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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  1. 8Ace
    Unhappy

    Just like PC's

    I can TV's becoming just like PC's, pre-installed with all sorts of crap with the manufacturer getting a cut of any subscriptions.

    1. Whitter
      Thumb Down

      Re: Just like PC's

      It's worse than just the PC-like functionality causing UI overload - the "dumb" TVs without the PC section also have awful UIs. It seems to be an industry with no UI skills at all - I guess they think nobody makes a purchase choice based on the UI menus.

      1. fung0

        Re: Just like PC's

        Whitter said: " It seems to be an industry with no UI skills at all."

        That's exactly right. TV manufacturing is an industry historically focused on hardware. Now that TVs include software, the UI is left in charge of the same old team of hardware engineers, who are reluctant to admit they're totally out of their depth. Good UI design is a craft unto itself, and needs a very different mindset to hardware design. You see the same thing in most hardware categories: phones, printers, scanners, AV gear... hardware companies make lousy software.

        Apple is one of very few companies that understands software UI design, which is a big reason for its massive dominance these days. Unfortunately, Apple values its control of the user even more highly than the user's control of the device, which explains why its dominance is never complete.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Just like PC's

          Absolutely, the focus on hardware. I worked with Japanese monitor/TV manufacturers in the 1990s and discovered a different world, oriented around the factories, UI barely a thought. Improved to some degree since but the whole idea of integrated smart TV is flawed. Consumers expect screens to last 7-10 years at least so building in technology that is undergoing a rapid rate of change is pointless unless the objective is to somehow annoy your customers into early upgrade. Rapid built in obsolescence such as we find in 2-year contract smartphones does not translate to the TV industry. Keep the smarts outside the panel, its a no-brainer.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Gimp

      Re: Just like PC's

      So here I sit, all alone in my darkened room, playing with my socks.....

      "Hello Mr Rabbit"

      "A good day to you too Mr Farmer."

      "Did you know that TV's are too full of shit and are hard to use - for retarded people?" - said Rabbit.

      "Oh I thought the damned things made you retarded" - replied Farmer.

      "Ohhhhh really? You mean the idiot news presenters are pretend people just like us - hand up the arse and all, just mouthing shit at each other and their imaginary audience?" stated Rabbit.

      "Noooo" said said Farmer - "We are real people, it's the TV that is full of lies."

      "Oh" said Rabbit.

      Best thing I ever did was throw my TV out - gave it to the accursed junki next door, so he could sit there taking two types of drugs for his brain, while I spend my spare time designing furniture and making it.

      LOL.....

      TV be fucked.

  2. boltar Silver badge
    FAIL

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Never mind the UIs

      Part of the problem is that makers see the software as firmware, not as an OS with a need for extensive functionality, a credible UI, and competent applications using a reasonably standard API. And because they think it's firmware, they leave it all to the TV designers to produce closed systems that they can't be bothered to update.

      I never thought I'd say this, but given the abominable standard of "software" on my three year old Samsung smart TV, I'd like my telly to run Windows.

      Actually, no, no, I recant...I'll settle for Android, or even a proper version of Linux. But something that runs proper application programmes and offers intuitive control over setup and layout, instead of bringing me customed craplets via a UI as fast and as pretty as a salted slug.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Never mind the UIs

        The latest Samsung 8000 series sets have an "Evolution" slot, enabling them to sell you upgraded memory, processor and so forth, so that you can be "future proof" when they come up with other exciting new services.

        Given their history of updating software on some sets, it will be interesting to see if there ever is an evolution card.

        1. andy gibson

          Re: Never mind the UIs - "Evolution slot"

          "The latest Samsung 8000 series sets have an "Evolution" slot, enabling them to sell you upgraded memory, processor and so forth, so that you can be "future proof" when they come up with other exciting new services."

          Sounds like the Mattel Aquarius, they promised the same in this magazine advert:

          http://i26.tinypic.com/30rtq54.jpg

          Needless to say it didn't.

        2. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Never mind the UIs

          Yeah Samsung updating can be rather annoying, my Blu Ray has internet features which after finding how rubbish they were felt ripped off.

          Well ever time I fire the damn thing up

          <DOWNLOADING UPDATES>

          No matter how much you scream at it, it just says Do not unplug.

          Then it updates the internet firmware

          Then the apps (Even ones not installed)

          >_<

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: Never mind the UIs

        My TV actually does run Windows, and of all the systems I've tried, I do think Windows Media Centre is the best. I haven't tried Windows 8 media centre yet, largely because I cba to figure out how to install the thing, but who knows, maybe TIFKAM works better on a 6 foot interface than it does for keyboard and mouse use.

      3. Anonymous Coward 15

        @Ledswinger

        Get a Raspberry Pi and run XBMC on it?

    2. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: Never mind the UIs

      Download the latest update for my Blu Ray player.

      You get the updates to the DRM so the latest FOX discs will play.

      3-4 'new" services you never wanted (Darts TV, Basket Weaving, Poker...)

      But the basic stuff still just sort of works.

  3. Pete 2

    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward 15

      Re: They're worse than crap

      Take it apart and look for a (possibly unpopulated) UART connection.

  4. Dan Price
    Paris Hilton

    Not just TVs

    The strange categorisation of apps isn't just limited to smart TVs - the Xbox 360 has separate sections for TV and video apps. Currently the only app in the TV section is the Sky player while iPlayer, 4OD and Demand 5 are lumped in the Video category with such "gems" as Dailymotion and Crackle. Last time I checked, the BBC were still a TV provider and iPlayer a TV catch-up service.

  5. jnewco81
    Thumb Up

    Couldn't agree more with this article. My friend bought a new Samsung Smart TV and we connected it to the net and proceeded to try to install some apps. Everything was so clunky and slow, and text entry using a remote is a royal pain in the arse.

    Maybe we're all spoilt with the superb experience offered by mobiles / tablets these days, but TV manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      One of the many (I have a long list, but only so many words to write for an article) things that annoyed me with those Samsung apps is the way that you don't discover they need updating until you try to launch them, whereupon you have to sit twiddling your fingers for a few minutes while the new version is downloaded.

      Sod that, I'll go make a cup or tea, or do something else. Why they can't update in the background like, for example, a £100 android phone, is beyond me.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "and text entry using a remote is a royal pain in the arse."

