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LG opening up WebOS, Smart TV winning raves

Apr 25, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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As LG’s WebOS-based Smart TV earns a rave review, Linux.com examines how LG quickly merged its TV platform into WebOS with a little help from Yocto.

When Korean consumer electronics giant LG purchased HP’s mobile Linux WebOS operating system in Feb. 2013 with vague plans to incorporate it in future “smart TV” designs, it seemed more like a death knell for the well battered distribution than a rebirth. After all, so-called smart TV platforms, such as LG’s own Linux-based Netcast, were minimalist affairs, and there didn’t seem to be much hope for innovative open source development on such a platform. Yet, not only has WebOS emerged as a potent contender for Internet TV, but LG has begun to release portions of the platform as open source.

 
WebOS Smart TV praised

At this January’s CES show, LG’s WebOS based Smart TV was one of the hits of the show. Engadget gushed that it was “the best smart TV UI we’ve ever used.” That sentiment was reinforced by many other hands-on observations, as well as a full-length review this week by Digital Trends of the recently shipped LG Smart TV.



LG Smart TV with WebOS

“The verdict is in: webOS is awesome,” writes Digital Trend’s Caleb Denison. “It’s the best argument yet against using an over-the-top box like a Roku or Amazon Fire TV.”

Denison goes on to rave about the UI’s appearance, simplicity, fast multitasking, and voice-enabled search via the Wii-style “Magic Motion” remote control. He also notes the advantages of a UI that controls all aspects of the TV, not just programming.

“LG’s webOS platform changes the way smart TVs will look in the future,” concludes Denison. “It’s going to push competing platforms to innovate.”

 
Rebuilding a TV platform on WebOS and Yocto/OE

We had imagined that a TV port from a mobile OS that once ran on HP Pre phone and TouchPad tablet would be more a process of reduction than addition, with many features going by the wayside. As it turned out, it was something of the reverse. Over at Linux.com this week, Libby Clark interviewed Steve Winston, LG’s WebOS project lead, who said, “We have taken the stripped down OS and turned it back into a fully fledged embedded operating system for a TV.”

To integrate the LG TV middleware into WebOS, LG decided to convert its entire TV platform to the OpenEmbedded build environment used by WebOS, with the help of Yocto Project OE code. Winston explains the process of transforming its entire TV platform on the one hand while bending WebOS to its will on the other — all within a year of shipping product. By switching entirely to OE, future revisions should be much easier, said Winston.

According to Winston, LG is in the process of deciding which parts of WebOS will be released as open source. The company recently released an Enyo application development framework for TV called Moonstone, says the story. It’s unclear whether this is the same as the Mochi WebOS code released under Apache 2.0 earlier this month from the now-LG controlled Enyo Javascript framework group.


LG Connect
TV prompt

Also this month, LG released an SDK for cross-platform app development under an open source license. This “Connect SDK” will let developers build apps that run on LG WebOS, LG Netcast, Chromecast, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV, says LG.

It’s unclear whether LG will extend WebOS to other consumer electronics in its diverse product line, which includes a number of Android phones and at least one Firefox OS phone, the LG Fireweb. In February, however, LG announced an “all-in-one” digital signage system that runs WebOS.

 
Further information

The LG Smart TV with WebOS is available now in various sizes and prices. More information may be found at LG’s Smart TV web-page. The interview with LG’s Winston can be found at Linux.com. A brief history of WebOS, starting from the early Palm Pre days, may be found here.
 

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