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An experienced strategic marketer and editorial professional, and an engineer by education, Don is currently a blogger, speaker, and author on social computing topics, and a marketing strategy consultant. He's had previous gigs at Embedded Computing Design magazine, Motorola, and General Dynamics.

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31 comments

Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

Posted January 12, 2012 9:00 AM by dondingee
Pathfinder Tags: Android google Smart TV

Connected TV so far has been an experiment in futility, and it's due to one thing: the act of typing out letters, either with a keyboard or a remote control, is just plain unnatural.

Attempts to integrate PCs, create set-top boxes with keyboards, and redesign interfaces are all leading nowhere fast. Techies love them and will play with them and maybe even figure out how to use them, but for mainstream TV viewers it's just not going to happen.

I read a comment on an article today that said it all for me:

Smart TVs will fail because most people watch TV to avoid thinking.

There's a great book on web design called "Don't Make Me Think". Many of the same user interaction principles apply to connected TV, but the barrier of the keyboard and mouse remains. A lot of the actions we now find intuitive on a PC just aren't that way on a TV. If you stream TV content to your PC, you watch on a smaller screen and leverage the usability features you're used to from the web, but you give up the big screen living room experience.

There are a lot of smart TV announcements at CES. Lenovo announced the Android K91, and there's the LG Google TV with their magic motion remote which integrates qwerty capability with voice recognition. Further confusing matters, Canonical showed off their Ubuntu TV concept.

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#1

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 9:53 AM

Well, improved TV Programs would be the best thing that could happen.

That aside, one great pet peeve is the user interface. I can agree with the "don't make me think" attitude, but not because people want to be ignorant.

Entertainment equipment does not and should not be entertaining - the broadcast program is the entertainment!

The equipment is just a means to an end. It should not only be easy to use, but intuitive like the original push-button telephones.

Less is More!

Not only have manufactures increased the complexity of equipment these days, but they have overloaded controls to the point where you can never be sure what you are doing.

Here is my TV remote:

There is also a flip up lid on the top half that is loaded with even more buttons.

Sony, are you listening? Here is what I use, want, and need:

Okay, this may not work so well with Internet TV, but the point here is that things need to be simple, yet not so complex as to be more effort than it is worth.

So, I am inclined to agree with this article. Right now I cue up my movies on my PC and stream them to my projector in the next room via an old Apple TV. I do that because it is a pain in the butt to do the same from the sofa and I don't want a laptop on my knees, just my date and maybe a glass of good beer or wine.

I like things simple and reliable.

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#5
In reply to #1

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 1:51 PM

Thanks, and agreed.

I know the LG folks with this new remote are trying to simplify the remote itself (it's 10 buttons) and improve the UI. I haven't had a hands-on, but it may indeed control the TV functions better. One point is there are a lot more functions in these new TVs than can possibly be controlled from a front panel or even buttons on a remote - it takes some kind of GUI.

Your point that TV is for entertainment is well taken. One change that's underway is there's a lot more social in the TV experience now though - people Tweet during programs, there are social circles rating programs and inviting friends, and there's the proliferation of related transmedia content that's not in the network programming feed. That's driving the interface requirements to deal with text input better.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 3:43 PM

Maybe I am a minority, but I tend to take on activities one at a time. I do not text when I drive, fly a plane, have sex, stop at the bath room, or watch a movie, so trying to jam as many activities concurrently doesn't even occur to me. Why do multiple things half-way when I can have the full experience of one thing?

For me, if I choose to watch a movie it is because I choose to block out a specific portion of my time for this activity. So, searching for and selecting a movie on my computer is an easy way to make that selection. I can even preview what I might select. When I have made my decision I can select that movie and then go to my family room and watch it at my leisure or even another day. So I really separate the two events and I do not need a PC or some derivative on the sofa.

I guess that is why I really do not see what the hype is about with internet TV. The way I look at it is I already do my planning for viewing in my home office sitting at a PC first, then act on that plan.

Perhaps other people do not want to do it that way or perhaps the manufactures of all this equipment are simply trying to reshape the behavior of their customers to expand their market? What do you think?

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#7
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 4:27 PM

I think you're a lot like most TV viewers today.

Let's explore the "expanding market" comment a bit. It's more a battle for time. In most households, the TV is still the most used consumer electronics device. In some households, the shift is on to the PC or tablet being most used. If a manufacturer can keep and even expand the time a TV is in use, that drives demand.