      Agreed. And the tragedy is that a smartphone or tablet offers an obvious and easy way to interract with the TV, offering a fairly useable keyboard running one of two or three phone OS's. All they need is to build in bluetooth to the TV, and stick a craplet on the phone to pass the text or set control comands. I suspect you could even do it over DLNA or wifi for existing non bluetooth sets, for no more than the modest effort of programming an app for the phone/tablet, and a widget for the TV.

      But that's another thing that makers struggle with, the concept of "supporting software". With a phone, PC or tablet, there's an acceptance by the hardware and OS makers that (at least some of the time) they'll offer improvements, upgrades and bug fixes for a couple of years. WIth TV's the brown goods mentality reigns supreme: When it's sold, they think they're on the hook for the shortest hardware warranty period they think you can get away with, and any other problem is simply a feature. As for ideas not thought of when the set was made, why bother - you've got the customer's money.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      text entry

      Tell me about it. My parents bought a Samsung (I suggested a Panasonic as their PVR/DVD was Panasonic). Smart hub has a browser built in. Not a bad idea but.

      1) It's not intuitive to see how to type in the browser address or more importantly text into fields on the webpage

      2) there isn't a paper manual, or a PDF manual supplied - it's a separate "app" in the Smart hub area

      3) text entry isn't in the manual even when you do find it,

      From my blundering around in google, I think short of buying the appropiate wireless keyboard, the answer lies in running the remote control app off a phone or a tablet

    4. Bod

      Spend more

      The higher priced Samsungs have dual core and quad core is coming (and available to some models as a plug in upgrade).

      Got a dual core in mine and it's reasonable speed for what it is. Remote entry for text is still a pain, but that's not what Smart TV is for. It's select and click (or gestures on the fancy ones).

      Quite happy with mine, and I'm surprised I'm getting regular updates. That the app updates only occur when you launch them is a little niggle but happy they have them (apart from Red Bull TV which still doesn't have a fix to the annoying audio stutter on their live TV feed). Also happy that there are newer apps coming along.

      UI on the latest is relatively clean if annoyingly populated with "social" guff in parts.

      The really rubbish bit however is the DLNA interface. It finds the servers okay but then it's a clunky interface of folders and cryptic names. Then again it's arguably the DLNA server at fault. Hence the likes of Plex to make them more informative, but then they've also gone and made an app for Smart TV anyway (not available on all Samsung models yet).

      1. DougS Silver badge
        FAIL

        Dual/quad core

        What, you're claiming that for TEXT ENTRY you need a dual or quad core processor? How in the world did all those computers get along with single core processors before we got to dual core? Text entry was fine on the first Mac and the first Windows PCs, despite both having single cores that ran at a single digit number of MEGAHERTZ, not gigahertz as in today.

        If you are saying that these "higher priced Samsungs" that include a dual or quad core CPU is necessary to make the smart TV features perform "at a reasonable speed for what it is", then no way would I waste my money by paying the extra money for this as you suggest.

        Best to save your money by forgoing "smart" TVs altogether since not one has been made that provides anything you will miss if you don't have it.

        1. Bod

          Re: Dual/quad core

          Bearing in mind these are low spec and low power processors. It's a bit like the old single core Atom based netbooks. The early ones were somewhat clunky and slow even at basic things.

          Basically the kit that's in the cheaper or older TVs is equivalent to those or even lower spec. Like a £50 toy tablet.

          And bear in mind the processors may be doing other work too (have to admit I don't know if they get involved in the video processing or that's done with separate processors).

  6. Gavin McMenemy

    I don't have a telly.

    I have a pc. I watch everything on my nice big monitor. Yes it is only a 22" one but I've never seen the need for a 46" mega screen in my tiny living room.

    From a personal viewpoint I'd be happy if we just had inexpensive large monitors.

    I haven't needed or used an actual TV in years. And I also thought the emerging paradigm was that people were very likely to stop watching broadcast telly in the near future too.

    1. HamsterNet
      Thumb Up

      Re: I don't have a telly.

      BUMP,

      No TV just a 42" monitor with an ITX PC with a few USB Freesat and Freeview tuners and the PC connects to a superb 5.1 PC surround sounds.

      I don't even use the TV remote. Just turn the TV on and off. The very low power PC just stays on as its also the house file server

      Also you NEVER lose a full sized wireless media keyboard down the back of the sofa.

      Frack smart, just connect a PC, They do everything and really easily as well.

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: I don't have a telly.

      We have inexpensive large monitors - they're called TVs. The economies of scale mean that large TVs are cheaper.

      There's limited demand for large computer monitors, especially now people have discovered that several small monitors are easier to use - sadly, this happened after I spent lots of money on a single large monitor.

  7. pootle

    its all a uishambles as far as I'm concerned

    hidden in the dark and cobwebbed corners are a few nice facilities - like the iplayer on Sony BD 360 & up, which (as long as the action doesn't get to frantic) can nearly equal broadcast HD.

    You didn't even mention the iplayer UI (which only intrepid ui explorers can usually find on much kit as you say), usually a nasty, clunky, lag ridden horror. The sony one is really clever 'cos it searches for matches from the first letter of the programme name, so you'd better look it up on a PC first and make sure you type it in ExactLY RIGHT. then it gives you a list where the key info (like which episode of the program) has disappeared off the right hand side of the little box, and you can't scroll over, so you have to select each one in turn, wait for it to load, then after trying a couple, try and reverse engineer the sort order to predict where the one you actually want will be.

    The only 1/2 sane UI on any of my AV kit is the old humax Foxsat HDR box with modded firmware that means I can access it from web broswer.

    If DNLA hadn't ended up designing a camephant, it might be the answer, or even Myth TV.

  8. dvd

    Dream telly

    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?

    1. Rufus McDufus

      Re: Dream telly

      Good sound - exactly. The problem with nice flat TVs is the sound is usually abysmal.

      Also a remote control that people with adult-sized fingers & less-than-perfect vision in a darkened room are able to use.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: Dream telly

        "Also a remote control that people with adult-sized fingers & less-than-perfect vision in a darkened room are able to use."

        You jest. Although Sony have subtracted functionality in this area, judging by my HDR/DVD, which not only has tiny buttons and no backlight, but also prints the legend onto the buttons. Three years down the line and most of the legends have rubbed off, meaning that you need a damn good memory to be able to make it do anything.

        It's the second Sony piece of kit which I've bought that is mostly excellent, but spoilt by a confusing manual and a dreadful remote. Not buying another Sony for this reason.

