LG Smart TV System 2013 Review
IntroductionVirtually all the major manufacturers now have very creditable smart TV platforms but it's always been the two big Korean manufacturers that have lead in terms of innovation and exploration of the medium. We've already run the rule over LG's main competitor - no names/no pack drill necessary - and came away suitably impressed. Now it's LG's turn to show just how smart their offering really is. It's going to be a real shakedown. Literally!
We love LG’s simple card style UI as it creates a completely unified world in which to discover all that’s on offer but without overloading the eye with information. The cards are split into 5 default categories, although it’s perfectly possible to create your own card with a simple editing interface. The default cards are Premium, 3D World, Game World, Smart World and SmartShare. Premium is a locked down card and can’t be moved but the others can be picked up and dragged wherever and whenever you so choose. The 3D World and Game World cards are synonymous with their purpose and SmartShare is essentially the DLNA hub where you can share content to and from other DLNA certified devices. SmartWorld is the overarching app store that contains everything downloadable and encompasses elements of all the rest. Also on the Smart Home screen is the ‘More’ bar, allowing quick access to your favourite apps, features, settings, anything really and is also customisable to suit your wants and needs.
ControlThe redesigned Magic Motion Remote really is superb and arguably the star of the whole show as it makes for a far more fluid experience than a conventional remote could possibly manage. The Magic Motion 2 comes in a couple of colour schemes and designs (as far as we know) but their functionalities are identical. Pairing the device with the TV is a simple matter of holding down the Back and Smart buttons together and then you’re ready to point, waggle, scroll or click to your heart’s content. For anyone that’s familiar with a Wii controller – and surely that’s many of you – pointing accuracy feels pretty much identical to Nintendo’s console and, as such, very usable. There’s a scroll wheel in the middle too, which speeds things up even more and also acts as a click button to confirm selections.
As an alternative to waggle and click commands, there’s also a microphone built-in that accepts search commands only. The voice recognition is stunningly accurate and will search web, apps, internet and connected devices for matches – and we think it’s sensible that LG hasn’t bothered to include voice control for the likes of channel hopping and volume control as they’re much easier done with a simple button press. LG’s Magic Motion includes these buttons toward the bottom as well as some directional keys around the scroll wheel if all the other alternatives don’t fit your needs. As we said, sometimes it is just easier to press a button so it’s great that the alternative is provided. Additionally, there’s a dedicated 3D button and a Quick Menu Key which brings up access to some key settings. If we had one minor criticism of the Magic Motion it would be that there’s no dedicated Settings button but then I guess we spend more time in Menus than most and it’s still possible to get at everything within a couple of clicks, waggles or whatever.
Three paragraphs on a remote control, what is the world coming too? Well we couldn’t stop before telling you the MMR2 is also capable of acting as a true universal controller. During set up, you’ll be asked what kit you have hooked up to your LG TV and it will go through its database devices and IR commands until a match is found. Once everything is working satisfactorily, a press of the Q Menu button will bring up an onscreen facsimile of the device's controller with its full suite of commands, if the basic buttons aren’t enough. There’s more, as you’re not limited to buttons – virtual or otherwise – it’s also possible to ‘write’ channel numbers, go to last channel or bring up your recent history via the pointer which draws in pink on screen. We must say we didn’t have much luck with channel numbers with the TiVo we had connected but it did work well on the Freeview tuner, although it’s definitely a bit of a novelty rather than something genuinely useful. Recent history and channel back are somewhat more useful but, let’s face it, most people are going to use this feature to doodle on the screen.
If you’re getting the impression that we liked the Magic Motion, then you’d be absolutely correct. We’ve been fairly scornful of ‘novelty’ controllers in the past but this thing is superb and, quite frankly, since using it any other standard controller feels like a step back in time. Fantastic work LG!
Mobile appAvailable to iDevice and Android users is LG’s latest TV Remote App which is also largely a triumph. The interface is simple enough and consists of 3 screens; one is a scroll pad which is extremely well tuned and sensitive and great for interaction with the web browser and various apps. There’s another that mimics a controller with buttons for more traditional TV operation and the third acts as a mini Smart Home screen from where you can launch pretty much everything. If we had a complaint, it’s that navigation between the 3 screens can feel a bit laggy on the Android Version and requires use of the actual device back button, rather than the virtual button onscreen in the app. You soon get used to it but it does feel slightly illogical.
The app also allows for streaming of content to and from the TV. If you fire it up whilst on the Freeview tuner, for example, you’ll instantly be greeted with whatever is showing at the time being displayed on the screen of the device. One may also use the DLNA functionality of the TV to access devices on your network and display them on the smartphone or tablet. It’s also possible to send videos (as well as photos and music) the other way and even open up certain mobile apps (YouTube and Netflix, that we know of) on the device and then show them on the TV. The manufacturers have stepped up their respective games when it comes to mobile apps in 2013 and it’s hard to pick our favourite (so far) but LG’s attempt is certainly excellent.
