LG LB700V 42-inch Smart TV with webOS review
Want a smart TV that's easier to use than any previous attempts? Having acquired the webOS operating system and adapting it for TV use, that's exactly what the LG LB700V Smart TV is all about.
Although the full 'LG 42LB700V Smart TV with webOS' name is a mouthful to say it's one of the easiest televisions to use that we've ever reviewed. Combine that with an impressive picture quality and we'd call this a pioneering new class of TV.
We spent a few weeks living with the 42-inch Full HD LB700V model and fell under the spell of the LG Magic Remote and the webOS interface. Did it find a place in our hearts or was it all just hocus pocus?
Front of the class: webOS
Let's get straight into what you want to know about: webOS. In its TV form it brings all the major channels into one easy-to-use interface. Whether you want to dive into catch-up apps, YouTube, Netflix, or your terrestrial or Sky services you won't need to be digging through a maze of menus because everything is laid out in one simple screen.
Combined with LG's Magic Remote, which uses accelerometers to respond to hand movements, it as easy to use as any mobile, tablet or computer operating system - which is a big jump forward for TVs. It's no surprise, though, because the operating system started life when developed as a mobile operating system by Palm back in 2009. It then ended up over at HP before being taken under the wing of LG where it has been adapted as a TV interface.
LG has implemented it well too. From first plugging in the TV users are met with Bean Bird, the loveable character who took the interwebs by storm when first revealed. He guides you through a simple setup process that is straightforward enough for your parents to manage. From connecting to the internet to tuning the TV and connecting to external sources, Bean Bird is there along the way. But then you never see him again when using the TV. We missed him. Although maybe it's for the best - we wouldn't want the whole experience adopting Microsoft Word paperclip levels of annoying.
Perhaps another reason Bean Bird doesn't make another appearance is because he isn't needed owing to the self-explanatory nature of the webOS layout. A tap of the home button on the Magic Remote brings up the tabs with everything you could want to access. These can be arranged for fast access to services you use most like a certain HDMI, Netflix or streamed media from a laptop or mobile. Moving these about was easy as hovering over an icon, moving to the up arrow that appears, clicking then moving to its new home and clicking again. It's intuitive customisation.
The TV does come with a normal remote control but it's the Magic Remote we love. In fact this is one of the first TVs we've tested where the button-minimal remote was the main one we used because webOS largely does away with the need for inputting numbers and letters with buttons. The accuracy on screen is great - it makes typing on screen like typing on a mobile keyboard but all controlled with flicks of the wrist.
Apps and external access
Thanks to the webOS interface watching TV is just one of many things we found ourselves doing on this TV. Netflix was fast to load and easier to navigate than any other platform we've used, including on the PC, with the same to be said for BBC iPlayer.
However, there's no ITV Player or 4oD to be seen yet and since the LG app store isn't up and running in the UK either we were rather limited for options outside of the pre-installed apps.
As a truly smart TV, the webOS interface can also facilitate external devices. With the YouTube app installed on our mobile it was easy to tap a button to sling the playing video over to the TV screen using a same-network Wi-Fi connection. This allows you to search for more videos on your mobile while one is playing on the big screen.
Streaming from a computer, via a server like Plex, is also possible - but it could have been easier to use. While it did work there are two ways to access it, via Smart Share or Device Connector. Both require several clicks to acquire content on the TV - an ability to create a shortcut to that would be brilliant. The fact we're moaning about a few clicks, and expecting these shortcuts to come later, shows just how far ahead of other TV menus the LG webOS system already is.
All this works with multi-tasking too, so a swipe to the left of the bottom menu allows you to flick through, and click right back into, anything you've been watching. After a few minutes Netflix will lose you a need a restart but for jumping between inputs, websites and apps it's a helpful control. Though you'll need to close these if you use more than six as it can start to lag a bit then. Turning the TV off resets this too.
What about Sky/Virgin?
If you have Sky then its electronic programme guide (EPG) is compatible with the LG webOS TVs from launch. The implication is that you'll not need a boat load of remote controls to dig into the action, but having used webOS and the Magic Remote in conjunction with Sky we found it rather limited.
The Sky EPG isn't fully accessible using the Magic Remote, instead its buttons allow you to scroll up and down through channels, and that's about it. That's not of great use for setting recordings and so forth, so it hasn't succeeded in delivering a single remote solution just yet. We don't have Virgin to verify, but the implication is the same.
