If I were a TV manufacturer

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If I were a TV manufacturer

Published by on October 2nd 2012.

I have an empty place on a wall where a TV set should be. I just can't find the right TV, all of them have these obvious flaws I just can't stand.

So, I have no TV of my own, but less than a year ago, I helped my mother pick one. It was a 32" LG with passive 3D and a satellite tuner. It was an improvement over the previous setup, but it still sucks big time. Here is why:

Program switching

In the old days, when TVs were still using CRTs and no remotes, program switching was instant. You pushed a button and when the sound of the clicking reached your ears, the program was already switched.

These days, there is a visible, annoying delay when switching programs. Not only the TV waits if I enter more digits or not, but even when using the program up/down buttons, there is a delay. Who knows, maybe there is a technical reason, why it takes a while to sync to the digital content, but I bet if the manufacturers really wanted, they would be able to bring this annoying delay down (like having multiple tuners and a heuristic predicting what program I will switch to next - humans are fairly predictable). In any case, the waiting for next digit is just silly - the TV should start the program switching process immediately and eventually switch multiple times as I type.

Boot time

In the old CRT times, it took some time for the CRT to lighten up, but the sound started to play immediately. And a good CRT was quite fast - just 1 or 2 seconds.

These days, the TVs took multiple seconds to boot their internal OS. The situation is even worse with some set-top boxes. My grandmother's Evolve satellite set-top box takes like 30 seconds to boot up.

The LCD panels have no inherent warm-up times like the CRT used to have. It seriously sucks that the TVs take more time to show a picture and play a sound after turning them on that they did 20 years ago.

Irrational preset restrictions

My grandmother's Sony TV has an analog and a digital tuner. Not so long ago, some programs were broadcast in analog and others in digital format here in Czech Republic. When switching a program, it is first necessary to choose between analog and digital tuners. That was very hard to explain to my grandmother and grandfather, they are simply not used to it. Why cannot they assign analog programs to numbers 1-3 and some other digital ones to numbers 4-20? Why are there two sets of separate program numbers? Hasn't the manufacturer at least tried to use their product. This is so obvious UX problem.

You may think that with the analog broadcasting being phased out, the problem is gone, but that is not the case. You get the same problems with TVs with terrestrial and satellite tuners built-in. Also, why cannot I assign external HDMI inputs to program numbers (at least on the TVs I know)? Wouldn't it be just easier to press 7 instead of a special input selection button and then arrows and OK when I want to show the PC or digital camera output on the TV? Pure laziness.

3D shortcomings

The LG TV uses a passive 3D technology, which I prefer over the older 3D tech with shutter glasses. But it has its shortcomings the manufacturers do not exactly inform you about (like the viewing angles are really small, otherwise the left and right eyes images mix or even flip). Never-mind, it is still good enough.

The main problem with 3D is in the user interface again. You actually have to turn the 3D mode on or off manually and there are multiple modes and you have to pick the correct one. Why cannot the TV auto-detect if the input uses 3D? Most of 3D content is in SBS (side-by-side) format and it is relatively trivial to detect automatically (discontinuity in the middle of the image, left and right sides similar) - why did the manufacturer not include the auto-detection? Laziness again?

Crappy remote

A modern TV can do a lot, but that ancient concept of remotes is holding it back (and you cannot connect a mouse to it). If you try to use one of the more advanced functions of a modern TV like playing games or browsing the web, you'll get frustrated really quickly. The remotes are not really built for this kind of things - they barely manage to switch programs and they fail at anything else.

Crappy software

You can connect an USB harddrive to the TV, but using it is a pain. Does it support NTFS or ext3? You guess.

The TV cannot even do subtitles correctly - it simply uses plain white color for subtitles, which makes them often illegible. Every decent PC movie player can be configured to show yellow subtitles with black outlines. The difference is enormous. Subtitle text encoding or having subtitles in multiple languages is as well unfeasible.

What I would do if I was in designing a TV UX?

First, in addition to the classic models with digital and satellite tuners, I would make a tuner-less model. Just 1 HDMI input for a PC and that is all. I believe, the number of people who would prefer just a fancy display + a separate PC in a small box is going to grow.

Second, I would drop the remote. Instead, I would put a touch screen, a Kinect-like system and/or microphone in. The microphone would help to auto-adjust volume depending on ambient noise. It could be also used to recognize few voice commands (numbers to switch programs, etc.). Touch screen would be ideal for seeking, setting up the TV, browsing youtube, etc. The Kinect-like system could be used for controlling the TV with gestures or whatever. I am not saying all 3 has to be in, but I bet people would love a remote-less, intelligent TV.

The TVs should really take a lot of inspiration from the tablets when designing the user interface. The manufacturers are introducing TV models too quickly and it is obvious that the products are not really complete - the shortcomings described above are a clear indication. A lot of the problems are really software problems, TV manufacturers are underestimating this aspect of their products a lot. I hope this attitude changes and I'll finally be able to buy a decent TV.

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Recent comments

user icon Anonymous on October 3rd 2012

+1 wanting a tuner-less, single-input model. Less tech to break, and don't need to deal with the horrible software (I don't want a crappy browser in my TV!).

user icon Anonymous on October 3rd 2012

The delay when switching programs when using digital TV has a technical reason that is *really* difficult (i. e. nearly impossible) to avoid and has to do with the codecs used for digital broadcasting:

they use two type of frames: I-Frames and P-Frames.

I-Frames are only sent once in a while (e. g. every half second in the MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 standard) and contain a fully described picture that can be shown.

P-Frames only contain (simplified) the difference to the previous I-Frame and can not be shown in a sensible way as long as you don't have the corresponding I-Frame. Thus you have to wait until the next I-Frame is sent (the half second you see as switching time) before you can see the next channel.

user icon Vlasta site administrator on October 3rd 2012

Yes, I understand that it is difficult, but if it is not impossible, why not invest some time and solve that problem? It only needs to be solved once. What about sound - does it also need to have a delay this long? Would it be too difficult for the TV to keep in memory the last half second of the received data (possibly undecoded) of the users favorite channels and quickly decode and find that I-frame when switching programs? Aren't channels that are in a single multiplex easily available to the TV?

user icon Anonymous on October 24th 2012

I'm not being smart or inconsiderate but I look at life's shortcomings differently.
For instance: can you imagine how upset someone in 1912 would be because they had to wait for TV channel to change? They would have loved to have your displeasure.
I remember yesteryear before cable & satellite TV. Not all channels came in as quick as we turned the knob. Or clicked the remote.
Remember? Sometimes we had to fiddle with adjusting those rabbit ears or turning the outside antennae. Sometimes missing the beginning of a show!

  • Your glass is half empty because you have to wait for few seconds

*My glasses half full because I only have to wait a few seconds and don't need to adjust the antennae.

user icon Anonymous
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