Reshaping behavior is hard, especially since it's already happened in the smartphone and tablet crowd who can't watch a program without Facebooking and having their attention already split. The objective shouldn't be to completely integrate all those social functions into the TV, just the critical ones that are tightly coupled to the viewing experience. You've cited one: picking a movie. The Microsoft Kinect Voice commercial is perfect. Keep it simple. Another one is firing off a Tweet as it's being talked about in a program, like sports or news or some unforgettable quote in a show. Keep it simple. Pull up a stock quote or news. Check a player profile. Check iMDB to see if that's really that actress. Stuff like that.

But the transmedia comment I made earlier has implications. Say you're a fan of Modern Family, and there's a short vid only online that goes behind the story of this episode. Would you fire that up on the TV (again, assume your a fan, not just a casual viewer - substitute your attachment to a favorite program) if it was easily accessed? Initial tests are showing that people do this.

I'm with you ... short attention span is a turnoff for me. A TV won't replace what right now is a PC. In fact, other than sports and news and old movies, I don't watch a lot of TV anymore. I'm fascinated with the social change, however.

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#8
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 4:45 PM

Good reply and some food for thought.

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#2

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 11:00 AM

The article begins:

"...the act of typing out letters... with a keyboard ... is just plain unnatural."

Wow, 100+ years of typing (Royal, Remington, Woodstock, IBM Selectric, Qwerty and Dvorak, ...) tossed into the dustbin of history by just a few strokes of the writer on his keyboard(?)!

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 11:46 AM

Quite.

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#4
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 1:40 PM

Yes, my keyboard attached to my PC, which is not attached to my TV.

Did you type your reply from your keyboard attached to your TV? Have you ever typed anything on your TV?

That's the point. It's not the qwerty keyboard which is bad. You can certainly attach a qwerty keyboard to a TV by a multitude of methods. But it's not a natural use case for a TV viewer to pull out a keyboard and start using it on the couch.

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#9
In reply to #4

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/12/2012 11:09 PM

I've used a keyboard attached to my PS3, which is of course attached to my TV. It's been useful for updating the PS3 software and signing into Netflix. I even did some websurfing via the PS3, just for fun to see how well the browser worked (so-so). No big deal to me using the keyboard.

Most of the time I just use the DirecTV remote, and sometimes a remote I bought to use when I place a blu-ray disk in the PS3. I've occasionally done 'smart searches' where I use the DirecTV remote to type-in the name of a TV show I want to see, and it seems OK to me. Serves my needs.

I've also use the keyboard function on iPads and on the new Kindle Fire; I don't care for the 'virtual' sense with no tactile feedback.

This note was typed on the Dell keyboard that came with my PC. The keyboard attached to the PS3 is a lovely Unicomp Model M: http://pckeyboard.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Store_Code=PCK&Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=UKBD

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#11
In reply to #4

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 7:00 AM

What's a TV other then a monitor. Tell it's not natural to all those that sit and watch TV with a laptop in their lap. So those that choose can find their own commercials by surfing the web between programing. Is it for everyone no. But the option is there. The technologies there. Why not use it if you want.

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#10

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 2:53 AM

As a semi-retired IT Support Geek, I have my PC connected to my flat screen, using a wireless RF keyboard to access the system (still requires a TV remote for surfing).

All the CD's and DVD's have been ripped to the HD which drive the vacuum tube stereo amps through an optical link to a DA convertor from the computer (sound cards generally have horrible sound).

To me this is the norm and I can spend the better part of the day reading, listening to music, researching topics on the internet, watching doumentaries, or switch to TV when I'm tired of thinking. (As I write this I'm really beginning to think I desparately need a life.)

The other day a friend mentioned they will upgrade their operating system on their touch screen phone 3 times a week and I just couldn't fathom why they would bother. It's just a phone!

Long story's almost over... My best guess is we get accustomed to the technologies that meet our needs, and the rest seems pointless or foreign.

Did you catch the vacuum tubes in all this earlier?

:o)

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#12
In reply to #10

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 7:44 AM

"Did you catch the vacuum tubes in all this earlier?"

This is mine:

KT88

Now show me yours! ;-)

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#19
In reply to #12

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 5:15 PM

It would be my pleasure...

http://relicamplifiers.com/wens_kt-88.html

:|

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 6:02 PM

Looks like 12AX7 or 12AU7 drivers. I assume a Mullard circuit?