We don't think that's a total deal-breaker though. In a former setup we needed three remotes: one for TV, one for Freesat and one for Now TV. So by comparison that LG fares better than that. But when it gets a true single remote solution that encompasses Sky and Virgin in full we'll be even happier.
If you're not a Sky customer but like the sound of contract-free Sky Sports and movies content on a month by month basis then Now TV might be for you. This is built-in to webOS and is an exclusive LG TV feature that other TV manufacturers can't offer right now (you'll need to buy a Now TV box instead).
Day to day the picture has an impressively sharp resolution that brings human skin to life thanks to the Triple XD Engine. From news readers to Hollywood actors the LG almost puts them in the room with you, it's ridiculous how clear they appear. It doesn't have trouble recreating bright colours either with punchy variation across the gamut and clearly defined edges.
Where the picture falls down is with its backlight. The LB700V is an LCD panel with LED edge-illumination and we found that this illumination could often be too bright, thus creating a haze over what should be black. At the opposite end of the scale sometimes it wasn't bright enough which saw dark greys and blacks all grouped together as one rather than delivered with as subtle a gradation as we would have liked.
As is the case with a lot of screens there are various presets to tweak the display settings. And as it's World Cup time there is an option to enhance the viewing experience for football: a tap of the input button on the Magic Remote and there's a Sport icon that can be clicked on and off. This immediately tweaks the settings for a sport experience - it intensifies colour and enhances the surround sound effect. Tracking is excellent with a refresh rate that didn't judder once in our testing, even in fast paced sports.
We still found the Sport mode to be a little too bright and the sound enhancement was too echoey for our taste, but others might appreciate it - and the idea of one-touch setting changes is great. Perhaps a future update will allow other preset modes to be available from this one-touch location, such as the Cinema mode which we would use more for Blu-ray playback.
Within each preset it is possible to tweak various setting such as the backlight intensity and then re-save as a defined User preset. If you have a perfect blackout room then you might want to take advantage of dropping the backlight for better black performance, while daylight viewing of TV you might want to boost settings to counter sunlight.
Overall the LG LB700V picture quality is good. It's just not the true black performer you might get from a top-spec plasma is all.
As you'd expect from a slim LED TV the sound that comes built in is fine but not great. It'll do the job of delivering clear voices, balanced sound effects and immersive sports but the 24 watts of power won't truly envelop your or deliver proper low-end frequencies. You'll need a sound system for that. Having just reviewed the Sony KD-X9005B series with built-in speakers all other TVs seem to fade into the background in the sound department.
Changing the LG's output is nice and easy thanks to the one-touch input menu. This accesses a drop-down menu with possible outputs including optical. We had Sky connected to a surround system which we listened to in 5.1 surround while the picture remained in perfect sync via HDMI. Something that doesn't always work but, with the LG worked perfectly.
Minimalist design delights
Beyond the display the LG LB700V is a beautifully designed television with truly minimal bezel and a premium brushed metal finish. The stand is a wavy curve that seems to slide out of the TV base for a perfectly finished look and study support. It's also light enough to move alone but heavy enough to feel premium.
The rear access is nicely placed toward the edge for access even with shorter cables and there are plenty of ports for most needs. Three HDMI 1.4 sockets and three USB 2.0 ports will cater for the ins and outs that most will need, but there's also Scart and Component input for older devices. No SD card slot though.
LG has taken a quantum leap in smart TV interfaces as webOS is the best we've ever used. Not only is it better than any other TV ever made, it's as easy to use as a tablet or smartphone. It makes light work of selecting channels without digging through a maze of menus, but also watching online video and sharing media with everyone in the room is easier than ever before. And let's not forget Bean Bird.
Only one or two performance caveats hold it back: no LG app store at launch in the UK and some absent apps such as 4oD and ITV player being the most prominent. We also feel some tweaks could be made for one-touch preset changes to be more effective, while external device streaming integration could be further streamlined.
Picture quality is crisp and clear to that point that humans look more defined and real than we've seen on many televisions. The backlight and subsequent black reproduction could be improved but overall the quality is visibly better than those offered by last year's LG models.
What the LG LB700V does better than the competition is put the "smart" at the forefront of Smart TVs. We love it for that.