OLED sets.
The presentation was made in light of recent announcements of Amazon’s Fire TV platform and new smart-TV interface upgrades from many of LG’s top-line competitors.
It also gave LG a second chance to promote its relationship with Netflix, which will enable purchasers of LG Ultra HD TVs to view some of the first native 4K streaming content available, later this year.
Both this year’s and last year’s LG Ultra HD sets include built-in HEVC (H.265) decoding, which will enable viewing the forthcoming Netflix Ultra HD programming.
LG developers used the event to make clear the advances that WebOS will bring to end users and give a glimpse of some of the capabilities that may be coming in the future.
WebOS is a Linux kernel-based operating system for smart TVs, but it started its life as a mobile operating system that was initially developed by Palm and later acquired by Hewlett-Packard.
LG bought the platform from HP in 2013 and set to work adapting it to smart TVs, replacing its previous NetCast platform.
Samuel Chang, LG Electronics Silicon Valley Labs senior VP, said the company opted to put a software development center in Silicon Valley to take advantage of the “talent and culture [that promotes] the ability to think outside of the box” when developing new tools and solutions for smart TVs, mobile devices and other connected products.
LG Silicon Valley Lab product management director Colin Zhao said one of the missions in adopting WebOS was to transform the smart- TV viewing experience from the complex “lean-forward experience” it was becoming through the implementation of platforms intended for smartphones and tablets to a more relaxing “lean-back experience” that lets the content take over.”
In the first WebOS smart-TV implementation, LG is co-branding WebOS as “LG Smart + TV” to signify the improved user experience and focus on three main objectives: to speed up and simplify the process of switching between online and offline content, including speeding up the process of switching between live streaming programs; to simplify the content discover process between multiple online and offline content sources; and to simplify the process of setting up the TV for use within a home network.
The latter is executed using an animated “Bean Bird” cartoon character that helps guide users through the setup process with comical suggestions and instructions to aid in the execution and speed up the process.
LG’s Smart + TV models feature a simple content-discovery system that helps viewers quickly find and select the programs they want to watch from an integrated mix of sources, including live cable/satellite boxes, recorded programs, and over-thetop streaming services.
Users can easily switch back and forth between two live streaming sources using the LG Magic Remote with an air-mouse-style cursor.
The company had created a number of developer tools to ensure a smartphone connects well with the WebOS TV and also recently announced an open SDK program for the platform to encourage the creation of new and more compelling second-screen apps.
As an example, LG partnered with MusixMatch to offer a karaoke service that can be used with a smartphone or a smart TV to figure out the lyrics to a song being played and automatically sync the music to the lyrics. Users can beam the song being played on the smartphone over to the TV’s screen.
In part because they include the WebOS platform, the company also showcased some of its latest generation Ultra HD TVs and OLED sets, a number of which recently began shipping to retail, with more advanced OLED and Ultra HD sets slated for delivery in coming weeks.
Tim Alessi, LG new product development director, said the WebOS platform will be found in all of LG’s Ultra HD and OLED models in 2014, as well as in many 2014 FullHD LED LCD TVS.
LG’s FullHD LED LCD TVs with WebOS already shipping to dealers include the 42-inch 42LB6300 ($649 suggested retail), 47-inch 47LB6300 ($799), 50- inch 50LB6300 ($899), 55-inch 55LB6300 ($1,099), and 60-inch 60LB6300 ($1,399).
With most of the 1080p LED LCD TV and plasma TVs already in the market, Alessi said LG will be shipping its new Ultra HD TV series “within the next week or two, joining two OLED TV models out now, including the 55-inch 55EA9800 ($10,999) curved-screen FullHD OLED and the 55-inch 55EA8800 ($9,999) Gallery OLED, a flat-screen FullHD set designed to look like a hanging picture frame and backed with an advanced wallmounted audio system.
Alessi pointed to Consumer Electronics Association market research predicting a slowdown for the overall U.S. plasma and LCD TV market in 2014.
The bright spots, he said, are growth sectors in bigger screen sizes: 50 to 59 inches, which are predicted to grow 9 percent to more than 5 million units, and 60 inches and larger, which are predicted to grow 19 percent to more than 4 million units.
Fourteen out of 47 new LG TV units in 2014 feature screen sizes 60 inches or larger, with many offering Ultra HD resolution — the next growth area.
This year’s Ultra HD TVs feature a new and improved 4K up-scaling system that the company feels will be the best in the industry in 2014. Also offered are various step-up levels of picture-processing and contrast-enhancement technologies (including LED dimming in premium LED-based UHD LCD TVs) that add to the overall performance package. This will be joined by WebOS in all 2014 UHD, OLED and some step-up FullHD LCD TV lines.
Alessi said LG will be helping dealers sell the WebOS Smart + TVs with a self-contained demo display and extensive sales training for assisted sales environments.
As for the expected net results of his company’s efforts, Alessi said LG has bullish sales expectations for the Ultra HD category of “a little over 1 million units this year,” with Ultra HD growing to represent better than 50 percent of the 60-inch-and-larger TV segment “in the next couple of years.”
Underscoring the focus on WebOS, Alessi said smart TVs are also on a growth trajectory for the industry this year, and as a TV category subset, should reach a 35 percent growth rate to over 16 million units.
“We think we can really lead the way in smart TVs as people’s usage and awareness continues to grow,” Alessi said.
LG will be among a handful of Ultra HD TV makers offering smart TVs capable of decoding and playing Netflix’s “House of Cards” and other fare in native Ultra HD resolution.
LG is developing WebOS as “the operating system” for its new Smart + TVs and will offer an open SDK to encourage greater app development for smart-TV and second-screen functionality.