        Thumbs up icon because some of us have only thumbs and no fingers.

    2. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Dream telly

      Personally, if it's going to be a flat panel, then you may as well forget about the sound altogether.

      You're never going to get really decent sound out of a box that's thinner than an old transistor radio, in my view. Sure, they may try to take the rough edges off by processing it to buggery, but frankly even a pair of £50 bookshelf speakers from Richer Sounds are likely to do a better job than the speakers built into most flat panels these days.

  9. The_Cruse
    Thumb Up

    Forget the UI Bring me a TV with XBMC as part of the setup and you sir would have a sale.

  10. Robert Grant

    Windows Media Center has quite a good UI

    Or I thought it did. Did it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Windows Media Center has quite a good UI

      Yeah its pretty straightforward. Just a shame the extenders are EoL and a pile of garbage. Hopefully Ceton will breathe some new life into the platform and support HD at the extender, then I'll be happy

    2. Irongut

      Re: Windows Media Center has quite a good UI

      Yup. Very happy with the WMC7 UI on my media centre & TV and it passes the "can the missus use it on her own" test.

      As much as I hate TIFKAM on a PC I think the first company to build Kinect and Win8 into a TV UI could have a big hit on their hands.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    first smart tv....

    ....bought last week. Panasonic seems straight forward enough. Does what it says on the tin and no problems detected thus far. UI seems a bit teletubby, but smooth and reasonably quick in use..... It's a tv, not a PC. It's ok.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: first smart tv....

      Having just looked at quite a few, I do think that, in some regards, the Panasonic SmartViera interface at least has the merit of simplicity, in terms of finding the various apps, with its 3 x 3 grid that that the live TV in the centre. You can move things around, you'll only ever have eight items on the screen, so you can see them clearly from the sofa, and you can put the things you use a lot - and I doubt many people will use more than eight - on the first screen.

      It may not look as fancy as some of the others, but it's certainly less cluttered and simple to navigate with a remote.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: first smart tv....

        my thoughts entirely.....

  12. CADmonkey
    Thumb Up

    I'm a-feared of the future

    This article perfectly illustrates why I still have a BT iPlayer digital set-top box (and a Philips 26" CRT)

    The iPlayer is quick and has a great EPG. It is prone to locking on to one channel occasionally (although I must say not lately - switchover?) but to be honest it takes a while to notice. It also contains a 56k modem (woo!) and comes with a keyboard.

    This article is long overdue.

  13. Manolo
    Mushroom

    Philips

    We have a Philips "smart" TV . So smart it sometimes forgets it is already to connected to the network and you have to run the setup again. Horrible UI. The media player on it is terrible as well. I can't wait for my Ouya to arrive so I can use XBMC instead.

  14. Jon Massey
    Thumb Up

    WDTV live has a nice UI, regular updates

    My advice to anyone buying a TV is get one based on the quality of the panel, the "smart" features don't count for sh!t and will never be updated; leave that to a third-party box which you can upgrade more cheaply if needs be and still keep your TV.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WDTV live has a nice UI, regular updates

      Yeah the WDTV Live UI is actually quite slick. Sure the box is not perfect, but it has a fair stab at it, and plays most content. Regular upgrades at the moment, but these will tail off once the box is replaced. But for £70 its a better option to replace than your £1000 TV.

      I have a Sumsung Smart TV from a year or so ago and it has possibly the worst implementation of DLNA I have ever seen.

      1. Christopher Rogers

        Re: WDTV live has a nice UI, regular updates

        You haven't used an LG then...

    2. fung0

      Re: WDTV live has a nice UI, regular updates

      I have a WDTV, but prefer to use my Boxee Box instead. It's got a vastly better UI, plus the option to create named shortcuts to commonly used LAN locations. Which means my wife can actually navigate around my multiple NAS servers.

      To be sure, the WDTV can create a media 'library,' but it then absolutely INSISTS on indexing everything. A ludicrous waste of processing power, network bandwidth and wear and tear on my drives. (Same problem with DLNA. What IS this fetish about indexing everything??) The Boxee just uses Samba shares. When I need to see what's on a server, no need to update an index - it just gets a directory listing.

      The Boxee is also tops when it comes to ease of access to Internet programming. Not perfect, but better than anything else I've seen. (I'm sure Boxee software running on a PC would be even better, but I like the simplicity of a small, self-contained media box.)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They suck because they are designed by the same morons who design Android user interfaces.

    If an Apple TV does come along it will show these people how to do it properly, just like they did with the iPhone and smartphones.

    1. Tim Parker

      @AC

      "They suck because they are designed by the same morons who design Android user interfaces."

      Android UI ?... the one we're told is a rip-off of the iOS one ? =:o)

    2. fung0

      You're right that the TV market is ripe for a takeover, comparable to what Apple did with cell phones. But Apple's tightly-closed approach will always prevent it from being a total solution. (As it has with AirPlay, for example.)

      Apart from the fact that TV UIs suck, there are way too many of them. What we really need is common UI platform that ALL manufacturers can implement - and add value to, differentiating their products while keeping to a familiar layout. Apple could never provide that; it would insist on being in the driver's seat, and the TV industry has already (understandably) refused to go along with that scenario.

      Microsoft could have offered a solution, but it's too busy trying to become Apple. (And its recent approach to UI design sucks almost as badly as what TVs have now.) What we really need is a third party software developer who's competent, willing to be flexible and credible enough to rally support from the entire TV manufacturing community. I had high hopes for Google, but they seem to have blown Google TV so badly that no one will ever want it. If some group like Boxee or XBMC build support for a common spec, that would be ideal.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, what TVs need is a giant grid of icons

  16. Malcolm 1

    Display only

    I'd much rather my TV focussed on offering a superlative display rather than attempting to integrate all manner of supposedly valuable services (read: filler). I expect my TV to last 5 - 10 years, which is probably at least five times longer than these services will be supported - the smart services are much better provided by a cheaper box or tablet which can be replaced more frequently.

    With the possible exception of Sony's XMB why do all AV User Interfaces look like they were designed in 1995 with a copy of Macromedia Director?

  17. A. Nervosa

    It's almost depressing...

    ... that a large bunch of people can all agree that the firmware and usability of the current crop of smart TVs is remarkably poor. Then, when Apple inevitably release their own integrated TV set with a fluid, responsive, intuitive and easy to use interface, they will no doubt be instantly derided for dumbing things down and charging a premium for it.

