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Will You Defenestrate It?
Alternative title: "Nice box, shame about the UI". A web resource that specialises in immersive product usability reviewing.
One of the inherent problems with buying any high-tech
equipment these days, such as a digital television
or dvd unit is that the reviews show you what the box
looks like, describing the tech specs and performance,
rarely offer such in-depth useful data regarding the
usability from the point of view of actually
comprehensively walking through many of the frequent
and perhaps crucial operations.
The physical box itself and the specifications tell me
nothing regarding whether, in three months time after
repeated use of such a unit, I'll come to hate it and
eventually want to throw it through the nearest window
rather than tolerate having to use it yet again. Or
conversely, whether the UI is an absolute pleasure to
Screenshots go some way to telling me whether I might
like the styling, or not, from a distance, but a series of
screenshots isn't actually sufficiently immersive an
experience. Even so, such reviews frequently show little
or nothing in terms of such basic screenshot sequences.
My proposal is for a gear testing website (perhaps an
extension of an existing review site) to accommodate a
way of cataloguing a range of common user use-cases,
and then for each item reviewed, the user is talked
through the actual process (by the experienced
The technology is basically that of capturing the video
output (in various ways - if it's a telly, they tend not to
have video outputs, whereas if it's a set-bottom box or
player, they will have outputs that will make capture
comparatively easier) in a way that resembles a
You get to experience the user interface in as direct a
manner as is possible with today's web multimedia. It
doesn't have to be full-screen in size (as this may impact
the perceived latency etc) but it should be as real-time
possible (which is where simple static screenshot
sequences in reviews are lacking) to try and get across
nuances (which the reviewer will also verbally
The stimulus for this idea is the problem created by the
current glut of all-in-one smallish DTV/DVD hd-ready
tellies for bedrooms etc. There are quite a few bargains
at the moment, but mostly not from the well-known
name-brand manufacturers. My experience of the non
name-brand units in the past is that the technology is
gloriously cheap and capable, but the usability is simply
infuriating. But sometimes one gets a cheapo unit that
is actually quite nice to use. Until you actually get it
home, it's a complete lottery - how is one to know?
[hippo, Aug 17 2009]
Dpreview looks at the Olympus E-P1
an example page of their step by step screenshotting approach. [Ian Tindale, Aug 17 2009]
Stephen Fry explains his dislike for the Universal Remote Control
"...It was with low expectations, then, that I unpacked the Logitech Harmony One and the Philips Prestigo SRU 8015. Each has a colour LCD screen and claims to solve your remote control problems in one fell swoop with ease and power. After half an hour with each, I wanted to hurl them out of the window..." [hippo, Aug 17 2009]
||For devices which are heavily UI-dependent, a virtual version of the device with the device's actual working UI presented on the website might give you a clue. I sort of explained this approach with mobile phones (see link).
||Agreed. About the nearest thing I've seen is what
dpreview try to offer, for digital cameras. But again, this
isn't really the immersive experience that goes far
enough to tell if it's irritatingly crap or smoothly
delicious, but it's among the best there is in reviewland
at the moment. But with home entertainment
equipment, there's a dearth.
||//Until you actually get it home, it's a complete lottery - how is one to know?
John Lewis TV department.
//UI presented on the website//
But what if that then crashed IE7?
You'd have to defenestrate Windows, and then it would all go horribly recursive, and the Universe as we know it would probably end.
||I agree; window based UIs can be a real pain. What we need is more command prompts, more green on black, more odd buzzing sounds and far fewer 16 colour displays.
||I've stopped getting those lovely phones that Samsung make. It took me a couple of disappointments to learn that they can design and build beautiful technology but they don't really care what it's like to use.
||A nice surprise on the other hand was the UI on the Humax Foxsat freesat receiver. Probably the best set-top-box UI I have had the pleasure of using.
||Which one have you got? The Foxsat HDR is really nice to
||I could've used something like this before I bought my hard drive-equipped Phillips DVD recorder. Absolutely the worst cludge of different modes, menus, hidden functions and such I have ever experienced in my life. The booklet for it is 164 bleeping pages long.
||I still do not know how to record a show with it.
||[bigsleep] Many A/V amplifiers have RS-232 interfaces (my Denon does, and an earlier Kenwood had a basic system interconnect) , though I suspect this is more to do with museum or gallery installations than home use. It would be great to extend this to other components. I've never seen a TV with it.
||We just bought new printers. I would so defenestrate them.
||This is why, in general, I advise never to buy things that are naturally modular as a lumped package. For instance, don't buy a 'television' (an obsolete concept anyway), buy a screen, and BYO media box, GUI, sound system etc.
||//The stimulus for this idea is the problem created by the current glut of all-in-one smallish DTV/DVD hd-ready tellies for bedrooms etc.// Exactly. Don't even go there, and avoid the problem completely.
||Regarding the Stephen Fry link, I think that reveals something interesting about the human condition:
||"... and to hell with the manual. "
||People like to think of themselves as smart enough to figure things out for themselves. When they are faced with evidence to the contrary, they externalise the issue and blame the gadget/user interface instead.
||I'm not saying that bad designs or instructions don't exist - they are common. But sometimes, people seem to prefer to waste four hours failing to get it to work rather than investing 5 minutes RTFM.
||Anything that needs a manual isn't designed as well
as it could be.
||Anyone who thinks that hasn't thought it through.