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DTV usability issues

This article is almost all stuff you already know, so you don't need to read the whole thing:

http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2009/05/gain-the-secret-knowledge-become-a-dtv-transition-guru.ars

The interesting part is its discussion usability problems with the transition, gotten from a test run switching over a town in North Carolina.

As you know, antenna goes to box, box goes to TV, then set TV to channel 3, turn on the converter on with the remote, and locate in the menus and run the channel scan function to find your local channels. Then keep TV on channel 3 and change channels using the box, which must be turned on first.

Compare that to your TV n the past, where you attach an antenna and turn it on, and switch channels from the front of the TV.

This newer design seems obvious to engineers, but many people had problems with the system. Probably people who had never mastered their own VCR (many people pay to have their VCR's 'installed') or used a remote control had more problems.

Among them:

* plugging the box in and not attaching it to anything and wondering why it didn't work
* TV not on channel 3
* unit not turned on
* didn't stick batteries in remote
* didn't run the auto scan

Personally I think every one of these is a reasonable problem, and some of them could have been improved. Some users of my software have basic problems and it is the least technical ones that end up returning things. Their technical abilities have nothing to do with IQ or education, there are NASA astrophysicists who can not figure out how to start their computer and launch a program.

Perhaps the simplest UI solution is to buy a new TV. Then it works like the old TV MAYBE, except it doesn't since it still has to scan for DTV channels, and that is its own problem, as well as new TVs often require a remote and some won't work at all from the front panel.

But some of the problems could be addressed:

* Batteries should be shrink wrapped to the outside of the remote control with a label saying they must be installed and a diagram showing how.
 
* Unit should allow for turning on using a switch on the unit itself, along with channel up and down switches. Do not save 20 cents by eliminating all switches on hardware and demanding use of a remote, allow basic functionality without the remote.

* Manual MUST be written by a native language speaker who is a professional technical writer conversant with principles of pedagogy. Manual should not be so long as to scare away users. Can have installation instructions in a small pamphlet, and complete user manual as a separate book.

* Manual and unit must be usability tested against a range of unskilled users unfamiliar with the product.


For the record, I also had many problems with my own DTV installation which weren't even addressed in the above lists. The big problem I had, which took two days to sort out, is the channels you get depend on weather conditions between you and the antenna, and of course they also depend on antenna orientation. So if you auto-scan at the wrong time, you will not get several stations, and probably assume you can't get them anymore. If you re-scan at a different time, you might lose some and gain some. In addition, you will get different stations depending on which direction your antenna points in. When you reorient and rescan to pick them up, the old ones are erased. My unit does not do an OR of the old and new channel sets (which would be an improvement), but rather erases the old channels and repopulates them with each new scan. The only solution to this is to manually add each station in your area. And that is when you find out that the published channel is not the same as the actual RF signal. The RF signal has to be entered to capture a channel manually, but the unit and your TV guide will likely not mention what this channel is since once captured, it switches the display to the virtual channel, which is the one that shows in channel listings.

This was so tricky to figure out, with no information about it, that I am absolutely positive that 90% of DTV installations are not receiving all the channels they should be.
Scott Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
Hmmm, just get cable!
CC Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
Didn't read the article, but I'll respond to your post :)

My M-I-L (not technically astute, nor hopeless) had me hook up her DTV converter.  It's not that tough, but she wasn't comfortable.

She's got DirecTV, numerous VCRs, a DVR, etc. but this thing threw her (that said, she didn't hook any of that stuff up, but she sure knows how to use it all)

Some things just aren't easy for non-techies to get (I guess)
schlabnotnik Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
Yeah, it does sound like the typical cable box setup experience, except maybe that autoscan thing.

Then again, those getting these DTV converter boxes are probably the last holdouts that never experienced what the rest of us have had to deal with for the last 20 years.

Welcome to the future!
Chris Altmann Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
> Hmmm, just get cable!<
For a different perspective, cable penetration in Canada is over 90%, broadband Internet penetration is over 30%, and IPTV is being offered by several telcos as an alternative to cable TV.  At home, I've got IPTV that provides 1080i HDTV as well as 5.5 Mbps high speed internet for less than $50 Canadian per month.  The technician that hooked it up for us says there are households getting a total of 33 Mbps download speeds over twisted pair copper wires (regular phone line) which is divided up into about 30 Mbps for three HDTV receivers and and 1.5 Mbps for regular high speed internet (with a bit of headroom left over).

In Canada, almost no one has even heard of broadcast DTV.  The traditional networks are applying for permission to simply shut down over the air broadcasting of many channels that have been around for 30 and 40 years.
RGlasel Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
Hmmm... suddenly there's something filtering out casual TV watching.  I.e., unless you can figure this thing out you won't be able to watch TV.  No longer will "Zone out and watch TV" be the default activity.

This could be a very good thing.  I'm sure TV advertisers are quaking in their boots.
Mr. Analogy Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
Good post.

