Since the rumors of a real Apple TV are picking up again, I think they can make a TV that doesn’t suck. It isn’t that hard, here is why I think all current TV’s suck.
As much as computers have evolved, TV’s seem to have stopped evolving ever since they invented the remote control. Having a flat screen a few centimeters thick is an engineering marvel, but it doesn’t make watching TV any better than the TV from 10-15 years ago.
A TV 10 years ago was big and bulky but it did its job remarkably well. Sure its sound and screen were probably quite some levels lower than today’s standards, but it did one thing very well: switching channels was instanteneous. I could go through 20 channels in a snap, not that we had 20 channels 10 years ago but that’s beside the point, the TV supported 99 channels, the providers were lacking.
If you buy a high end TV today I can pretty much guarantee you it won’t be able to switch channels faster than the TV of 10 years ago. It’ll probably have a perfectly valid technical reason why it can’t, after all watching in UltraHDMaxSuperQuality isn’t easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be solved.
Worst case scenario you add some kind of fade in/out effect to it, make it shiny and call it a feature. But just shipping it and calling it one of the drawbacks of flat screen technology is just a cop out.
For me, they stopped evolving pretty much right after adding infrared to it, at least with the remotes sold with the TV. Logitech has some advanced touchbased remotes but not quite there yet. The best remote is a remote I don’t have to look at, after all I’m busy watching the TV.
My main gripes with the current state of remotes:
It’s IR based so needs direct line of sight, that’s not a disaster just a small annoyance.
It invariably has at least 4 buttons you never use, in my case it’s ‘DTV’, ‘EPG’, ‘ESG’ and RADIO. Never ever used them. Now take your remote and find your four buttons.
On my Telenet remote they are: ‘Comm’, Mode’, ‘Delete’ and ‘Exit’. I never ever use them, they mostly indicate a lack of UX.
The back button only remembers the last selected channel, much like the clipboard on the mac. Emacs solved this by introducing a kill ring, it’s basically a clipboard that can go backward and forward. TV’s need this.
- You’re watching snooker on BBC
- Switch to Eurosport to catch curling because it’s a slow frame
- Watch some curling until a commercial break
- Switch back to BBC using back.
- Still a boring frame switch back to curling
- Still a commercial, go to channel 1 and see if anything is on.
At this point you’re stuck, the only way to get back to snooker is by pressing the channel number. If TV’s had a kill ring you’d only have to press
back and you’re back just in time to catch a century break in the making.
I’ll admit this last point might be something only I could appreciate.
Lack of UX
Most TVs pretty much stopped evolving their interface when they could overlay one above the currently playing content. Showing the current channel number briefly with a slight glow behind is considered the high water mark of UI.
This doesn’t bother as much as the rest of the ‘Settings’; worst offender usually is the ordering of channels, it’s the holy grail of TV UX, it’s unsolvable, or so it seems.
The rest is usually solved by adding sliders to tweak each and every little thing of color and audio. Unfortunately, you can tweak so many things it’s no longer clear what the correct defaults should be. After all in the shop they’ve turned the colors up to eleven to make them ‘pop’, which looks good in the shop but looks like crappy video when you get home.
I’d pay good money to get a tv that ships with sensible defaults, except I already paid good money for such a tv. And what defaults did I get? “Soft”, “User”, “Dynamic”, “Sports”, “Movies”. And they all don’t look quite right.
Picture in picture
What happened here? I remember watching commercials of TVs that supported picture in picure, you could watch two channels at the same time! Glorious day!
Except that day never came, now I probably never want to watch two things at the same time for a long period of time, but as a way of quickly glancing at what’s on it would rock. Heck I need picture in picture in picture in picture.
The current line of TV’s lack all the stuff Apple has shown again and again to be able to execute: great UI, sufficient speed, ItJustWorks factor.
However I don’t think Apple wants to be in the TV business just to make another TV. If they’re going to make a TV, it will be one that (hopefully) addresses the issues listed above (or at least some of them) and tackles the other elephant in the room: content. Which would make for another post all in itself.