Thursday, February 7, 2008

Computer as TV

A long time ago, there was a company called WebTV that produced a box that would let you browse the internet from your TV. They never went anywhere--this was before video and broadband got big and people didn't really want to read on their TV.

My husband used to work at a company that tried to make TV more interactive (Like that knife on that cooking show? buy it here now) but it used a cable box, not the internet. Also went nowhere.

But interactive, nearly-on-demand TV is now here, thanks to video sites and the penetrance of broadband. However, based on the design of sites like Hulu and ABC's own site, the networks are thinking of their streaming video sites as a way to help viewers catch up on missed episodes alone at their desk and view clips. They should think about designing it for a viewer who is sitting 5 to 7 feet away on their couch.

Last Thursday, Lost came back for its midseason premiere, and this is exactly what I attempted to do. Last Friday night, my husband and I put our laptop on an end table across from the couch, hooked it up to the speakers, went to ABC Full Episode Player, and hit play. This actually worked pretty well, except that we had to keep hitting a button to advance beyond the commercials that popped up. This got less annoying when I suggested we hook up our wireless mouse so we could do this from the couch, but even so, was sometimes hard to read the text--fortunately, all I needed to do was click on one button in a consistent location.

Then I watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles from the couch on Hulu. Earlier I commented that Hulu seems to have been built more for embedding videos on websites and blogs than for having users to come to the site itself and view videos.

That might have been a little harsh, but now I have another criti--err, suggestion. I realize that I am far from the average user--most people aren't going to use their computer for communal video watching. So I'm sure the current Hulu design is fine for desktop viewing. However, with large flat screen monitors becoming common, more people without TiVos or other DVRs might start to use their computers like a TV. In this case, sites like Hulu will need to address navigation from afar--perhaps icons and text can get larger when moused over, or users can have a setting when they first login that can change layout for distance viewing.

For instance, when I finished watching Terminator, I wanted to browse other clips. Hulu shows several related clips below the main show, but it was hard to see what they were from where I was sitting. Making the experience better for distance viewers would let Hulu user have an experience similar to TiVo or AppleTV owners, without requiring them to pay extra for a special box.

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