    You know what I mean. It's the point that all the Apple haters will flood the forums with claims that their 2008 Sony Bravia had features and facilities long before the Apple TV came along (including a replaceable battery and a micro SD slot) whilst conveniently forgetting that actually operating one was like having their bollocks slowly squeezed in a vice.

    1. fung0

      Re: It's almost depressing...

      Apple's solution to building a better software ecosystem is a lot like Mussolini's approach to making the trains run on time. Not worth the trade-offs.

  18. Alan Denman

    Progress free TV?

    Obviously if they were all the same, then there would be little in progress.

    Anyway the lack of full OS certainly ain't for our benefit.

  19. Jim 59

    Open

    Companies should leave the system open / progrmmable, like Topfield. The public will then sort the UI to its liking, like "Mystuff".

    Panasonic etc haven't got time to employ fleets of software engineers. They focus instead on just getting the next model out the door. As long as the UI looks okay in John Lewis, that's all that matters.

    I have a WD TV Live. They are well thought of, but the usability sucks too, so much so I never use it.

  20. Admiral Grace Hopper

    To answer your question:

    "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?"

    Yes.

  21. Parax
    Stop

    iPlayer 2 Click Fail!

    That's just wrong. if the TV is off, or if the TV is tuned into channel 5, or if the tv was playing from a DVD Then it's Always going to be more than 2 pressess. The 2 button thing only works if your already on a BBC channel.

    Anyway, My FreeviewHD+ box has iplayer mapped to channel 222 (thats BBC via a phone style alpha numeric pad) it also has sky player on 759 (again sky) thats very useful but its all preset.

    I'll only be interested in a smart TV if I can configure it myself, it'd be nice if I could choose what to map to which chanel numbers then I'd be happy.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: iPlayer 2 Click Fail!

      Yes, indeed if the TV's off, then you'll have to press more buttons; sorry, for not mentioning that.

      Nevertheless, the fact is that there is an established, and consistent method of launching the BBC's catch-up service. I'd dearly love to see that implemented too on the other channels, so that the same two pressed would launch catch-up for whichever channel you happen to be watching. It would certainly be technically possible, and wouldn't it be handy if there was that consistency, just like people used to know to press text then 888 for subtitles?

      1. Parax

        Re: iPlayer 2 Click Fail!

        haha.. but the channel 5 point is more valid.

        The 'established method' is a bbc launcher thing only, you are going to need to get other channels to adopt this if you want it as a standard on the red button. then perhaps the tv's might be more inclined to work that way.

        BUT what about 'IP only' tv channels which channels Red button would you put them on? or how else would you access it? or would this require a totally different method? surely one that does all is the best solution? instead of some on a menu and others via red button.

        Personally I'd still like the option to place internet services onto specific channel numbers so I can dial up youtube or fetchtv or something else without menus at all.

  22. Joseph Lord

    You missed half of the UI

    The remote in conjunction with what you see onscreen is the UI. This doesn't necessarily make it better especially with some brands.

    It is hard though with limited space for text due to required text sizes and it still needs to fit in all of the dozens of translated languages. They could still do better.

    The real solution is to move most of the interaction to a tablet type device and keep the big screen as a content output device.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: You missed half of the UI

      We could probably do another whole article about the remotes; the weird choices between shiny metal look membranes, or real buttons, some of which click, others which just wobble.

      Odd concentric circles of buttons, which almost guarantee that half the time you're trying to move to an option, you accidentally press the outer circle instead, and back right out to live TV, or launch something completely different.

      Remotes that have icons that mean absolutely nothing - I was on the second Toshiba set of a recent batch before I realised there actually was a dedicated "Toshiba Places" button on the remote, because it just looked like, well, an empty speech bubble, and what the hell does that mean?

      The secondary remote that comes with some Samsung sets is quite interesting; top half is effectively a trackpad, with a few raised areas for some key functions, which makes it a bit simpler to get to on screen icons by moving your finger around. It also has a built in microphone, which is a little more reliable - especially in a noisy room - for speech control than having to shout at the TV.

      But yes, remotes are often overlooked.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You missed half of the UI@Joseph Lord

      "The real solution is to move most of the interaction to a tablet type device and keep the big screen as a content output device."

      So long as they do it right everybody will be happy. All I want is a nice streamlined app that enables me to control my display from a device I already own, and that I can then duplicate or transfer when I replace my phone or tablet. Given that most makers of TV's produce a whole range of consumer electronics, you'd have thought the opportunity for smartphone apps to act as remote controls would be particularly attractive, yet five years after the touchscreen smartphone became mainstream, the efforts of the TV makers don't seem to have widespread adoption or awareness.

      I did write "Samsung and LG in particular should hang their heads in shame, and Sony at least should blush.", did a quick google to check my facts, and found that they do all in fact offer control apps for Android, working with selected TV's. I'll have a play this evening with the Sammy version and see whether it's any good.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You missed half of the UI@Joseph Lord

        "I'll have a play this evening with the Sammy version and see whether it's any good."

        In the unlikely event anybody's still following this thread, the answer is "Almost"

        The Samsung App works pretty well with my TV, and duplicates all the functions of the remote. There's no noticeable delay in the operation, it is logically laid out, able to control basic settings, or go into more advanced setup options. What lets it down is the same thing - it duplicates the original remote's capabilities rather than extending them, so despite the potential there's no keyboard for text entry (and for my TV there's still no web browser app - can it really be that hard?).

        There's some fairly minor inconveniences, like you can't turn the TV on from standby (surely they could have the wifi connection maintained in standby, and a wake on LAN function?), and you have to select which TV to control every time the app is activated, rather than being able to tell it to control a particular set (or your only one) by default.

        So in many ways a good start, but nowhere realising the full potential. Other phone/tablet.TV inter-connectivity is similarly "not quite there", so DLNA is slow to the point of inoperability, there is no way of doing wifi video out from a an SGS2 to the TV (so using the phone as the browser). You can do it by a hardware link, but then it's difficult to use the phone as a controller (not to mention the unavailable option of using the phone to control, but having the video out different from the phone display).

  23. the idiotuk

    One word.

    Mediaportal.

  24. Nick Cassidy

    They should embed Windows Media Center

    I have used Media Center for years and haven't found anything in a TV or other device that comes close. Why don't TV manufacturers embed that in their sets?

