Digital-TV interfaces

Here’s an easy rule to live by: Your content is irrelevant if people can’t get at it.

People have finally noticed that “convergent” TV, which doesn’t work anyway, relies on an inconsistent hodgepodge of interfaces.

It gets worse: Not only is everyone’s information architecture different, meaning all the menu commands are, too, but the hardware isn’t even standardized. In other words, every remote control is different, and everything they remotely control is, too. (That’s already true in the real world. How many incompatible remote controls do you own?)

And – oopsy! – everyone has managed to forget that requiring real people to manipulate tiny physical buttons while staring at tiny virtual menu options pretty much amounts to duct-taping a neon sign flashing GET LOST! to a customer’s TV set. Even “normal” people will go nuts trying to look at and press buttons on the physical remote (angled horizontally; at close range, requiring a certain eye focus) and then look at and respond to prompts on a television (angled vertically; far away, requiring refocusing).

And – oopsy again! – what is someone with arthritis and bifocals sposta do here?

How about someone who is more or less blind?

So let’s recap:

The access problem is being largely ignored. The CRTC in Canada managed to overlook the whole shebang, while also refusing to require audio description of new digital TV channels. (The actual glib dismissals can be read here. Big file. Works lousy in Netscape 4, which we no longer support.) And did you know that one existing set-top box forced you to change all its onscreen menus from English to Spanish just to turn on the second audio program to listen to descriptions? What planet are these people living on?

The National Center for Accessible Media is trying to fix things.

Posted on 2001-01-08