EPG Quality & PVR FeaturesIn these days of digital channels there is a bewildering array of choice and the line between programme guide and internet platform is beginning to blur. All LG's TVs come with a DVB-T2 tuner for Freeview HD and many of the higher end models also include a free-to-air satellite tuner but it should be stressed that this is not a Freesat tuner so there's no EPG or other niceties. Freeview setup is easy and the resulting Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is both sensibly laid out and informative. Our only complaint would be that it doesn't include a window or audio for the channel you are currently on.
Many of LG TVs offer a choice of recording options and you can just hook up an external hard disk drive to utilise these functions and access even more features. This facility allows you to use a host of convenient features such as Timer Recording, Direct TV Recording and Pause Live TV. All of these functions have been integrated as conveniently as possible with dedicated buttons on the remote control or via the Q Menu when using the Magic Motion. This means that by adding a HDD via USB you can turn your LG TV into a PVR, providing you with the opportunity to record programmes and play them back later. We found this feature to be quite useful and the interface is effective, however there is only one tuner which means you can’t record one programme whilst watching another, so it is limited. Other manufacturers, notably Samsung and Panasonic, are offering dual tuners now so we’d expect to see that added by LG in 2014.
ConnectivityMany of LG's TVs now come with built-in WiFi which makes it easy for you to connect with your broadband router and your home network wirelessly, removing the need for any bothersome cables. It’s easy to setup the WiFi connection and integrate your TV into your network. The resulting network can stream content at high speed and offers a wide, stable transmission range for a reliable, cable-free home system setup. LG also supports WiFi Direct (WiDi) which allows your TV to connect directly to similar devices without going through your router. If your TV doesn’t offer a wireless option, you can still access your router or network using an Ethernet cable. We had no problems connecting any of the LG TVs to our router and network, using both the built-in Wi-Fi and an Ethernet cable.
Our options of connecting up various devices around the home are ever-growing, of course, and LG is stepping up to the plate by offering some of the rather more esoteric options in some of their premium TVs in 2013. Some now feature support for the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), a newish industry standard for a mobile audio/video interface that directly connects smartphones and tablets to HDTVs. The MHL standard features a single cable with a low pin-count interface able to support up to 1080p high-definition (HD) video and digital audio while simultaneously charging the connected device and is obviously very useful for showing these HD videos on your device.
New on the connectivity front for 2013 are Tag On and Miracast. Tag On is LG’s specific labelling of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology which allows devices to be paired by simply tapping them together. We have yet to review an LG with NFC capabilities but if it works, well it just works, without the need for going through pairing routines and allows instant access to your stored media files. Miracast is an emerging standard on Android and is basically the answer to Apple’s (far more controlled) AirPlay technology. It can support 1080p video and 5.1 audio and features on a number of premium Android devices running on the latest version. Miracast relies in the device having dual band Wi-Fi to make it really effective but it’s definitely something to watch for the future.
Media PlaybackLG's Smart Share is designed to be a multimedia hub for your home and thanks to built-in Wi-Fi and DLNA networking technologies, LG TVs are able to communicate with compatible devices – so you can wirelessly stream multimedia stored on a compatible computer, tablet, smartphone or HDD recorder to your TV. When you select input on the remote the resulting interface is very well laid out, informative and does include a window showing your current input. Through LG's Smart Share platform you can have full and easy access to your photos, videos, music and more – no matter where they are stored. When compatible devices are connected via DLNA, you have access to entertainment stored in different rooms around the house, directly on your TV.
LG’s Smart Share card allows access to all your media via a convenient page that offers you a choice of selecting different content - videos, music, photos or TV recorded on a connected hard drive. You can also access various linked devices, select newly added content and recently watched content.
The majority of LG TVs provide extensive media playback capabilities, either through SmartShare or via connected devices. The support of audio files is fairly comprehensive and includes AC3, EAC3, HAAC, AAC, MPEG, MP3, PCM and DTS. Thanks to these features, media streaming is simle to achieve and you’re not limited to files on a PC as an LG TV will happily communicate with a Mac, smartphones and tablets. All the LG models we have reviewed to date had no problems playing back videos, listening to music and looking at photos and we found the performance to be excellent. The SmartShare platform was effective, comprehensive and robust and we found the interface to be attractive and easy to navigate. It was also very responsive and could be easily controlled, either through the available remotes or LG's remote app.