    1. Tim Parker

      Re: They should embed Windows Media Center

      "Why don't TV manufacturers embed [Windows Media Center] in their sets?"

      That's meant as a serious question, isn't it ?

    2. Lusty

      Re: They should embed Windows Media Center

      Didn't the sky interface used to be written by Microsoft? They do have a MCE embedded option but it's a little different to the MCE interface.

  25. aberry9036
    IT Angle

    I think you need the option to link it with mobile devices, browsing clunky sliding, swivelling, iffy UIs with up,down,left,right arrows is painful at best and impossible at worst.

    A way to browse and launch apps via your mobile would probably be best, with the TV just staying as it is, a screen to display content. Pick the content on your phone or tablet, it starts to load on the TV.

    Simples (okay probably not).

  26. conel

    Panasonic not fully learning

    I just bought a Panasonic smart tv, every time I turn the thing on I get an ad for music from Myspace. That's pretty annoying, although not as bad as every time you turn on the EPG.

    There's apparently different standards of Panasonic smart tv, the one I got doesn't have the web browser for whatever reason.

    Another thing about UI that annoys me about a lot of tv's is the standard of the remote control that comes with them. The Panny remote is terrible, has all the expected functions but is just plain awkward to use. It really does make me appreciate Sky's remote and UI.

    It would help if when tech journalists - definitely looking at the Reg here - would actually put an appropriate emphasis on the quality of the UI and remote when reviewing a TV instead of going on about differences in video quality which are only really apparent when looking at the sets back to back, or if you're trying hard to notice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Panasonic not fully learning-remotes

      only reason I consulted the manual on our remote was to find the button for the subtitles as the missus currently has a head full of snot that has made her as deaf as a post. It does have a web browser. The one ad lasts about 5 seconds on start up...... EPG is fine.I used a sky remote at the weekend and found it a pain in the derrirere...... Just shows.... personal taste is everything.

  27. BigAndos
    FAIL

    Bought a Samsung "Smart" Blu-ray

    I bought it on the promise of being able to add iPlayer and Netflix to my aging TV. To be fair it works well for iPlayer (except the Samsung app has painfully slow performance when scrolling). However, Netflix never worked. The samsung (cr)app store is a right dogs dinner - I searched for the Netflix app, it found it and then... nothing. It mysteriously refused to download. After the most tortuitous registration process I have ever followed.

    Netflix claim Samsung needed to release an upgraded firmware, Samsung claim it is up to Netflix to fix. So, back to using my laptop to stream netflix to my TV. Except, of course, I can't get Windows to output in my TV's native resolution so the edges are chopped off everything I watch. I think I'll give in and go for a Raspberry Pi/XMBC solution! You wouldn't think such a simple requirement would be so hard.

    Forget all this Facebook/Twitter integration, anyone who uses these regularly probably has a mobile or laptop to view them on with a much better user experience. Just put some engineering resources into the "let me easily watch a streaming service on my telly, regardless of what that streaming service is" requirement and watch units fly off the shelves.

    1. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Bought a Samsung "Smart" Blu-ray

      "Just put some engineering resources into the "let me easily watch a streaming service on my telly, regardless of what that streaming service is" requirement and watch units fly off the shelves."

      But that is what they think they have done, which is the problem. Another one is 'streaming services' makes sense to you and me but some old dear will say 'I don't want water in my tv so I never choose that, where is iPlayer?'. Adding in that Aunty, Netflix etc all want their branding used and there will be ructions and copyright etc all tied up in how they appear, or else.

      It's like some guy on another discussion site made a comment about the advert at the bottom of the page. I expressed surprise that people still browsed the web without ad blocking apps. He replied that it was too complex to set that stuff up. I'm the sort of person who always learnt how to use software by pulling down menus and wondering 'what does that do?' but most other people are not like that. My wife, who has a BSc in CompSci included. Her defence is she was interested in how computers worked and how the program them. My response is her part of the 3rd year project was the interface. This does not get me brownie points and I still have to navigate the crappy devices she buys so they see the home network.

      1. Ian Johnston
        Thumb Up

        Re: Bought a Samsung "Smart" Blu-ray

        I know of one website designer (small scale and looks likely to remain so) who deliberately sabotages websites he creates so they look bad when adblocking software is in use. The sites don't explain this; they just look bad, apparently to punish users. Clearly he's an idiot, but that attitude may exist elsewhere.

  28. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Flame

    A smart TV

    Is merely a dumb display device with lots of bits added to 'provide value' that, I strongly suspect, the average punter doesn't give a damn about anyway; they're provided purely to provide smoke'n'mirrors for the sale of the device (er, I mean of course 'differentiate the product').

    They tried massive screens, they tried 3-d, now they're trying 'smart'. But the TV makers all face the same problem: everybody's already got one. They're a commodity item, with no reasonable reason to change more than once every five or ten years... and that hurts the makers. So they slap on the latest added goodness, making it a worse experience in just about every way, and hope they can sell to the must-have fashionistas. It's a good ploy - the UI has no incremental cost of manufacture since the processor's in there anyway, and it can be changed on short notice (er, upgraded) when the punters notice how bad it is.

    All that's really needed is a screen and an external box. Let the box do the switching between different devices, manage the EPG, organise recordings, and access the various internet services - pick the box of your choice to manage the services you want.

    Apps on 'smart' TVs? Don't make me laugh!

    1. fung0

      Re: A smart TV

      Excellent point, Neil. Smarts belong in an outboard box.

  29. Joseph Lord
    Facepalm

    “Click here for additional assets”

    This may have been my fault (but I don't think it was). For a while one of the things I was doing was confirming the UK English strings for Sony TV's. This string probably got approved by the US team and I didn't come up with a good enough alternative for it (and commonality was preferred where there was no good reason for it to be different). I don't like it but can't think of anything much better (although removing it might be better I'm not sure I had that choice). Replacing "assets" with "media" or "content" doesn't really improve it that much.

    I'm no longer in position to fix it but what would anyone else suggest for it? It has to apply to video/audio/photos. It must fit in a limited space. Be translatable, not content related but ideally still helpful. Note that the same string may be used in other parts of the UI so a complete change of meaning may require more significant work as then there will be two strings to manage and get translated into more than 20 languages for Europe and probably 40-50 globally.

