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back to article Why do Smart TV UIs suck?

Years ago, TVs were simple. My grandparents’ set, for example, had a single channel-change button which clunked through to the next VHF preset each time you pushed it. My own family's TV had two standards, enabling us to “Switch to U for BBC 2” in time for Play Away. Inevitably, matters have became much more complicated than …

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Anonymous Coward

Re: clusterf*ck

Its not in the interests of the TV/STB companies to give out updates unless there is a severe bug in the software.

I have been told that the window for updates is from customer (ie not you) approval to 'we are ready for the next iteration of device' is only 6 months.

Obviously most people buy their devices 6months+ past first release.

Buy cheap, don't get disappointed, you know what to expect :)

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TEQ
WTF?

Don't get me started on Firmwares

I've got an older Panasonic 32" that has an annoying habit of not switching on intermittently. A problem that's apparently fixed with a firmware update. A firmware update that should automatically happen over DVB. Except Panasonic never seem to release their firmwares via DVB and require you to take your set to the local Panasonic centre where they relieve you of 90 quid to install it from card.

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Thumb Up

nice article

Nice article, even non-smart TV's are pretty diabolical.

My 5 year old samsung has a UI that is sluggish as hell. When selecting the input source there are no direct selections - you just have to keep prodding the button til you get the one you are after and it always reverts back to the built-in TV tuner when power cycled. If the source is offline then you cannot select it, so you have to go through all the sources again. There is no config option to set a default source on power up or to remove unwanted source that nicely clutter up the selection.

So my power up cycle for my PVR + TV is:

PVR on - wait til booted

TV on

press input source 5 times

press enter

This all takes about 20-30 seconds, if you goof then it can take a minute or two.

Whereas using a tablet is just a press of the power button, a swipe to unlock and then selecting the TV app - 5 seconds max.

And don't even get me started on my diabolical smart samsung DVD player, I have used the youtube function just once, the UI was slower than wading through a swimming pool full of treacle.

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Alert

"Smart" - breach of Trades Description Act

Why can't TV manufacturers stick to what they are good at? MAKING NICE USER-FRIENDLY DISPLAYS

Stop adding "services", please?!

Agree on a common interface and let people choose a separate box for additional services. I don't want your crud on my menus, just keep that for the stuff I need to control, like picture and audio settings.

If I wanted your selection of VoD channels, I'd ask.

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Silver badge
Happy

I abandoned TV a few years ago so don't have any of these issues. I now have time for more entertaining activities... like reading El Reg

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Wow, it took a long time for one of these helpful, informative comments this time, didn't it?

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Holmes

Can't be long now can it?

Most of the devices currently in and around my telly are very similar to items in and around my computer:- Hi-res display, UI, hard disc, CD/DVD, blu-ray, graphics card, tuner, media player, wifi, sound card, speakers, web cam, etc.

Shirley it can't be long before some manufacturer puts all these items together into a multi-media centre (with a fully weaned UI) designed for the lounges of coach potatoes such as myself.

There's obviously no technical reason why this couldn't be done. I don't understand the manufacturers' apparent reluctance to create such a device.

Maybe it just needs someone to take the first step - Apple Television anyone?

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Re: Can't be long now can it?

No technical reason, but lots of legal ones. The TV industry doesn't want consumers to have real control, and it has the legal resources to enforce its will. Manufacturers could go to war, but so far have preferred to offer piecemeal solutions that won't rock the boat too much.

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Facepalm

TV UI's

Great article, and yes they are all pants. I have Sony equipment and whilst I don't have an issue with the concept of the XMB, it would have been better if this were customisable <sp?>. Also don't understand why a good many UI's, XMB included, insist on grouping my media types, Pictures, Music, Video etal. My media often tells a story and can be in more than one format. Why you simply can't point these things at folder structures or virtual 'Albums' based on meta data and play/present whatever is in there, God only knows.

My pet EPG hates are:-

1. Forced to use a genre front end menu before even getting at the EPG.

2. Not being able to see the full programme description for a highlighted programme.

3. Adverts in the EPG would make me return the set!

4. A piddlingly short list of channels per screen, especially if combined with 2. above.

5. inability to jump to end of epg data.

6. I have others too ;-)

Hyde

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mxw

What about Remote Controls

Some Smart TV's have a phone/tablet app to theoretically make control of the TV easier.

