Outside the box
It’s not just smart TVs that suffer from ill-conceived UIs - many other pieces of AV kit do too, as will be evident to almost anyone who’s looked at a Blu-ray Disc with ‘BD Live’ content, or media streamers that – even if we charitably leave aside the nightmares of DLNA compatibility – offer poorly rendered menus and a slightly different UI for every individual online service.
Those online services themselves don’t help, of course. Netflix, for instance, simply provides an option on its website to unlink linked devices. That’s all of them – you can’t specify ‘Samsung TV’ or ‘Roku media player.’ So if you sell or get rid of your telly, you also have to reset all the other devices linked to your account. The only way I could persuade the Roku to connect again was to delete and re-install its Netflix app.
My Yamaha AV Reciever, only a couple of years old now, has on-screen graphics that appear not to have been updated since the 1990s, and require the selection of an icon from a vertical list, which opens a horizontal panel of more icons, which then open pop-ups in the middle of the screen.
It may say there’s an EPG in there, but there isn’t. And the Video Place isn’t the only one with video, either
As Reg Hardware’s Steve May commented on another Yamaha AVR, “any GUI which forces you to cross reference it with a manual constitutes a Fail in my book”. Amen to that.
Matters are, he says, made worse by the way in which some kit works, such as those that output surround sound only through optical connections, requiring the SPDIF port to be assigned to an HDMI video input, a common enough configuration that nevertheless took the best part of a day to set up on a new Marantz AVR.
Is there a solution?
Just before he died, Steve Jobs apparently claimed to have cracked the TV UI, and pundits have long been speculating about how an Apple television might revolutionise TV interactivity. Heaven knows we need a fresh look, but it probably won't come from Apple. The interface on the company’s bijou media player may be fairly straightforward, but as more services have become available, it’s apparent that not even Apple is immune from UI clutter. And the current UI is Apple's third attempt to get it right.
Even Apple can't get it right
And clutter is not the only problem. Rights can cause problems for the unwary too, and even the might of Apple can’t always solve those. Take an iPad, for example, which can fling video to the TV over Wi-Fi using what Apple calls Airplay technology. Now rent a movie using iTunes on the iPad: if you’d bought it, you’d be able to play it through the Apple TV, but not if it’s rented.
For many people, a TV is increasingly a device to be used to present content from other sources than broadcast television. So do we really need smart TVs at all? Or would it be better to have industry agreed open standards that let ‘companion devices’ such as tablets and smartphones interact with our displays, reliably and consitently?
Viewster on Toshiba: is yellow the new black, or black the new yellow?
Reg readers, for the most part, will be able to find their way around the latest AV and TV gear, whatever its idiosyncrasies – but would you want your mother to? There has to be a better way. ®
How would you redefine the TV UI? Do you have AV UI horror stories? Let us know through your comments.
Never mind the UIs
I'd just wish they'd fix the damn bugs in these things. I have 2 HD Recorders by Humax and Sagemcom and both sometimes "forget" to record a sheduled program or worse lockup or outright crash as and when they feel like it. I also have a Sony Blu Rayer player with "internet" facilities (yeah, I bought into the hype) none of which work properly.
I'm sorry , but when I buy non-PC home electronics I expect it to Just Work. I DON'T expect to have to download a fix just to sort out problems that should have been obvious with 2 minutes of testing when they were writing the damn firmware! I never had to download a "firmware" fix for my VHS deck or CD player and I don't see why I should have to damn well do it with with an HD Recorder or blu ray player. You can argue they're more complex but frankly I don't give a sh*t - they should work out of the box and if that requires them to spend and afternoon testing it before release it then so be it.
They're worse than crap
they're closed crap.
We have a nice big Tosh. A couple of years old, LED, "smart", lots of buttons on the remote control, nmap reports it's running Linux. The built-in formware has a "scan for upgrades" option. Has there ever been an upgrade?
Has there heck.
So we have telly that _should_ be tweakable: it's running a known O/S, it has upgradeable hardware and a UI that is in desperate need of a usability revamp - but there are none, and the ability for the open source brigade (despite my rude remarks about them) are unable to even give it their best shot. Hell: I'd even pay for an upgrade
Maybe the best thing to do with the set is to leave it be. Ignore the Youtube interface (awful), the Netflix access (never really worked) and all the other tickbox features. Just Hook it up to a RPi, one of the mini-Android dongles or somesuch and just use the TV as a big old dumb display.
My dream telly is a reasonable sized screen, good picture, good sound and a shedload of connectors. Not even interested in internal tuners.
Doesn't sound hard, does it?