Usability - the 11 foot experience (1 Viewer)

Program.X

Portal Pro
October 25, 2005
72
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Ramsey, Isle of Man
Hi,

Have just had my first 24 hours with MediaPortal in the front room, using it in anger with a remote control.

Before I submit my concerns and feedback, let me say it is excellent to see this My Music revisited. Instead of moving on to sexy new features, it is an excellent idea to revisit the bread-and-butter features of a media centric-PC. I am writing this following using My Music and other features, as I haven't yet got a full Media Portal hardware compliment.

My experience has been the classic 11-foot experience, using a TV and Remote from the couch. Admittedly, it ain't a great remote, but it will do the job until I can get a MCE keyboard/remote doobrie. I also bring to my experience some degree of usability knowledge.

My first concern is a really frustrating [My Music] bug where you browse into a "folder" and the icons become unresponsive. I have seen it reported elsewhere, so I won't repeat it. But it is annoying to have to change the view mode EVERY time you browse through a folder to select something. I guess this will be fixed as it looks like its going to be a rewrite rather than a revisit!

I'm not going to ask for any new features, it seems we have already got enough. My only concern is these new features will come at the cost of usability. I take my lead from TiVo, which if you can get access to one the developers would do worse than learning from.

When I am 11-foot away from the screen, I don't want to remember what keys to press on the keyboard or the remote. There should be distinct buttons: Play, Pause, Stop, Rewind, etc. This is for your bread and button stuff. Anything else, make it really simple. Both in terms of easy to use (which is mostly is - but I am still struggling to figure out some bits) but also thinking very carefully about the user experience. For instance, some screens (I'm talking of the whole of MP, here) accept up/down to navigate - others don't. In the current My Music, you have two lists. In the left list, you should be able to press Right to move to the track list on the right. I have to resort to using the remote for mouse work or have to get up, instead of using the configured buttons up/down/left/right.

This is how TiVo works:

Left - Go back
Right - Go Forward/Expand options/Select
Up - Up an item in a list
Down - Down an item in a list
Select - Execute (with no requirement for further config)
Page up/dn - ... I think you get the idea.

Overall, the UI is attarctive, well thought out and functional. I do like the way the more complex configuration is managed outside of the main GUI. But I think if the controls were consistently applied, it would be a more pleasurable experience.

I don't mind hotkeys, which look to be mapped to arbitrary keys on a keyboard, as these can be mapped to remote functions - but try and make them logical for the buttons on a remote. eg. instead of having a hotkey to invoke a particularly clever feature, break it down and use a more basic description or metaphor so it can be applied to any remote control.

I am absolutely in support of this, but I would hope that you could take your usability lead from people who have already spent millions of dollars working it out for you!

I'd be interested in your thoughts....
 

moltas

Portal Pro
April 6, 2005
133
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Sweden
I have been working with usability for a couple of years and I'd syat that in general the usability is good in MP. There are som glitches here and there but on the whole I must say that I think it's quite inuitive.

There are areas that will demand quite some thinking and testing to get it really good, ie My Web-browser. Browsing the web with a remote is quite a challenge :)

This is no crititque to you Program.X. I think it's great that you show your concern in the way you did and your opinion is as good as any.

/Moltas
 

gxtracker

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  • July 25, 2005
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    Excellent post Program.X! I'm glad someone else feels the same way about usability like I do. Hopefully there are more of us out there to help influence MediaPortal development a bit better.

    I believe one of the biggest problems we have with software development these days is the usability aspect of programs. With many gifted programmers/artists/designers out there developing software for general consumer use im suprised how many of them really dont understand the concepts of useability.

    The whole purpose of usability is to "keep things simple". This doesn't mean you have to sacrifice complexity or customization; just keep it out of the users experience. If someone wants to they should be able to access every single option in MediaPortal through the configuration program or XML files, and only through the seperate section in the User Interface - a place the average user shouldn't need to go. The MediaPortal team are already doing this, so kudos to them for that, but they still have a ways to go.

    Developers might think, "Oh, we only intend this program for the enthusiest" but the problem with that mentality is that those of us who are the enthusiests have wives or girlfriends that ARE basic users and without their approval and ability to easily use it, work with it, and like it MediaPortal would not be sitting connected to out living room TV's.

    A few basic usability things I've noticed in MediaPortal - just for reference:

    My Music - The buttons "Play" and "Pause" should be one and the same. Its a state change buttion, meaning that depending on the state of the selected media, it should play the file, or pause it. You SHOULD NOT have to bind Play and Pause to seperate buttions.