But when it comes to entering text on the screen you have to use the same mechanism as using the standard remote control. Entering a seach on Youtube is horrendous. Why can't the phone/tablet app allow you to use a pop-up menu.

Crazy. I reckon I could design better in a couple of days of effort.

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Re: What about Remote Controls

The Sony app allows typing into text boxes using the phone onscreen keyboard which is much easier. It also allows browsing of some internet services on the phone and then to activate playback on the TV which is a step in the right direction. The right place to get to is all the UI being on the phone/tablet rather than it being a replica of the remote plus some text entry.

They are getting there but it is slow.

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I bought a Samsung TV.

Don't get me wrong, it's a brilliant TV. It just lacks a little in the Apps department.

The Smart TV interface just throws three pages of large icons at you without any apparent attempt to organise them, and without offering any apparent way for you to organise them. The App Store is a little more organised, but doesn't change much, and doesn't really offer me anything that interests me. The BBC apps are good, as are the Youtube and Facebook apps, but beyond that there's not much.

Also, when it worked (sadly the previous version didn't work reliably with iOS 6, and the new version doesn't work at all), the Samsung network remote app for IOS was brilliant, and integrated well with some of the onbooard apps (such as the Youtube app).

Then we get to the media player. Playback wise, it's brilliant. Format support is very limited, but that's easily curable (indeed, the TV comes with Samsung's All Share PC application to help with this, although that's not the best solution). There are a couple of problems. One is that the TV has trouble if you have large numbers of folders on a NAS(it appears to hang, then goes back to the root folder). The other is that it's not immediately obvious what some of the icons on the OSD do.

But, even amongst Samsung's own apps, the look and feel of the interface is not consistent, and none of them are constant with the TV's other menus.

As for the remote, well, I thought we'd grown out of long rectangular boxes with lots of square buttons back in the mid nineties. Seems Samsung didn't.

On a side note, while it has (in some place) a monumentally badly laid out user interface, I still think the Tivo (be it a UK or US one) has the easiest remote control to hold and use.

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Anonymous Coward

"So do we really need smart TVs at all?"

Answer; you don't- the manufacturers do.

Their margins on traditional (non-smart) flatscreen sets have been cut to the bone and beyond, and they'd like to start making decent money again. Slapping in some relatively cheap electronics lets them justify charging more, and all the better if it's tied to their services or those of their paying "partners". And since all that integrated tech will be outdated in a couple of years time- even if it could be fixed via a firmware upgrade they'll probably not provide since it's an obsolete model- you can then fork out more to buy a new set.

The fact that you'd be better off with a relatively "stupid" but high-quality television and swapping external units in and out as it suited you isn't the point- this isn't really for your benefit. It's just in their interest to convince you that it is.

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Re: "So do we really need smart TVs at all?"

But if the cost/markup is near zero you might as well have the connected services now and then use an external box in a couple of years rather than buy a TV and separate box now AND another external box in a couple of years.

But I agree that you shouldn't pay a big premium to get it built in (which you won't unless you want a Google TV).

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Anonymous Coward

Cheap netbook connected to the TV via HDMI/VGA w/ wireless keyboard is far superior IMHO!

A cheap netbook connected to the TV via HDMI/VGA with a wireless keyboard is far superior IMHO! You can run whatever OS suits your fancy and with a versatile media player like VLC you’re laughing. I test drove a few smart TV's and returned them all to Amazon!

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Bronze badge

Re: Cheap netbook connected to the TV via HDMI/VGA w/ wireless keyboard is far superior IMHO!

The problem is that, while that may be a solution for many Reg readers, it's probably not the best solution for their friends and relatives, who do need something that's simple, straightforward, and isn't going to require you connecting via VLC to handle a Windows update from time to time, or the occassional reboot, or whatever other administrative things we take in our stride, but most people simply don't want.

I know people who, when they can't figure out why there's no sound (and it's usually something like a partially disconnected SCART, or volume set wrong/muted on one of the devices) will simply decide to turn the TV off and read a book, rather than fiddle round, in the hope that the next day it'll have magically solved itself.