    The process was largely that I got spreadsheets full of strings normally with short descriptions of their meaning and occasionally screenshots of where they would appear. Normally it was quite quick and easy although sometimes significant dialogue to get an understanding of the intention was needed. I did my best to make the strings helpful and meaningful but there were still a few I didn't like but couldn't fix.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: “Click here for additional assets”

      I appreciate that the string may appear in more than one place; that particular abomination crops up in the Demand 5 app, and also in the LoveFilm Trailers section, which both have the same look and feel, so I presume it's part of a Sony application framework.

      If it can't be tweaked for each app, then "Click OK for more" would at least be somewhat clearer to ordinary people; if you've highlighted something that says "Drama" and the message "Click OK for more" appears, then it's probably reasonably clear that you'll get more items in the Drama category.

      But the message as it stands is just horrible, and not a form of language that I think any ordinary person ever uses.

      And it was things like that, and the ridiculous 35 pages of terms in a web browser, that made me think "Didn't Sony let ordinary people sit and play with these TV sets, and ask them for feedback?"

      Of course, other manufacturers are guilty of similarly stupid things; but given the position Sony used to have in the TV market, I felt it particularly shocking (and perhaps a good example of why they don't have that position any more) that there were so many elements in their UI that I felt, frankly, just showed a lack of attention to detail.

      1. Evan Essence

        Re: “Click here for additional assets”

        “Click here for additional assets”, whatever that means. I know. You know

        I don't, actually. Not that I have a smart TV, or want one, especially after reading the article, thanks! And I didn't know about the Panasonic EPG ads. Sheesh, I just hope I don't need a new TV for many years. My Sony Profeel was still going strong after 25 years before I junked it.

        1. jonathanb Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: “Click here for additional assets”

          Well I would be expecting some NSFW pics if I click that button ...

    2. xeroks
      Happy

      Re: “Click here for additional assets”

      What about some simplification : "Click for more"

      1. Joseph Lord

        Re: “Click here for additional assets”

        Yes "Click for more" is probably the winner. Or just not bothering with this string at all at least on this screen. Can't remember for sure if I did approve it, tried to reject it but picked other fights or lost an argument about it. I do kind of remember it which probably means I wasn't happy with it but didn't actually manage to resolve it. I think it is a fairly rare really bad one in my (and Sony's) defence.

        The Sony UI has its problems (and I actually preferred the XMB before they changed to the NUX in the right hand corner as you could see your context better).

        The Sony remote controls are I think better than most although my favourites were the basic model a couple of years ago that was narrow and comfortable in the hand without the ring of buttons around the arrow key. I did battle quite hard on the remote control to keep the input selection at the top. Of course flexibility in remote controls is limited by DtG standards and other bodies round Europe.

        >And it was things like that, and the ridiculous 35 pages of terms in a web browser, that made me think "Didn't Sony let ordinary people sit and play with these TV sets, and ask them for feedback?"

        The 35 page agreement is nothing to do with me, I was out before that service launched so I'm definitely not guilty of that. I think it might also have been a post launch added service so not in the same QA process. Regarding letting normal people use the TVs and getting feedback - we sometimes tried but the timings and deadlines don't really work for that. Feature freeze including UI was 6-9months before launch and samples with workable software were only available a couple of months before launch. Normally by the time we had the product to try it was too late to get changes. In fact I learned of many features when asked to confirm the strings for them. That is part of why I didn't offload that task earlier than I did.

        If you want to try my attempt at a UI without anyone else to blame you can check out my iPhone/iPad app - Fast Lists (http://itunes.com/apps/fastlists). It's for reusable lists (e.g. shopping and packing). I'm to blame for everything but I can fix things there. ;)

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge

      "More..."

      Where do I send my invoice?

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: “Click here for additional assets”@Joseph Lord

      "This may have been my fault (but I don't think it was). For a while one of the things I was doing was confirming the UK English strings for Sony TV's. "

      I had a dig at Sony remotes earlier in this thread, and whilst I standby the comments, I thought I'd better declare that I do appreciate your contributions, and that wasn't intended as a personal go at you.

    5. Danny 4

      Re: “Click here for additional assets”

      Tim Berners-Lee et al say a good UI design should not mention the mechanics of navigating...

      http://www.w3.org/QA/Tips/noClickHere

  30. no_RS

    More grunt and customisation needed.

    They need to put some processing power in the box so it doesn't feel like you are being ignored when you have the audacity to push a button on the remote. My Sony TV is a fussy sod and only plays a very limited number of formats so I end up transcoding on the fly.

    I don't mind the extra add-ons that are in the internet video bit if I could delete them but I can't, about as user friendly as a hungry salt water croc.

    1. Psymon
      Flame

      Re: More grunt and customisation needed.

      Never buy Sony!

      This is not a new problem, and a very deliberate tactic. Bare in mind, Sony are the single biggest muscle behind the War On Piracy (ironic since their tape recorder very nearly didn't get released because of the exact same legal actions).

      Since the start, Sony CD players haven't recognised various flavours of recorded CDs, their DVD players plead ignorant if you put a disc in them that isn't exactly the right colouration to be legit, and support for any digital format that could be linked to non-payment downloading is suspicious by its' absence.

      Add to that their woeful support of HDMI CEC (preferring to try and foist their own proprietary solution, and lock you into all Sony kit) and the fact that their reputation for quality has far exceeded their ability to deliver for the last 20 years…

  31. PipV
    Paris Hilton

    God Bless

    My Pioneer Kuro.

    No 3D bollocks, no intenet connectivity. Just amazing picture quality only now being rivalled by TV panels being produced today.

    Plug in the trust old Western Digital and I am good to go.

    No doubt Apple will launch a very simple UI, state they invented it and everybody will fall for it. All other manufacturers have had more than enough time to get it right and failed everytime.

    Paris - cos she likes a good bit of UI

  32. dotdavid
    Thumb Up

    Sad but unsurprising

    Remember these UIs are designed by companies that figured it would be a great idea to put a button per function on their old, non-smart TV remote controls. Cue users looking at a baffling array of little-used function keys, and the main reason for the old cliche of not being able to program your VCR. Usability experts (or indeed enthusiastic amateurs) they are not.

    I reckon Apple might not get it 100% right if they were to enter the market in a big way, but they would get enough right that it might shock some of the manufacturers to look harder at the problem. I am quite disappointed Google hasn't pushed Google TV as a better solution for manufacturers - if it became as successful as Android at providing a decent usable interface on something (phones) that were previously mainly rubbish, it would be a great thing.