    My TV - When reducing the TV window (or video window for that matter) to the small windows in the bottom left corner of the UI, the item we're watching should be viewable within ANY OTHER plugin, or submenu in media portal. right now, if I go into for example My Weather, I can no longer view the video I have playing, but still hear it. That bottom left corner should be locked down to display content in ANY plugin or submenu in mediaportal.

    Plugins - This one relates to the example just above: plugins seem to not follow any kind of usability requirements. Yes they borrow elements from other parts of Mediaportal, but controls can be different in each plugin, some coverup the content being displayed in the lower left corner, etc.. There has to be standards not only for plugin development, but for UI design.

    My Movie - This relates to other sections like TV and music too. The problem with userinput; for example, fast forwared and rewind. in any normal DVD player or VCR, if you press fast forwared or rewind, you can press play to resume normal viewing at regular speed. In MediaPortal, if im fast forwarding i have to press rewind to bring the speed back to normal? again, The play/pause buttion will only pause the video. and when i press it again, im still fast forwarding?

    This is clearly a case of programmer developing usabillity:

    Code:
    int Speed = 0;
    
    if "fast forward" == true
       Speed++
    else if "rewind" == true
       Speed--
    end if;

    Makes sense to us, but now try explaining to your significant other why why they cant just press play to resume normal watching.

    Now, please don't think im raging on the developers. I think MediaPortal is a great program with a few kinks: but without a standard set for usability how can the developers expect an Open Source project to become usability friendly?
     

    Raven

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  • September 12, 2005
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    gxtracker said:
    My TV - When reducing the TV window (or video window for that matter) to the small windows in the bottom left corner of the UI, the item we're watching should be viewable within ANY OTHER plugin, or submenu in media portal. right now, if I go into for example My Weather, I can no longer view the video I have playing, but still hear it. That bottom left corner should be locked down to display content in ANY plugin or submenu in mediaportal.

    All great points. I especially agree with the point quoted above. I was always anoyed by the fact that not all screens displayed the preview window. Fortunately this is a per skin setting and in the skin I'm currently developing, Razor, all screens will show the preview window. Perhaps it could be considered a negative that it's up to the designer of the skin to choose wether to display preview in each screen or not, but as a skin developer I like the idea of giving more power to the skin markup language. It seems however that Media Portal does not support displaying preview window while displaying a popup window. This might be something that could be added in the future.

    /Raven
     

    LordMessi

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  • July 4, 2005
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    Perhaps you should look into WHERE the problems are, and do a document on what's the problem and what's needs to be changed....then it might be easier for the developers....

    If you want to - you can send it to me - then i'll review it...

    but yeah - usability are an important issue!
     

    Program.X

    Portal Pro
    October 25, 2005
    72
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    Ramsey, Isle of Man
    I for one would be happy to do that, and provide further usability feedback/testing.

    It is the least I could do. I am not able to commit much mroe due to other commitments, but would like to help in what way I can.
     

    LordMessi

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    Program.X said:
    I for one would be happy to do that, and provide further usability feedback/testing.

    It is the least I could do. I am not able to commit much mroe due to other commitments, but would like to help in what way I can.

    It won't hurt...and we might getter product out of it. Please also do screenshots to help me/us find it... :lol:
    Perhaps also a small description etc...

    When done - mail it to me - and i'll review it.
     

    Program.X

    Portal Pro
    October 25, 2005
    72
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    Ramsey, Isle of Man
    Ok, will do.

    But first, if someone could find a few seconds to reply to my post in Hardware Selection ("Wheres the Sky card go") and advise a good capture card/IR Blaster combo to control a Sky Digibox I'll purchase the good immediately and write the article. If I can afford, I'll also include MCE in it, I'd be interested to see what they have done. I know they have fallen short on some of the most basic web usability aspects for TV viewing, but haven't actually used it elsewhere.
     

    moltas

    Portal Pro
    April 6, 2005
    133
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    Sweden
    Good points gxtracker. I dont agree on this one though...

    gxtracker said:
    My Music - The buttons "Play" and "Pause" should be one and the same. Its a state change buttion, meaning that depending on the state of the selected media, it should play the file, or pause it. You SHOULD NOT have to bind Play and Pause to seperate buttions.

    I have the MCE remote and finds it logical to use the play button to Play and the pause button to Pause. On my Sony stereo it's just like that, on my VCR it's like that etc. What I do find disturbing is that I can't use the ffw and rew buttons to Fast Forward and Rewind (or am I doing it wrong?)

    /Moltas
     

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