Back in August last year we brought you the first glimpse of LG’s new Smart TV platform (then branded as NetCast), with an integrated media streaming application powered by Plex. Fast forward five months, and a refined version of the platform was on show last week at CES 2011 in Las Vegas.
We had the opportunity to take a look at the continued development of what is probably the best of all the large TV brands’ media streaming applications, and learned a little more about what you can expect to see when TVs with Media Link ship later in the year.
First some bad news – if you’ve had your interest piqued by the new LG Smart TV Upgrader (a small set top box that brings the company’s Smart TV platform to any TV set) then note that it will not deliver the full Smart TV experience. LG are reserving the full Plex-powered Media Link application for their own TV models, and as you’ll see from the video below, the Media Link application is missing from the Smart TV adaptor and LG’s new connected Blu-ray players. An LG rep confirmed that this was not a technical restriction, but purely a marketing decision. Streaming on the Smart TV Upgrader will require Nero MediaHome to be installed on the PC from which you want to stream.
The demo units at the show are still running from the Apple Mac version of Plex, but LG confirmed that a version for Windows was imminent (i.e. shipping this week). Plex Media Server must be running on the PC or Mac you wish to stream media from, handling the metadata acquisition and application configuration on the TV. It leads to a slightly more complex configuration than competitors (which may concern mainstream users) but once set up, works very well. The included Magic Motion remote takes a little bit of getting used to – you'll find your aim improves over time – but lacks a QWERTY keyboard that's really quite essential for web browsing and social networking apps, so you'll likely need to invest in a wireless keyboard at some point.
As you can see from the screenshot. the Smart TV interface is clear and simple to understand. Large icons at the bottom of the screen help you navigate through the various features and apps, whilst a preview window and large application buttons ensure you can access your favourite applications and content quickly. A search bar helps out if you get lost and you'll see an included web browser, premium apps from Netflic, Hulu Plus, MLB.tv, You Tube and Facebook.
Since we last previewed LG's Plex-based Media Link app in August, stability has improved dramatically. The demo unit on the show floor was streaming from a Macbook Pro running Plex Media Server, but LG told us that Plex for Windows should be released this week (the rep already had a copy), which opens up Media Link to many more users. With TV and Movie metadata and images automatically downloaded from your choice of metadata providers, LG's Media Link application provides the richest user interface available on the current crop of media streaming TVs.
But you'll only find in on LG's TVs. Buy the LG Smart TV Upgrader or a Network Blu-ray player and you'll find 90% of that same Smart TV platform, but there's no Media Link application. You can't blame LG for reserving the app for their most expensive product lines, but it's a shame that more people won't get to experience Media Link.
As you can see from the photos above, the Smart TV Upgrader offers a very similar experience to LG's new TVs themselves, but note the absence of the Media Link icon in the bottom bar. That said, the ST600 Smart TV Upgrader remains a fantastic solution for those wishing to connect their TV on premium online services.
Expect to see LG's new Smart TV range available later in the year.