LG's 980T series combines Ultra HD with WebOS for a slick viewing experience (hands-on)

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LG's UB980T showing content from the SBS On Demand app. Nic Healey/CNET

When we looked at one of LG's smart TVs last year, I said that the interface was starting to look a little stale, especially in comparison to the likes of Samsung.

Well, for 2014, the majority of LG's smart TV range -- and all of its Ultra HD models -- are now powered by WebOS, what was originally just the mobile operating system from Palm. It's been through a number of changes in its lifetime (anyone still own an HP TouchPad?) but has now found itself as LG's smart TV OS. And it's a truly refreshing change for the company's TV range.

We had LG's 65-inch version of the UB980T model (that's the UB9800 in the US) in the office for a quick look. For my money, the slick WebOS interface is the killer feature of the TV, but let's talk about some other elements of the 980T before we tackle that.

Models in Series

(more details)

65UB980TReviewed
79UB980T79-inch
84UB980T84-inch, Late June launch

Design

Our 65-inch model is, if you can believe it, the smallest TV in the 980T range, with 79- and 84-inch models also available this year. LG has promised a 98-inch TV in Australia this year, but it hasn't announced if the behemoth will be in this range.

On the flip side it's pretty much business as usual: four HDMI ports, a LAN connection and three USB ports, including one USB 3.0. While trying out the new Chromecast on the TV, we did notice that none of the USB ports are set up to provide power. This could be a problem for stick-streamers like the Chromecast and the Roku (if it ever comes to Australia), as well as larger size hard drives. In any case, it's an odd omission.

The differences between this range and the immediate step down -- the UB850T -- are quite pronounced, at least in terms of design. The 980T sports a pair of Harmon Kardon speakers on either side of the screen, along with a different base design and a metal finish to the bezel.

Picture quality

Just like every other TV manufacturer at the moment, LG is pushing 4K Ultra HD TVs to an audience that, at the moment, has basically no 4K content to watch. In the US there's some Netflix shows coming down the tubes in UHD, but here in Australia it's still a big old zero in terms of what you'll be watching in native 4K.

That means (once again, like every other TV manufacturer) LG is pushing the quality of its upscaling engine. According to LG there are differences in the upscaling engine between product lines, with the 980T using the Pro version of the 'Ultra HD Engine Upscaler'. I can't comment on how it compares to the non-Pro engine, but as far as upscalers in general go, it's rather good.

HD content benefits most of all, with high-action scenes on Blu-ray looking particularly good. Both the opening heist of "Fast and Furious" and a later 'shaky-cam' footchase scene were clean and crisp. Interestingly, when paused, the frames had a certain grainy quality, but that was utterly absent when watching the film normally.

Switching over to "Source Code", also on Blu-ray, the dark scenes had good depth in the blacks, without any washed out greys or artefact issues.

I also looked at some catch-up TV via the pre-installed ABC iView and SBS On Demand apps. "Media Watch" via iView was a little blocky in places, but as always, that's as dependant on your internet speed as it is your TV. That said, both "Vikings" and "Orphan Black" on SBS On Demand were very clean and clear.

Finally I tried some downloaded 720x404 resolution video files. These were quite good given the screen size, but certainly not amazing. I'd use the term "watchable".

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The penguin -- and his friend the Wi-Fi hedgehog -- guide you through the initial set up. Nic Healey/CNET

WebOS

But it's the WebOS interface that continues to impress. Rather than taking you away from your content and onto a home screen, hitting the home button on the LG Magic Remote pops a menu bar down the bottom of your TV.

The bar lets you easily swap between open applications and content sources, but the first nine slots can be user-configured for your most needed applications.

More than anything, it's the speed that impresses. I'm so used to smart TV interfaces that require you to press a button, wait for a bit, then access what you need. By contrast WebOS is greased lightning.

There are some odd quirks -- plug in a USB drive and a pop up will ask you if you want to open it automatically, which is great. If you go looking for it later, however, you'll find that it doesn't show in the list of inputs -- you'll need to find it via the smartshare app.

Similarly to change a picture mode, you need to open the home hub, click on the settings gear and then hop into picture mode. It's not that difficult, but it's a few more steps than you'd expect for such a common setting.

All that aside, WebOS is such a breath of fresh air in the smart TV market, it's astonishing. In fact, thanks to a particularly adorable cartoon penguin, WebOS even makes setting up your TV easy and... well, almost fun, if you can imagine such a thing.

Is it the right TV for you?

Whether the 980T is the right LG series for your house depends on how deep your pockets are. The initial RRP for the 65-inch was AU$5,999 with the 79-inch jumping up to AU$9,999. However, on the LG website, it looks like the price on the 65-inch has already dropped to AU$5,499, although the 78-inch is still a cool ten grand. (For the US version, the 65UB9800, it's US$4,499).

Yes, the Samsung 65-inch HU9000 is a rather excessive AU$7,699 but Samsung are trying to justify that price with a curved screen. The jury is still out on whether that makes a difference.

For the LG range, I'd be interested to see just how much of a difference that 'Pro' element makes to the upscaling engine. The 55-inch UB850T is just AU$2,999 and seems like a far more reasonable product in terms of sizing and pricing for the average lounge room and still has that beautiful WebOS.

All that aside, in our time with the 65UB980T we found a lot to like -- 2014 is shaping up as a very good year for 4K Ultra HD, even if we don't have anything to watch yet.

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