    As others have said, for now ignore the smart stuff and just buy an add-on box that you can easily replace. The RaspberryPi/Raspbian is pretty good for techies, else Roku and WDTV Live.

    1. Ian Johnston
      Thumb Down

      Re: Sad but unsurprising

      Apple's model is to produce pleasant but limited devices which need replaced every couple of years. How many people are prepared to replace a TV as often as they replace their iPhone?

    2. Danny 4

      one function per button

      I disagree. My folks are from an era where equipment had a single function per button. They fully understand this type of UI. The modern style of menus with control a cursor with direction keys and OK is an utterly alien concept.

      As an example they had an old JVC VCR whose timer could be set from the front of the machine itself. Mum would have no problem setting this. She now gets lost immediately having to navigating on-screen menus and gives up. She doesn't get the concept at all. I understand where she is coming from. Simple things should be simple and complex thing should be possible. It seems things are going to get more complicated and using less buttons.

      As the article says, press the red button and OK to go straight to iPlayer. Or it could even be on its own iPlayer button... (Hopefully Mum will comprehend the subsequent iPlayer pages...)

      1. dotdavid

        Re: one function per button

        "Apple's model is to produce pleasant but limited devices which need replaced every couple of years"

        True, but arguably an old no-longer-updated iPhone is still a perfectly usable interface for a phone, it just lacks certain newer features. I wouldn't expect manufacturers would update their sets for the 5,6,7 year lifespans but if they started with a better UI it would be a huge improvement, and Apple's competition might help with that.

        @Danny4 - I guess it depends on the quality of the UI - as the article points out they're usually not so good. And maybe there are some preconceptions that each function has to have its own button, and thus a workflow-based system that only allows you to make valid choices might be confusing to some. But I reckon with minimal retraining pretty much anyone can get the hang of a decent UI-based system, and new users find them more intuitive. Else phones and the like would have more buttons ;-)

  33. Mike Richards

    Sony Bravia

    I've got a 2.5 year old Sony Bravia whose remote control also controls a Sony amplifier.

    It's not meant to. It just happens to.

    Changing to the Blu-Ray input shouldn't mute the sound, switching to teletext shouldn't start the test tones - but it does.

    Sony's response - oh that problem was addressed in the updated firmware for your tv (which has never been pumped out to existing sets). But you really should know that amplifier is discontinued, you should get a new one. Have you thought about the Sony....[click]?

  34. localzuk

    One of the reasons I don't use my TV much - doing anything other than watching simple TV channels and Blurays.

    Anything else, I use my PC. Currently using MediaPortal. Pretty good - especially as you can change the interface to suit.

  35. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    I'll stick...

    to my basic Sony Bravia set that has tho XBM system but that works without a problem. It's not smart true but hell it does what it needs to. If I want something more I'll hookup openelec.tv to it via any of numerous fancy bits and get all the fancy stuff that way.

  36. Rufus McDufus

    Even simple things like choosing the correct input for all the connected devices is difficult to explain to someone non-technical. For instance my old Panny TV which I donated to my parents comes up with 'EC/HDMI' or whatever when switching to the Humax PVR (*). Just WTF is that supposed to mean to the casual user?

    * Operating the PVR is sadly completely beyond their comprehension.

  37. Quando

    The article is spot on.

    Had the horror of a Samsung 'smart' TV and apps - thought it couldn't get worse until I got a View21 HD Recorder - interface on that is so *very* slow, full of bugs and silliness that anyone with a clue would have spotted before release. Already had to do a factory reset and wipe the hard drive of recordings after about 3 weeks of use when it hard crashed.

    Only TV recorder I've used that was any good was PlayTV on the PS3 - and that is just SD and single channel recording, but the interface was built by game developers and is slick - rapid response, no crap just does what it should. Paired with a blue tooth remote it's great. [Why are TVs still using IR remotes? They suck compared to bluetooth and the batteries in the PS3 one last for ever with tons of use] iPlayer on PS3 is a mess though - have to get the trad controller out for some operations.

  38. Detective Emil
    Holmes

    Heritage industry

    They're just building on the grand tradition of remote controls. They've always sucked.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Media Center and their extenders

    I threw my TV away after sitting through the very first airing of Big Brother. It was the straw that broke the camels’ back. By that point, we only ever switched the TV on for new episodes of Simpsons, but Sky1 adverts made it a truly painful experience, and our disgust at the devolution of TV had reached breaking point.

    So, I cancelled our Sky subscription, dumped the telly on the pavement outside, let our TV licence lapse, and that was the end of an era. What I didn't realise at the time was that it opened a whole new, refreshing chapter in my life.

    I started downloading movies and TV programmes not long after, watching them on my computer. Being able to watch on-demand and pause was unheard of then! The monitor was soon replaced with a projector (now 150" screen), scrolling through filenames was replaced with a movie database program that downloaded the meta-content from IMDB. Media Player Classic worked beautifully (VLC Player isn't as good to use, and the codec argument fails now MPC's embedded in the K-lite codec pack) Things were good, but it was still a little clunky, and tied me to keyboard and mouse.

    When Media Center came along, I invested in an Emprex 3009ARF remote (by far the best of any remote I've ever used! so good in fact, I bought a third one today) and then I discovered the Mediabrowser plugin for Media Center.

    Wow! This is how a UI SHOULD be designed! Based on the same open source code as XBMC, it has a far superior interface, and a plethora of plugins for various streaming services.

    For live TV, I use a DVBT2 USB tuner through MCE, which is just a button toggle away.

    The combined setup is so simple, so beautiful, and so intuitive, I have replaced the parents’ set-top, DVD player etc. with an old laptop that had a broken screen.

    Because the power button on the remote sleeps/wakes it, there's never a need to open the lid, so it sits under the TV gathering dust just as a set-top would.

    When I started hearing about the capabilities of these new smart TVs, I thought "Wow, they're finally catching up!" Nope. It’s not just the appalling UIs, or the problems of getting differing services on the many different devices talking to each other, but the "very nearly, but not quite" invariability of the feature sets on these devices that’s so disappointing.

