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TVs

LG updates 2014 TVs to Web OS 2.0

Later this year, LG will do something rare and exceedingly welcome in the Smart TV universe: roll out a free, worldwide update to existing TV owners, bringing the operating system faster response times and new features.

LG

Smart TVs have been dumb about updates for years, but LG's Web OS looks to change that reputation a little.

The company has confirmed to CNET that its 2014 Web OS 1.0-equipped TVs, including sets like the 55EC9300 OLED, will be updated to version 2.0 of the operating system.

The new version "will include all the significant 2015 features such as 'My Channels,' upgraded quick settings and input selection interfaces," according to an LG spokesperson. He added that the actual look of the interface might be slightly different from the 2015 models, which ship with Web OS 2.0 pre-installed, but how exactly is still to be determined.

More important in my book, however, is the boost in response times. Web OS 1.0 felt positively sluggish at times to navigate, especially in its settings menus. LG claims the upgraded OS will be "more than 1.5x faster" then the current version on 2014 TVs, with the caveat that the exact increase is subject to change before the roll-out.

Meanwhile, Web OS 2.0 on 2015 TVs will perform "slightly greater than 3x faster" compared to 2014 TVs running Web OS 1.0.

The update will happen sometime in the second half of 2015, and will be rolled out to every 2014 TV with Web OS, in every territory worldwide.

Streaming device software is updated much more frequently than Smart TV systems. Sarah Tew/CNET

A nice first step, but it doesn't beat a box

Free software updates come to computers, phones, game consoles and streaming media players on a regular basis, often adding features and improving performance. In the last year, for example, Roku added Feeds and screen mirroring, Fire TV added captive portal and Bluetooth headphone support, and Apple TV added Family Sharing and a bunch of apps, including HBO Now.

By comparison, Smart TV systems can seem stuck in the last decade. They rarely get major updates, especially for legacy products no longer on sale. You might get the occasional new app or bug fix, but once you buy the TV, it seems the manufacturer has little motivation to continue making it as good as it can be.

LG's announcement is the first time I can remember a major, free upgrade to the TV operating system itself on a non-current-year product, and judging from the excitement I've heard from users on Twitter and via email, it's very welcome.

I say "free" because LG archrival Samsung has been offering upgrades since 2013 to its Smart TV systems, and connectivity, processing and other hardware, via Evolution Kits and OneConnect boxes. The catch is that they're only available on certain higher-end TVs, and they cost $250 to $400.

For 2015, Samsung is again charging for the privilege of an operating system upgrade. It will sell a kit that allows certain 2014 models -- the H7150, H8000, HU8550 and HU9000 -- to be upgradeable to the company's 2015 Tizen OS. Pricing has not been announced. We've asked Samsung for further details and will follow up once they reply.

Other TV makers don't offer an OS upgrade path at all, although that might be changing for some makers. For 2015 Sony and Sharp have adopted the Android TV operating system, and perhaps Google will bless it with the same kind of regular, free upgrades it delivers to Android phones and tablets.

We'll see. In the meantime, we'll continue to recommend standalone streaming devices over Smart TVs.