Cloud StorageA new option for 2013 LG TV customers and additional to DLNA, NFC and all the rest, is a cloud storage and streaming service provided free of charge. The LG Cloud App works either directly through the TV or it can be accessed via PC, mobile or tablet, offering access to videos, photos and music once they are uploaded to the user’s account. It’s currently available on Google Play or the LG Smart World store so there’s no iOS version yet. After a setup process, you can begin streaming up to 5GB of content for free directly to their CINEMA 3D Smart TV range without having to first download files to a storage device. Your content can be uploaded to the LG Cloud using the PC client, website or smart device.
LG Cloud is also capable of transcoding and streaming multimedia content to mobile devices via N-Screen. It even has a resume play function for seamless viewing or listening across multiple products. Pause a video or song on a smartphone and LG Cloud will continue playback from that same point on an LG Smart TV. LG Cloud also makes it possible to view photo slideshows while simultaneously streaming music so, all in all, it’s pretty neat and you certainly can’t complain at 5G of storage, gratis.
LG, along with a number of other manufacturers have realised that one of the reasons 3D hasn't been as popular as they'd hoped is the general lack of content. To address this, LG provide their 3D World which now occupies an entire card on the Home page. Newly added for 2013 is support from Disney with a limited number of their 3D presentations available to rent. The only problem is that it is somewhat dependent on your broadband speeds but there is certainly some interesting content available that allow the Cinema 3D TVs to show off their 3D capabilities.
Video-on-DemandIn the UK, by far the most popular aspect of smart TV is catch-up video and video-on-demand (VoD). The appeal is obvious and it is the feature most directly related to the TV's primary function - watching programmes. In LG's smart platform all the VoD content is collected together in the Premium page and here you can choose between a large number of useful services. You can also see the input you are currently on in a thumbnail in the top left hand corner, which is handy.
As well as the fantastic 3D support, there’s also most of the usual 2D video-on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Lovefilm and Netflix. In addition you get Knowhow Movies, Ace Trax, Live Sport, Museum, Blink Box, Euronews, Red Bull, iConcerts, Accu Weather, Cine Trailer, Daily Motion, Viewster and vTuner. The quality was generally very good, although to a certain extent this is going to depend on how fast your broadband connection is.
Social NetworkingIf you’re a member of the social networking generation and can't get through your favourite TV programme without chatting to your friends, then LG provide their very useful Social Centre. Here all the usual social networking apps, services and features are all congregated into a single area. This allows for easy access to your favourite social networking features, whilst still being able to watch the TV.
As you would expect in this age of social networking, the LG Social Centre platform offers all the main forms of communication with apps for Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Picasa. So if you’re one of those people who can’t bear to be cut off from their social network, the apps allow for their message streams to be read down one side whilst you’re actually watching TV. This could be very handy for watching live sporting events, where you can chat with friends at the same time.
LG TVs include a web browser which offers a tabbed browsing experience, along with the option to create favourites that can appear on your home page. Thanks to the Magic Motion or mobile remote app, navigation is a breeze and we’d imagine the quadcore models higher up the range will be fast but there’s still a way to go before the TV becomes your first port of call for internet activities. However, things are moving in the right direction and further refinements and innovations in the control technology can only make web browsing better.
- Magic Motion Controller is superb
- Incredible number of apps
- Card style presentation is brilliant
- Customisable interface
- Very good web browser
- High quality streaming capabilities
- Plenty of free content, including 3D
- Excellent connectivity
- Good for social networkers
- Great mobile apps available
- 5GB of cloud storage
- None that we can think of
LG Smart TV System 2013 Review
We can’t fault LG’s 2013 Smart TV platform both in terms of its presentation and control interface. There’s no lack of content either and the Smart World is positively packed with apps, games and more video on demand content than you could watch in a lifetime. Add in 5GB of free cloud storage - allowing you to stream your media anywhere, anytime; as well as from tablet, smartphone or PC via DLNA, Wi-Fi, NFC and Miracast and the proposition becomes even more compelling.
And that’s without mentioning the undoubted star of the show – LG’s new Magic Motion Controller, which is something of a revelation and becomes almost indispensable once you warm to its many charms. It does gesture and voice commands and does them very well, indeed, but also adds a scroll wheel plus basic command and directional keys as well as the ability to control pretty much any device you hook up to your LG TV via its universal capabilities. It’s a true one-stop shop of a controller and certainly lives up to its ‘Magic’ status. It's simply brilliant and the principle reason why we’re very happy to award LG’s 2013 Smart TV Platform a Reference Status. Yeah, it’s that good!
Ease of Use9
Media Playback Quality9
Applications - Software9
Applications - Hardware9
Voice and Motion Controls10
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.