Early adopters struggle with those new connected TVs

During this year’s International CES in Vegas, it was apparent that connected TVs were going to be one of the main tech evolutions for 2011.

But we all know that new technology platforms tend to experience teething problems and are not adopted by the mainstream for quite a while. But I am surprised by the number of tech savvy consumers who have been struggling with their new connected TVs. Here’s a first hand experience from a friend of mine who works as CTO for a tech start up. He has been in technology and software for the past 30 years. So he knows a thing or two about tech.

“Just so you know, I bought a new Sony Bravia TV with an IPTV service. The intention was to see how the new TV-based services worked in comparison to PC-based, and STB-based approaches (I also have 2x AppleTVs (1st and 2nd gen), a PS3, Xbox 360 and a Mac mini-based system for TV viewing).

I tried to watch a film last night using the Lovefilm streaming service from the TV directly. I managed to find out how to search their catalog using the TV’s remote control which meant that I did not have to interminably click through hundreds of titles (no recommendations available).

The film was fine for the first 50 mins, although I did notice pixelation at times. Then the film just stopped and went back to the summary page. I had to then click on the movie again and scroll to the position where I thought it had broken – not that easy. In all this happened three times in the space of 15mins. After the first couple of outages I tried to remember roughly how far I was into the movie to aid fast forwarding when the next failure occurred. Why Lovefilm couldn’t recognise that I was resuming the play is beyond me – smacks of a rushed deployment to me.

I checked the bandwidth going through my router and noticed that Jack was doing a download – I asked him to stop and resumed watching the film. Bandwidth into the router went down to c2Mb and managed to watch the rest of the film without incident. I do know that some evenings traffic congestion gets so bad round here that I barely get 1Mb. Probably insufficient to watch the film. BT’s two-tier service announced yesterday would obviously help deliver a better QoS.

I have set up traffic shaping on my router to prioritise some traffic and de-prioritise p2p stuff – obviously didn’t work. I will now find out what traffic protocol Lovefilm is using so that I can manually prioritise.

Setting up the service is also a pain. You have to register with Sony to add your TV to their system and then link the TV to a Lovefilm account on the Lovefilm site. Both activities need to be done from a computer. When you’ve activated Lovefilm you then have to wait about 5 mins before you can view a movie.

Lovefilm is poor in that it is purely packshot based with only the selected packshot giving title info. Sure, they have a landing page with a range (32?) ‘channels’. The Drama channel has c900 titles which show c15 to a page – the packshot is too small to be instantly recognised hence the need to select it using the remote control to see title etc.

Before finding out how to search it was necessary to laboriously click through all the film images until you found something of interest.

An easier route is to use their website to find films using the recommendation service – you add a selected film to your queue, set it to low priority so that it does not sent mailed to you and then you can see if it is available to stream. I think a small proportion of their catalogue is available this way.

The service costs £9.99 per month – you get one movie at home per month and unlimited streaming.

I guess what this seems to cry out for is a better streaming experience, i.e. to either download a little of each movie in my queue beforehand (not possible with my disk-less TV) or to give me the chance to set the service up to pre-load a certain % of the movie prior to starting to watch. That way I could set the streaming going – browse for a few minutes and then come back to watch the title without service breakage.

I also tried to find out how to access Lovefilm from the PS3 but failed – I will now search the internet for instructions.”

There is no doubt that the people behind all of theses TV-based UIs and services need to spend more time on the user experience & UI. In the rush to get widgets, apps and partners signed up, it looks like they have forgotten about their consumer and how they will experience the service.

Over the last 3 months I have seen enough evidence that device manufacturers are becoming aware of this problem as they work on using companion devices (iPads/SmartPhones) to provide a better experience for the user. Will be watching this space.


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