    While most devices now support Divx and XVID, they’re late to the party as we’re now moving onto the wonderful Matroska .MKV wrapper. This is just a codec update on my system, but from the general lack of support in all but the latest blu-ray players, I suspect a hardware issue for brown goods. And what happens when DVBT3 comes along? I can always replace my £30 USB dongle…

    1. Shades

      Re: Media Center and their extenders

      On the subject of "smart" TV's and their format support Samsung seem to have very good support for video... A Samsung TV I had a few years back never failed to play anything I threw at it, in HD or SD format where applicable... MKV, MP4, AVI, FLV, 3GP. Quite surprised me really and the UI actually wasn't all that bad. The audio (only) support was terrible though... MP3 and nothing else (not even the free OGG Vorbis format, which in my opinion results in a better overall sound than MP3).

      1. Psymon

        Re: Media Center and their extenders

        @stu_ekins – Yes, I do have a TV licence again. Posting anon though, due to references to download activity, which I continue to do simply because the legal alternatives don’t provide the same quality of services.

        Indeed, there are some good products out there, but you have to wade through an enormous pile of dross to find them. On top of this, brown goods documentation is notoriously light on technical info, making your purchase decisions all the more difficult, and to be frank there is no financial incentive for the manufacturer to provide additional support and upgrades once you’ve purchased the item, so the many comments here indicating an industry wide dearth of firmware updates, while sad, comes as no real surprise.

        One major gripe I have is the complete gamble you have to take with HDMI CEC support. Because it was only an optional component of the standard, the features that work on it are almost random. Sony barely support it at all, as they have their own solution (which only works on Sony products).

        Try finding the supported range of CEC commands of your next TV/HiFi/DVD player before purchase! I used to work as a multimedia technician, setting up everything from lecterns for presentations to turn-key kiosks, and the very first thing we learned was that if you wanted to make the installation work properly, be idiot-proof enough for unassisted use, and future-proof for new features, you had to use a PC.

        If something on a PC doesn’t support a certain feature, doesn’t work in the required manner, or doesn’t integrate with your pre-existing configuration, you can change it. Without a computer as the hub, all the individual components that make up your desired solution are a bit like the shapes and holes puzzle. Except that all the shapes were moulded by the same toddlers the puzzle was aimed at. You will get things to fit eventually, but it will never be seamless.

        My parents, both in their 70s are not complete luddites, but they struggled so badly with their Smart TV/DVD/PVR/Set-top box/Hifi and the many remotes (oh, god, the remotes!) that I offered to set up an alternative.

        Now, with a single remote, they can easily navigate their TV/streaming and catch-up/music/pictures/recordered and 1.4Tb of moveis, TV shows, Documentaries and Stand-up through a single unified interface.

        Seriously, have a look on youtube at mediabrowser 3. I’ve tarted it up a bit more than the videos, so it looks even prettier, and is astonishingly easy to use.

        And I haven’t even touched on the low cost of upgrades to support new features. This all started with a conversation about them buying a new TV to get DVBT-2 support. They now have this, AND blu-ray, for less than the price they were intending to pay.

    2. stu_ekins

      Re: Media Center and their extenders

      I assume you now have a TV licence again, as you're watching broadcast TV?

  40. lemmac

    clusterf*ck

    Tv's, dvd players, set top boxes - of which i've had many, all had ability to update FOTA. How many updates did i get? None, ever.

    The worst was my first DVD player, bought on the strength of playing MP3 discs. It's interface was unbelievably bad. The left hand side of the screen was reserved for folder structure, the right hand side for tracks. Both sides could only show a maximum of 8 characters in a name ( i measured the available space left over and it would allow for 40 characters each side!) which meant every folder by the same artist was named the same if the artist name was more than 7 letters, the same for the tracks when tagged artist/album/track. Only when i played a track would the full title appear except that any spaces, dashes or hyphens would appear as zeros! Totally unfit for purpose. Needless to say i dumped the dvd player and connected my pc to the tv instead.

    My current tv has a guide, selectable by pressing the guide button. It splits the screen into three vertical columns and two horizontal. The bottom left hand side is reserved for channel numbers/names and is basically empty space, the other two bottom panes show Now and Next. They can show 30 characters along with '...' if there are more than 30. The top of the screen has PIP on the left third and programme details on the other two thirds. The details of the current selected programme has acres of space but again will only show about 6 words followed by '...'. I can press the info button on the remote to get more info in a pop up window, it can show about 10 words including the first 6 that were already available on the guide. I can't press the info button again to close the window, instead i can press the return button on the remote (will remove the pop up but keep the guide open), the exit button on the remote (will close the guide as well) or navigate to the onscreen 'return' button and press the ok button on the remote (will remove the pop up and return to guide).

    If i forgo the guide and press the info button while watching a programme it displays the same 6 word description as the guide but this time it occupies the full width of the screen via a drop down menu, again with acres of empty space. I can now close this by pressing the info button again, or usefully press the red button on the remote for information? Doing so will now display the full text of the programme description in a pop up window. This pop up can be closed by pressing the ok or exit button on the remote but not the red button a second time. The pop up window is only half the width of the screen but with larger text than either the guide or the info button drop down uses but can manage to display all the programme information in far less space!

    I fail to comprehend how something could be made so unintuitive without special effort and struggle to accept that someone was paid (probably good money) to make it so. Oh and i've had the tv for 3 years without a fw update...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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 :)

  41. 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.

  42. jonathan rowe
    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.

  43. Angry From Winchester
    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.

  44. Will Godfrey 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

    1. Darryl

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

  45. Richard Scratcher
    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?

    1. fung0

      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.

  46. Hyde
    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

  47. 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.

    1. Joseph Lord

      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.

  48. Stuart Castle

    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.

  49. This post has been deleted by its author

  50. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Joseph Lord

      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).

  51. Anonymous Coward
    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!

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      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"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

  52. AlexS
    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?).

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      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.

      1. DougS 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.

  53. Bananimal

    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.

  54. The FunkeyGibbon
    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.

  55. Alan Bourke

    So Smart TV

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

    1. jnewco81

      Re: So Smart TV

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

  56. RedBadger

    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.

    1. TooDeep

      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.).

  57. Anonymous Coward
    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?"

    1. Joseph Lord

      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.

    2. Tim Jenkins

      "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...

  58. Slik Fandango
    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!

  59. 27escape
    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!

  60. craigh

    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.

  61. All names Taken
    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

  62. J.G.Harston Silver 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.

  63. Al42
    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............

  64. Wil Palen
    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!

  65. John Tserkezis

    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.

    1. All names Taken

      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?

  66. David Paul Morgan
    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.

  67. Stuart Halliday
    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?

  68. All names Taken

    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?

  69. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  70. Nick De Plume
    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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