And those, I think, represent a far greater number than the people who will be happy with a netbook and a qwerty keyboard in the living. It's those people whom the makers of TV sets should be thinking about, and figuring out how they can do this clever stuff without making it even more likely that people will just give up and think "there's nothing on, may as well cut the grass"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cheap netbook connected to the TV via HDMI/VGA w/ wireless keyboard is far superior IMHO!

I take your point and its certainly true for some demographics! But I’m seeing lots of non-tech friends learning how to download movies from iTunes or torrents, building up vast libraries on external drives, and then wanting to playback to a TV somehow.

If you look at the sheer volume of smartphone sales around the world and how these things are being embraced then its clear tech knowledge is expanding. Perhaps some kind of integration between the phone and the TV is the answer. It might help solve the control-side problem of the UI. Of course it wouldn't solve fundamental problems due to the player lacking codecs or having bad implementation etc.

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Megaphone

Lovely advert by Reg for Apple.

Wait for Apple folks. THEY WILL SAVE US.

zzzzzz....

(actually android might methinks, google owns youtube - get me?).

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Bronze badge

Re: Lovely advert by Reg for Apple.

Really? Two paras at the end - one of which pointed out a UX failure on Apple's part - and a mention of how iPlayer is mostly used early on, and the article's an advert for Apple?

Somehow, I think your own bias is showing there.

Honestly, not everything is about Apple.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Re: Lovely advert by Reg for Apple.

Haha, and an even bigger fail for you for using it as an opportunity to claim it is an "advert for Apple" despite them hardly being mentioned, and then trying to turn it around and claim that Google will save us. If that's the solution, given that the Samsung smart TV interface is such an utter piece of crap, why don't they fix the problem by running Google TV software on their TVs?

The only reason the author mentioned Apple was because of the persistent speculation that Apple is going to release a TV with a revolutionary interface. If he hadn't mentioned it, someone would surely have brought it up in the comments. But to claim the author mentioned it and told people to wait for it is quite a stretch. Since first, we don't know if/when Apple will ever release anything, second, we don't know what it will look like, and finally, we don't know what it will cost.

Not that you would care, if Apple really did release a revolutionary smart TV interface that made everyone slap their foreheads and say "why didn't I think of that?" you wouldn't own one even if it was given to you, since you've obviously got a lot of hate for Apple given that you see every mention of their name in a story as an advertisement.

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Embed XBMC

Manufacturers can skin it how they like, and as long as they don't hide the feature for me to skin it I can end up with an interface I want to use.

There are a number of app remotes available like Yatse that would do the job, someone might even feel the need to update the official XBMC app. The manufacturers could always build their own remote app to access some of their own unique features.

We might even see some development being fed back into XBMC for the greater good.

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Facepalm

Samsung... grrr

I have a Samsung TV and the volume control for iPlayer is via the app rather than the TV and it goes in huge steps. I find 3 too quiet but the next step up to be far too loud. Also because I have a moderately priced set and not a £2,500 beast I can't get Netflix via my TV, Netflix blame Samsung and vice versa. *sigh*

However there is salvation, my Xbox is a brilliant way to access iPlayer, Netflix et all. With Kinect I get voice and gesture control. I'll admit neither is perfect but it works well enough that I'll never use the 'smart' TV again for anything other than being a TV.

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Bronze badge

So Smart TV

is it MORE shit than 3D TV, or LESS shit?

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Re: So Smart TV

They are a similar shade of brown, but Smart TV doesn't make you go cross eyed

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Topfield MyStuff EPG

Some of these companies that write their own EPGs should employ the blokes that wrote MyStuff for the Topfield PVR. It's fantastic. Best EPG ever.

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Re: Topfield MyStuff EPG

Second best. JAGs EPG is better. But a large part of a Toppy's charm & utility is the ability to run it how one likes.

FWIW I want my TV (monitor) separate from the tuners (open and networked) separate from the UI (a tablet or phone app offering EPG and searches, etc.).

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Anonymous Coward

YouView

I recently bought a YouView box. I know it was a bit of a risk since it's still in its infancy, but I wanted an HD Freeview PVR and YouView stands some chance of being a standard that people can build to.

The UI is generally nice (the backwards-scrolling EPG is great) and I'm enjoying having iPlayer, 4oD etc all in one place. But it's main failure is its inconsistency:

- Different players have different UIs (and each take a while to load). Do I need to scroll vertically or horizontally through the categories within this particular player?

