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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.
  [vote for,

One of the inherent problems with buying any high-tech equipment these days, such as a digital television receiver or dvd unit is that the reviews show you what the box looks like, describing the tech specs and performance, but rarely offer such in-depth useful data regarding the software's 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 use. 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 reviewer). 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 screencast.

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 as possible (which is where simple static screenshot sequences in reviews are lacking) to try and get across the nuances (which the reviewer will also verbally reinforce).

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?

Ian Tindale, Aug 17 2009

Virtual_20mobile_20phones [hippo, Aug 17 2009]

Dpreview looks at the Olympus E-P1 http://www.dpreview...lympusEP1/page9.asp
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 http://www.guardian...2008/sep/27/gadgets
"...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).
hippo, Aug 17 2009

       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.
Ian Tindale, Aug 17 2009

       //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.
coprocephalous, Aug 17 2009

       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.
vincevincevince, Aug 17 2009

       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.
wagster, Aug 17 2009

       Which one have you got? The Foxsat HDR is really nice to use.
Ian Tindale, Aug 17 2009

       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.
RayfordSteele, Aug 17 2009

       [UB] see link
hippo, Aug 17 2009

       [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.
coprocephalous, Aug 17 2009

       We just bought new printers. I would so defenestrate them.
normzone, Dec 11 2012

       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.
spidermother, Dec 12 2012

       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.
Loris, Dec 12 2012

       Anything that needs a manual isn't designed as well as it could be.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 12 2012

       Anyone who thinks that hasn't thought it through.
Loris, Dec 13 2012


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