Do you have any more information on the amps? They look awesome and a nice job photographing the amp, too.

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#21
In reply to #19

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 6:06 PM

Actually looks like it may be based on the Dynaco Mark III. Am I correct?

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#22
In reply to #21

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 10:32 PM

My best guess is the designer was bulding this as the Dynaco Mark V (they're labled Wens MK V), of course knowledeable of the fact the series went from 4 to 6.

They use a 12AX7, with a 6CG7 on the input. The input configuration is a bit unusual.

There's a link to the schematic on the page now...

http://relicamplifiers.com/wens_kt-88.html

As to the photography, it's another tool I use (require) to sell on eBay.

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#23
In reply to #22

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 12:45 AM

Those are both sweet looking units.

Nicely crafted the pair of you!!!

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#25
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 9:44 AM

Thank you!

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#24
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 9:42 AM

Definitely seems unique to me. I don't think Dynaco made a MK V and the phase splitter circuit is much different than Dynaco's design.

That is a truly different circuit. The Layout just looks Dynaco and the feedback circuit bears some resemblance, but after that it is a completely different beast.

What are you using for a preamp?

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#26
In reply to #24

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 1:51 PM

For a preamp I've been using a Yamaha CX-1. It sounds great, but want to build a tube preamp eventually. I was looking at the Marantz Model 7 years ago, and picked up a PC board for same, but I don't require the phono EQ stage.

I subscribe to the simple is better school of thought (in the signal chain) and may end up just using a remote controlled attentuator with a tube DAC. Somewhere on the list of projects somewhere in the future I think.

This system was driving a pair of Electrostatic towers about 6' tall built from some 1' by 4' kit panels, but they died about 3 years ago and they're due for a rebuild. Once you've heard the stereo image of ESL flat panels driven by tube amps, it's like everything else just doesn't sound as good.

Careful... chatting with an audio focused obsessive compulsive could become costly.

;o)

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#27
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 2:23 PM

I am using a Dynaco PAS 3 right now until I finish my preamp build. In retrospect, the power amp design was easier than the preamp. Partly due to my own waffling on the design.

The power amp is completely my own doing. It uses a slightly modified Williamson topography for the circuit. The chassis is my own design as well that I turned out in our prototype shop. I will do the same for the preamp chassis.

Unlike your guitar amps I use PCBs. I felt the advantages of a PC board were better than any possible fidelity gains using point to point. PC boards are easy to design and I can get them done reasonably cheap. It saves a lot of assembly time, too.

Speakers are my own build as well. I use Beyma TPL-150 ribbons for the upper end (1.2 kHz and up). They have some of the same attributes of the ESLs in that the dispersion (at least horizontal) is very even across the spectrum and the light weight diaphragms produce excellent tone, attack, and very low distortion.

Woofers are 15" Acoustic Elegance TD15Hs in large ported enclosures. I like the large woofers for their command of the bottom end and effortless drive. Cabinets are made of two layers of 3/4" baltic birch plywood with a a constrained layer elastomer between each layer of birch. I have some exotic koa veneer that goes over the birch at some point.

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/14/2012 10:41 PM

Impressive stuff. I'm not anywhere near designing my own tube audio equipment currently.

I prefer point to point wiring as the number of guitar amps I service using PC boards will keep me in pocket money for some time to come. What I do know about PC boards is use the thickest possible and bolt them down securely to avoid flex at all costs. Do not mount controls or jacks on them if moving the gear around either.

With point to point, changes to the design are simple, no board revisions required. I cut my electronics tooth in early computer circuits Z80, S100 backplanes, 68000 based controller, etc... and found the revision cycle to be incredibly painful. (Get it right the 1st time you say?) Also the fragile nature of traces on PC boards can be a nightmare when servicing or making changes from my experience. With point to point, break a wire, and you just cut another length.

All the best vintage amps kicking butt some 40, 50 years later are point to point wired, plus current higher end guitar amps are all wired this way. It does take time and patience, but I mentioned I'm semi-retired... right? Also noted, a few high end audio designers recommend this build method as well.

As to building quantity which does require efficiency in assembly time, I have no ambitions beyond a cottage industry. (Live and work out of a cottage located in a rural area.)

Nice looking speakers. Double thickness plywood is massive build. The last time I moved a friend who's now 60 stated he would never help me move again. It might have been the massive speakers, amps, transformers, bins full of CD's, etc...