- They also have different rules of behaviour. Some make you click OK, others just want you to scroll (which then gets you confused when you've clicked OK anyway and it's now taken you somewhere unexpected)

I'm still waiting for the LoveFilm app, too; I haven't heard any news about that even though it should be a no-brainer. And it's very slow, which I'm sure is a combination of hardware (Humax) and software (some players are faster than others). The fact that search doesn't yet include the EPG is mind-bogglingly stupid.

It's a shame that YouView - or anyone, really - hasn't really taken the opportunity to create one, great standard. We're all now just waiting for Apple to come along and do it right, at which point all the other providers will think "Why didn't we do it like that?"

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Re: YouView

The problem is the broadcasters all want their own UI consistent between platforms rather than fitting into each platform. As the devices get more power and flexibility in how the service is offered it may even get worse.

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"I'm still waiting for the LoveFilm app, too"

Probably stuck in the same development hell as their Wii Channel (announced by snail-mail spam in August, still not here in late November):

'The LOVEFiLM Instant service is coming to your Wii, we're just taking a tiny bit of extra time to make sure every feature, part and piece of design on the Application is working as we'd expect it to.' (support@lovefilm.com in response to my query last week)

Netflix on our Wii gets used every day; great for finding the next episode of SoA as 'Recently Watched' is the default startpoint, less good to locate anything new, but we've got a season or two to go yet...

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WTF?

Connected TVs

I recently replaced a 'dumb' TV with a Samsung Smart TV... linked to it is a Virgin TiVo and Apple TV.

I've tried using the Smart Apps but much prefer the connected boxes - Netflix runs much better on the Apple TV and the interface is easier to understand. The aTV also links to my iTunes server for ripped movies and TV shows as well as being able to slideshow my vast collection of pictures (my girlfriend made me get rid of the projector...). The TiVo is good for most other things esp iPlayer (although Virgin why can't we play most stuff recorded on one box on another now I've linked them together??). Tried setting up FaceBook / Twitter the other day as I thought it would be interesting to have relevant hashtags scrolling below the programme being watched... nope seems to be full screen anyway!

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Stop

Don't get a smart TV, get a smart STB they are much cheaper

And you can replace them every couple of years as they improve/decrease in price.

TV UIs are often a bit crap as Rovi have loads and loads of patents in this area meaning that the developers either have to work around obvious prior art functionality or get their companies to stump up cash for licenses.

Finally the software generally is not as good as PC software as the margins are so much tighter than on PCs, though the retail markups are much higher. This means less testing, cheaper development teams churning out any old crap in a few months for the latest variant on a tier 1 product, software is not backwards compatible as chipsets have changed, meaning the consumers have to suck it up or buy another TV.

Not so 'smart' now are they!

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Looking for a great TV to use as a screen, any thoughts? 42" and above

I have put off buying a new TV for a few years now, waiting for a review or set of review that say “If you want a very good high quality stupid TV to use as a screen along with whatever you want then this is the one to get”.

I worry that buying whatever it is that makes it “smart” will get in the way or impact on the ability to use it as a screen.

Can anyone here suggest anything? (When I do find a review and comments that seem to indicate it is a good option the TV has always been discontinued, so the upgrade cycle is faster than the ability to achieve sufficient credibility)

Looking for two, one for the bedroom and one for the lounge so from 42" upwards.

Any thoughts appreciated.

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Paris Hilton

A most excellent solution?

Easy-peasy.

Let the tv show what it shows.

The TV is the content bit plus, maybe?, minimal info such as channel, time, program, program synopsis, ...

And the controller is, well, the controller.

Easy-peasy n'est ce pas?

Principle:

TV is for c-o-n-t-e-n-t plus minimal info

TV controller is for c-o-n-t-r-o-l

Double plus goodnik(?)

One's iPad, tablet, pc, netbook, laptop, smartphone or any magical box with connectivity are also a TV controller

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Bronze badge

This is why I still have my 24" analogue CRT fed by a PACE/TeleWest set-top box. It has a uncomplicated intuitive system that does exacty what I tell it do. Every other system I've tried has failed at the first crucial hurdle: I absolutely INSIST that I am able to see and hear the current TV channel AT THE SAME TIME as browsing the TV listings for other channels.