Everyday technology is getting more and more complicated and the usability issues are not being addressed. I am convinced this is a huge issue for a decent percentage of the population. Nice little old ladies and their friends should be able to watch TV, listen to the radio etc. without wrestling with interfaces dreamed up by Japanese geeks unsuccessfully trying to impress potential girlfriends with their creativity.

I am convinced this is an opportunity for a smart company. Design some everyday appliances that just work and that never need new batteries. Provide nice documentation (even though it shouldn't ever be needed), not a nasty pamphlet written in 10 languages by a clinically depressed robot.
Bill Forster Send private email
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
 
 
You've just uncovered my "bête noir" - television. I knew there was a reason I just gave up on it and went over to the internet full time. Who needs to mess about with menus when you can just wander over to a computer, search for what you want, and watch it. And everyone over about 35 I've ever spoken to thinks television was so much better when we only had 3 channels and absolutely everybody watched Morecambe and Wise at Christmas.

This seems to be just a general problem with introducing embedded software left, right and centre into every electronic consumer device without thinking of the consequences. The fact you need a manual for your television AT ALL is the problem. Nobody reads manuals unless the thing doesn't work, they've tried unplugging it and plugging it back in, and they don't fancy phoning customer service (probably because it's been outsourced to India).
Ritchie Swann Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Agree. But it's not just the embedded controllers and complex remotes (every brand which is different) this time around though.

The basic design of the entire national TV system now has a serious systematic flaw that can not be fixed because it is built into the channel allocation design specs.

The display channel and the actual RF channel you need to tune to are two, unrelated numbers.

The display or virtual channel is what the station advertises and is shown in  listings.

But to tune to the channel manually, you have to have the RF channel. Once you capture the RF channel, then its metadata packets inform as to the virtual channel and the receiver switches over to that one and you never see the RF channel on your receiver.

This is the exact same thing as understanding pointers. And we know what people including Joel have said about the ability of the general population to understand pointers.

Autotune does not work since it rescans each time and you can only have one antenna orientation per scan. So you have to manually add stations to get all the stations in your area, and doing so requires indirect lookup.

These problems are not just for the converter boxes, but for all DTV receivers built into TVs.

What are the solutions? There are no complete solutions, but there are two things that could be done, neither of which are likely to be implemented:

1. Autoscan needs to retain channels from previous scans, at end of scan have menu with them listed and ask about keeping/deleting/merging them. Or have functions to "lock" stations so they won't be deleted in an autoscan, and a function to clear all channels to be used when you move to another city. This adds complexity and confusion, but at least allows the expert to add channels with autoscan without having to locate and manually add them by RF index.

2. All units need to have TWO independent receivers. At all times, when you watch things on one receiver, the second receiver should continuously scan the entire RF spectrum for new channels. When it finds them, it adds them, and for a few days afterwards it can show them with a green "New!" tag so people know it is a newly found channel. If the channel has been previously deleted manually (channels that the user just doesn't want), of course it is not shown, although there should be a mode for showing all channels as well and 'delete' for a channel with strength should be renamed 'hide'.

3. The system of virtual channels should be eliminated completely and stations forced to use their real RF channels for display. (This one can never happen.)
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
This is an example of a complex idiosyncratic design needed to hack in basic functionality because of a broken, but unalterable spec. We deal with this all the time in programming. If we could fix the spec the system would  work better. But we can't, so we have to either live with a broken system, or implement unfortunately convoluted workarounds which frustrate the users, but at least allow experts the possibility of getting the system to work.
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
Oh and the reason the spec is broken is because no one was willing to stand up to BS from customers.

TV stations said "Hm, we are channel 10, but now we transmit on 99? We want to still be called 10 though since we are Action News 10, and we like the sound of it, and the billboards are paid for 3 years in advance."

FCC engineer, "Hey no problem, I learned about pointers in school, we'll have a real channel you transmit on and a virtual channel that is shown everywhere. Don't worry the viewers will never have to see the transmit channel, we'll hide it completely and it will be simple to use."

But they forgot that the scanner will not be able to add all stations in one pass, so manual adding using the RF station is necessary, at which point the whole system fails to work for anyone who is not a C programmer or RF engineer.
Scott Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 
It's interesting how television seems to have ended up in this mess. You don't get this problem with radio (at least not here in the UK).

Quick pop quiz: What are the allocated FM frequency bands for BBC Radio 2 in the UK? Answer: 88 - 91MHz. (Actually according to Wikipedia it's 88 - 90.2MHz, but still....)

Why do I know this? Well, their standard phone in number is 0500 2 88 2 91, their SMS number is 88 2 91, and every single time the news is announced, which is usually once an hour during the day, and more during breakfast hours (6 - 9am), "On 88 to 91 FM, this is Radio 2 from the BBC".

People don't necessarily know what an FM frequency means, but they do know if you turn your radio dial somewhere between "88" and "91", chances are you'll pick up Radio 2 somewhere.
Ritchie Swann Send private email
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
 
 

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