LG OLED Look Gorgeous But webOS Is Horrid

Thanks to Black Friday discounts, I acquired an OLED TV which I had coveted for many years. I decided on a LG OLED55B2AUA purchased through Costco (Item #9755022). LG’s “B” line sits between the more affordable “A” and the more expensive “C” lines and it was a tradeoff I liked. (There are a few additional lines higher than “C” priced above my budget.) The TV replaced a TCL 55S405 and while they are both 55″ TVs, there is a dramatic difference in image quality. There are reviews out there for full information, my blog post here concentrates on the items that mattered to me personally.

The Good

  • The main motivation is image quality. OLED panel advantage comes from their self-illuminating pixels leading to great contrast and vibrant colors. The “C” line uses panels with a higher peak brightness, but I haven’t found brightness lacking. When the filmmaker intentionally includes something bright (flashlight in a dark room, etc.) this “B” panel is bright enough to make me squint.
  • HDMI 2.1 with variable refresh rate capability and a higher maximum frame rate (120FPS) so I can see all the extra frames my new Xbox Series X can render. On this year’s “B” units, HDMI 2.1 is supported on two of four HDMI ports, which is enough for me. HDMI 2.1 is supported on all four ports of “C” line, and none of “A” line because they are missing high framerate features entirely.
  • The LG “magic remote” has an accelerometer to let us move an on-screen cursor by tilting the remote. This is far better than the standard up/down/left/right keypads of a TV remote and, combined with responsive UI, makes navigation less of a chore. This is the only good thing about LG’s user interface.

The Bad

For reasons I failed to diagnose, the TOSLINK output audio port could not send sound to my admittedly old Sony STR-DN1000 receiver. Annoyingly, LG designed this TV without analog audio output. Neither a headphone jack (as is on my TCL) nor classic white and red RCA audio jacks. In order to use my existing speakers, I ended up buying a receiver with HDMI eARC support. This is money I would have rather not spent.

The Ugly

The internal operating system is LG’s build of webOS, which they have turned into a software platform for relentless, shameless, and persistent monetization efforts. My TCL Roku TV also served ads, but not nearly as intrusively as this LG webOS TV. That powerful processor which gave us snappy and responsive user interface isn’t going to just sit idle while we watch a movie. Oh no, LG wants to put it to work making money for LG.

Based on the legal terms & conditions they wanted me to agree to, the powerful processor of this TV wants to watch the same things I watch. It wants to listen to the audio to listen for keywords that “help find advertisements that are relevant to you”. That’s creepy enough, but there’s more: it wants to watch the video as well! The agreement implies there are image recognition algorithms at work looking for objects onscreen for the same advertising purpose. That’s a lot of processing power deployed in a way that provides no benefit to me. I denied them permission to spy on me, but who knows if they respected my decision.

Ad-centric design continues to the webOS home screen. The top half is a huge banner area for advertisement. I found an option to turn off that ad but doing so did not free up space for my use. It just meant a big fixed “webOS” banner taking up space. Next row down, the leftmost item represents the most recently used input port, which in my case is the aforementioned Xbox Series X. The rest of that row are filled with more advertising, which I haven’t found a way to turn off. The third and smallest row includes all the apps I care about and even more that I did not. Overall, only about 1/8 of the home screen surface area are under my control, the rest paid LG to be on my home screen.

I’m frankly impressed at how brazenly LG turned a TV into an ad-serving spyware device. I understand the financial support role advertisements play, but I’m drawing a line for my own home: as long as the ads stay in the menus and keep quiet while I’m actively watching TV, I will tolerate their presence. But if an LG ad of any type interrupts my chosen programming, or if an LG ad proved they’re spying on me despite lacking permission, I am unplugging that Ethernet cable.

UPDATE (two days later): Well, that did not take long. I was in the middle of watching Andor on Disney+ (Andor is very good) when I was interrupted by a pop-up notification on the bottom of the screen advertising free trial to a service I will not name. (Because I refuse to give them free advertising.) I will not tolerate ads that pop up in the middle of a show. Struggling to find an upside I can say this: that advertised service appeared to have no relation to Disney+ or anything said or shown in Andor, so the ad was probably not spying on me.

I was willing to let LG earn a bit of advertising revenue from me, as Roku did for my earlier TV, but LG’s methods were far too aggressive. Now LG will earn no ad revenue from me at all because this TV’s Ethernet cable has been unplugged.

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