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FAIL

Top up tv crap...

Sigh Early software used to be good you used to be able to select your favorite channels ...

Turn it on and no More shopping / crap...

Of cource a software upgrade removed this...

A top up bar at the bottom of the EPG so you have to scroll up not down

Its. absolute crap

Now the f.... Thing cannot record one channel

And let you watch another without wineing that it wants to download content ...

AAARGH............

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Pint

3 years back

.. when I decided to buy a TV, I went into a shop and decided on a certain brand and model range.

I asked the guy what the difference was between the various models in that range, since they looked the same, but had a quite steep price difference. He answered that it was the software. Without hesitation I settled on the cheapest model.

Since then XBMC has only improved, my phone has become quite a fancy remote control and with a few keystrokes I can switch to a full PC desktop w. browser for those few sources that are not accessible through the media center.

Extra bonus points: when I get a phonecall it mutes the music or pauses the video. awesome!

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Silver badge

I thought about this long and hard...

...even way before we bought our first LCD TV.

Looked at all the smart TV features, how they worked, what they did, would they do what *I* want...

I settled on a PC, merely using the TV as a monitor.

If I don't like something, I change it.

If something doesn't work, I fix or update it.

I can almost every video format known to mankind. Well, I haven't met one that didn't work yet...

A bit over a year of use (and talking to others), it is by far the best decision I ever made.

"Smart" TV my arse.

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Bronze badge

Re: I thought about this long and hard...

Maybe Smart means: getting punters to part with dosh for the next item in the marketing schedule no?

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Meh

I think Sony might be the closest...

... if they used the PS3 media bar as the starting point.

I have a Panasonic Viera (unknown number and not smart) and use the freesat tuner to listen to the radio in the morning. Otherwise, I only select HDMI1 for Humax PVR - which only has the BBC iPlayer built in, but quite convenient or HDMI2 for the PS3 for all other streaming services - all in one place and HDMI3 form my samsung multi-region DVD hdmi out player or I can plug my Asus Slab for streaming services not available on the PS3.

I tend to use the Transformer for youtube.

I think Sony need to bite the bullet and put big-screen friendly Android on the PS3 and retain the media bar for selection.

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Facepalm

Make it work instantly

Why oh why can't Media Players and Smart TVs just switch to a service instantly?

No, my WDTV Live box has to load the iPlayer or YouTube and it takes 15-20 seconds.

My Mum won't wait, it's broken she'd say and she'd be right!

I've lost the will to live by the time the box has reloaded it 'app'.

I simply don't bother because I know in advance its going to be a chore...

It's just cost cutting removing all that RAM and using low Hz single core CPUs that could be loading in the background when you're watching something.

This is why we need multitasking, lots of RAM and multiprocessors in as standard.

Why I ask is this blindingly obvious feature to us not getting made by TV manufacturers?

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Bronze badge

Seemplz

1 - TV = content with some simple info and easy record (record this program, record this series of programs, ... , info: channel, time, synopsis, ... )

2 - STB send content to TV, STB interacts with controller(s) (its own easy-peasy one and it's partnered mobile device thingie)

3 - TV UI's presently are just so klugsome the only redeeming feature might be sometime in the future when they are available as oddities in a museum near u.

4 - making a TV UI pretty just makes the klugsome experience prettier but no less klugsome.

5 - can I IP this? Maybe even the word: klugsome?

Definition: fool of klug?

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Anonymous Coward

True, true, true

Thank you! I've been thinking all this for a while too. It's such a chore to use modern TV menus. There's no consistency and most have annoying or badly designed menus and options are often labeled with vague labels or require registration. And forget trying to search for stuff on YouTube or something similar using the remote. It's a real mess.

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FAIL

Bloatware + bad UI + underperformance

Brands are more interested in the bullet points - also called feature bloat. Usability is apparently low on their priorities.

Since almost all TV's are roughly the same, it boils down to design and price.

Solution:

Get a good looking TV with a nice display. Forget about the SmartTV thing. Use XBMC.

I use an old laptop as my XBMC server. It works beautifully. You could use XMBCbuntu or even the wonderful Raspberry Pi if you are up to a bit of tinkering.

There are other alternatives too, of course. Windows Media Center is quite decent, and some people love Plex for instance..

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