Here's a link to the ESL towers... http://relicamplifiers.com/living_2003.html

The pic is from about 8 years ago, and was using Dynaco MK III's to drive the ESL's at the time. I've had a set of vintage JBL 032's (15 inch woofer, and 3" metal dome tweeters 075's) and know what you mean about 15" woofers moving air. As they say with tube amps... it's the 1st watt, and efficient speakers are required to best realize this.

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#30
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/15/2012 8:34 AM

You wrote, "I cut my electronics tooth in early computer circuits Z80, S100 backplanes, 68000 based controller, etc..."

Exactly the same thing for me. ;-)

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#13

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 8:42 AM

the problem is very similar to PC apps that make you switch between mouse & keyboard

a remote with a touch pad w/mouse clicks enabled maybe?

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#14
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 8:53 AM

Or a significant other that will get up at your command and change the programming?

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#17
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 4:59 PM

Wake, up, AH! You're dreaming.

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#18
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 5:12 PM

Uh, thanks. That happens...

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#15

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 12:19 PM

First, I totally agree with AH that programming would be a primary improvement. As a matter of fact I called DirecTV last night to complain that 1 of the only 2 commercial-free, non-premium, movie channels -- Fox Movie Channel (TCM being the other) -- now has commercials. With the availability of movies via Netflix and other sources, I don't see how the satellite companies keep subscribers. I won't watch a movie with commercials anymore. And so many are still broadcast in "Full-frame" vs. original format. Maybe most have downgraded to the the lowest cost packages. There are only a few shows I watch, except for one basketball team I like to follow. I would guess that sports events are one of the last, true, attractions to keep both cable and satellite subscribers. I have heard for a long time that Congress has discussed the idea of a la carte subscriptions to TV services. We all wish. I'm sure the providers would restructure the pricing to still make their profits. But I bet a lot of channels would just disappear. When was the last time your entertainment provider asked for your opinion on programming (product) improvement? You're lucky to get ANY kind of contact information for a lot of the "channels" you watch.

Second, I don't understand why NO TV that I've seen or heard about lets you define what MUTE means. I often want to be able to monitor the sound of commercials, while I either got the bathroom or kitchen or wherever so I know when the show I want to watch is back on. I have to manually turn the volume to a suitably low level so it can be heard for this purpose and then turn it back up to hear the programming. Why not let the viewer define a low-level volume as MUTE. Better yet have both. So you can quickly go to a low-level or total silence?

Allied to this, since I've heard of software that can strip commercials out of recorded video signals, the technology to have a TV automatically MUTE at commercials shouldn't be difficult. Or why doesn't someone make a DVR that will do so when recording. Maybe these exist I just don't know about them.

Since video is becoming "on-demand," I don't see why commercials shouldn't be offered the same way. People spend a lot of time on the Internet researching product purchases, to see others experiences and read reviews before making a purchase. Companies could save a LOT of money by making, intelligent, longer presentations, to promote their products and have these available on their websites. After all, most people do MUTE commercials and seek product information only when about to actually purchase something. Unfortunately, they probably wouldn't pass these savings on to the consumer. Products like food, personal hygiene, etc. are somewhat different, but I think we'd all get along OK without them. I can browse the grocery aisles "on-demand," too. That's what product packaging is for. Again, good presentations, could be available on manufacturer's websites.

I think with on-demand, streaming video, like Netflix is offering, a new definition of "broadcast station" will have to be addressed. Talk about needing an increase in bandwidth for the Internet!! And the discussion of "public" airwaves becomes moot, as, now the medium of broadcast is no longer public. Can't we all see that communications media has become a game that only large corporations can play? And that the technology is tailored to "tracking" us and our behavior? Sorry that's a bit off topic. But any discussion of information media quickly gets to these types of topics.

This begs the question: If the market is supposed to determine what products we end up with, why is it, that we can pick almost any area of our consumer life and feel that "products" could be improved? -- sometimes drastically. TVs are just one instance. The truth is, we are only offered a limited number of choices, because there is no real, diversified, competition anymore.

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#16

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/13/2012 3:37 PM

Voice recognition software with the TV in mute should do the trick.

The remote need only have 1 button. Mute.

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#29

Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/15/2012 6:25 AM

Sorry I saw the thread title and hoped when someone said Smarter Input they meant content

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#31
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Re: Smart TV Needs Smarter Input, Fast

01/15/2012 8:34 AM

Precisely!

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