Usability for anything, anywhere, anytime.

Designing for TV – Part 1

January 9th, 2012, Posted by Mark Sloan

Google TV» (GTV) is a platform that has been out for over a year and has seen a major redesign in that time. Many new manufacturers have announced their own GTV’s at the 2012 CES» as well as their own branches of the Android OS. What is apparent already is that a few basic tenants of designing for TV are being violated. The first that we will address is that TVs are a shared experience and therefore the system should display “live TV” as much as possible. This quick post looks at how Google TV violates this basic concept. 

Home Screen

These images and review are based on the Honeycomb 3.1 update using the Sony Blu-ray player», so the actual TVs that shipped last year may have a few differences, but from what we have seen, these issues exist for both. The main interface for GTV is a revamped Home Screen which now is simply a bar at the bottom plus any widgets the user has selected.

Google TV Home Screen and All Apps

The Home Screen obfuscates the Live TV show playing in the background and then pops fairly useless widgets on top. If the application the user wants is not one of these 7, then the whole screen is taken over by the application browser.

The idea of combining widgets and the Home Screen is odd, it demands more screen pixels at once for what are two different types of content: apps to launch and informational widgets. Even without any widgets on the screen, the video playing in the background is covered with a semi-transparent, blue layer. This means that any other people that are watching the show are now almost completely interrupted while one user searches for the widget they want or the program they want to launch. It is even more difficult to get to recently used applications or an application that is not one of these favorites. There are some simple ways to make sure that the shared TV experience is upheld. First, separate widgets from application launching. Second, remove the transparent layer, it is not necessary anymore for contrast. Third, allow users to choose whether to go into full screen mode to view more applications or to scroll. Fourth, even in full screen mode there should be a Picture-in-Picture (PiP) mode similar to most cable/satellite box guide set ups so that the current video is still viewable. From our review, only the TV and Google Chrome applications allowed PiP, so there appears to be a deeper level problem to be solved by Google here.

Guide and Menus

Similar issues occur when using the built-in guide application TV & Movies. The application takes over the entire screen and then is only able to show 5-10 items at a time. This causes the browsing method to take even longer while interrupting anything other viewers may have wanted to view. Again, PiP combined with a smaller interface would benefit users as well as optimizing the information on the page. Does the default view really need the year and such large poster art? Algorithms exist to detect faces in images and crop and scale appropriately, perhaps this same technique could be applied to make these images more useful.

Google TV - TV and Movies app and Menus

The low information density of the TV & Movies application definitely encourage users to utilize search more, menus appearing in the middle of the screen and adding a transparent layer on top of all content is very inefficient, just look at all the wasted black space for this menu.

The menu system of GTV is perhaps the most annoying element when we have used the system though. They all appear centered and add the same transparent layer over all content. To simply bring up PiP options or other menus takes over the whole screen for something that is often just a simple list. In short, it is hard to tell which of these design choices are due to technical constraints, or are possibly intentional. The result is the same though, an interface that interferes instead of enhances the viewing experience, which is frustrating because some of the features here are potentially really valuable.




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