The start of each new year brings with it the Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. We have posted an article about it for the last couple of years – since LG debuted their webOS televisions there. You may recall that it was Palm’s announcement and demonstration of the Palm Pre at the 2009 show that started all the fuss about webOS. Could LG maintain the excitement around their TVs?
What webOS news were we expecting? Well, the system is developed at LG’s silicon valley lab. Regular readers will have seen our report that a number of people were laid off from there recently. This is a concern for those hoping to see the system used in other products (not to mention current webOS TV owners), but may simply be a sign of rationalisation around a mature technology. Indeed, just a few days later, LG announced version 3.0 of the OS for 2016 models. The Verge, in it’s reporting of the news, stated that LG would be combining it’s user interface and product management groups into a single unit and expanding into in-car systems, while expressing scepticism that expansion and staff cuts were a good idea. Now, if this merging of groups and extension to new product categories is managed well, it could be a good thing for webOS development, but staff cuts and some apparent neglect of the webOS system give cause for concern. Having experimented with webOS on a smart watch last year, LG reverted to Android wear for the next model, only to pull the product it after it was reportedly found to be ‘unlocked’ – something that mobile network partners wouldn’t appreciate. What we were hoping for was a demonstration of the new webOS TV features, with maybe a preview of some automotive systems and maybe even another webOS watch. In all these areas, the CES keynote presentation was a disappointment.
To be fair, what was on show was impressive. Last year, LG won an award for it’s new twin washing machine and the latest version, along with other home appliances looked really good with useful and energy efficient features. This year, LG introduced a high-end brand called ‘LG signature’ and the products on stage all represented examples of this range. Dr Skott Ahn, President and chief technology officer of LG Electronics, focused on two areas in his presentation: In-car electronics (ICE) and the Internet of things (IoT). Given the nature of webOS as a system designed to connect data over the web and the recent news, these are two areas where you might expect a mention of webOS, but there was none. In fact, Dr Ahn introduced Gayathri Rajan, vice president of product management at Google to discuss two systems from that company: Brillo & Weave. I must confess, this is the first I’ve heard of these systems, but it seems that Brillo is a very stripped down version of Android for running embedded devices and Weave is a protocol for various devices to communicate with each other. How far these (independent) technologies will complement existing LG systems such as connectSDK and HomeChat or replace them is hard to say without delving deeper into the various technologies, but there will be a comment thread for this article…
Now of course, webOS is an operating system designed for the web and perhaps a stripped back, headless* webOS could make a good IoT system, but in truth many light-weight systems already exist. Why would LG spend resources on such an adaptation? Perhaps more notably, why would Google do this? Clearly they are a specialised software company while LG remains a product manufacturer, even as their products are increasingly software driven. The obvious answer may be that it follows Google’s familiar business strategy of creating a useful service and giving it away for ‘free’, creating a foothold in a market which they eventually control as other companies come to rely on their products. The question here is how will embedded IoT systems deliver profit? Search? Ad delivery? User tracking?
Enough speculation. Television was the webOS product on display and this section of the keynote was presented by David VanderWaal, The Vice President of Marketing, LG Electronics USA. The item in question was the G6 Signature OLED 4K TV. Mr VanderWaal stated this was the, “best TV ever” and he may actually be right. LG have moved all the circuitry and sound equipment to a box below the screen that also functions as the base, leaving a display panel only 2.57mm thick. I’m tempted to ask just how thin a TV needs to be, especially in the light of the thin phone craze. While a phone might bend, a misshap might snap a 77″ OLED TV – very expensively! However, not needing a back-light may mean the screen really can be this thin without compromising image quality and I can’t blame LG for emphasising the elegance. I was a little concerned to see ‘powered by Harmonic‘ on the screen, but this is a company creating video infrastructure products – no doubt delivering the 4K signal.
The screen is a ten-bit panel which with processing technology, can display 1 Billion colours (this is 99% of the colour gamut specified by Digital Cinema Initiatives). Additionally, the set is capable of high dynamic range display. Hanno Basse, President and CEO of the UHD Alliance appeared on stage to confirm that this was the first TV to carry the UHD Premium logo. In addition to simple resolution, the ‘Premium’ specification defines other factors such as colour depth and brightness range. For the record, the G6 can display 20 stops of brightness in comparison to the 14 of an LCD screen. For OLED, this in part means it can get dark down to what LG calls ‘perfect black’, which additionally contrasts with and emphasises brighter areas elsewhere on the screen.
The next guest was Giles Baker Senior Vice President of Dolby labs. Dolby have developed a specification known as ‘Dolby Vision‘. Historically, the display capability of television has been limited by the technology of the CRT and the old signal transmission systems. Dolby Vision is an attempt to start from scratch, with an enhanced signal carrying far greater information in the aforementioned areas of colour gamut and contrast range – closer to what the human eye perceives in daily life. Mr Baker confirmed that the G6 was capable of implementing Dolby Vision and mentioned that there are currently 40 films available in this format including the new ‘Star Wars’.
So it seems to be a very nice product, “but what,” I hear you cry, “of webOS?” Maybe I missed something, but I heard only one mention of the operating system.
“…we also want our viewers to be able to enjoy the best content available on the best TVs and that’s why we’re working with content providers like Netflix, Amazon, YouTube to deliver the best in class HDR 4K content through our accredited and acclaimed webOS smart TV platform.” -David VanderWaal
There you have it folks! It’s accredited, acclaimed and on 2016 models of what may be the best TV ever made. Let’s face it, there was the excitement of the introduction in 2014, the success and upgrade to version 2.0 in 2015. Perhaps this year the changes are fairly unremarkable and LG want to focus on their new branding and achievements in display technology. You can read about LGwebOS 3.0 here. If there is any more news when CES starts properly on the 6th, we’ll let you know.
The OLED range for 2016 will be four new series of TVs, eight models in total with sizes of 55, 65, & 77 inches. If ‘bigger’ is your thing, LCD is capable of that and LG will be showing a 98″ 8K TV at the show. American football fans might be interested to know that Ridley Scott and son, Jake will be delivering a commercial during the US Super Bowl.
You can watch the video here, but be warned that at the time of writing, the first hour is a ‘starting soon’ card, so don’t wait, skip along to the start.
Your comment thread is here at webOS Nation.