User experience design

Ultra HD promises a more immersive user experience
Alex Fishman, director of user experience at Nagra.
Alex Fishman, director of user experience at Nagra.

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Ultra HD will be delivered on large-screens promising a more immersive user experience and a chance for operators to rethink the user interface.

With screens of at least 55-inches deemed necessary for the benefits of Ultra HD – resolution, dynamic range and colour – to be perceived in a standard living room, operators must rethink content presentation on the larger real-estate. There is a chance to blend live TV with VOD, social TV and internet of things applications with companion device control and navigation, speech and voice search recognition.

“High quality HD content can look great on a 4K Ultra HD TV and delivering this content is certainly going to give consumers a new quality of experience that will generate interest,” says Sean McCarthy, Fellow of the technical staff, Arris. “The notion that 4K TVs are not just for 4K content, but also excel with HD content, has not yet been widely marketed, but I think that message will begin to be heard soon.”

There is considerable debate and science around the size of the TV, viewing distance and the relevance of resolution, colour gamut and High Dynamic Range. What is clear though, is that screen size is getting bigger, and this affords opportunities, particularly with UHD pixel resolution, to provide new user experiences with video and graphics content.

Multiple event sporting events such as Wimbledon or the Premier League, provide the content that allows multi-view on the single large screen. Splitting a 65” UHD TV into four 1080p screens to watch four Premier League games at the same time or keep an eye on four Wimbledon matches is a user experience that people may want to engage in given the quality of these mini views.

Additionally user interfaces may change or have the opportunity to leverage solutions like Mosaic’s better. The quality of the UHD larger screen allows for 4x4 and even 10x10 mosaics of ‘on now’ programming allowing a new dimension in being able to pick the most relevant content to the consumer in a three dimensional extension to the two dimensions of a grid guide.

“The sometimes distracting additions to the screen like information banners and tickers also get new life possibilities that can added into new UI definitions,” says Charles Cheevers, CTO CPE, Arris. “This is because the additional screen real estate allows for these intrusions to potentially add value to the overall user experience.”

Do we need a complete rethink of the television UI or just incremental changes?

It really depends on where you start from, according to Cheevers. “Many people are still doing channel up and down on their TVs. At the other end of the spectrum there are many new UI paradigms from gesture and motion interfaces to recommended content using rich coverflow artwork.

“We can use other screen devices to navigate and select content, and we can swipe and cast content,” says Cheevers. “So there is a rethink already underway – and its primary goal is to achieve the fastest and simplest way possible for the user to view the content that entertains them. This function of simplicity against a matrix of device and infinite supply of content and sources is the key.”

Rest assured, though, that traditional linear content has been programmed to suit human mood and time of view. Primetime shows are aired when the dinner is completed and the kids have gone to bed; late night shows are aired to give light viewing experience to tired viewers – so there’s a need to understand human factors as operators and UI developers endeavor to make content search and play the best possible experience.

“We have also now created UX frameworks that can allow a high degree of customisation – so there is scope to allow for people to customise their own UX to their preference,” says Cheevers.

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Smart Home Hub
There is a further opportunity to carve out some areas of the screen to exist as a viewing portal that displays the activity of Smart Home and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Allseen, Open Internet Consortium and Thread Group consortia are trying to achieve solutions that allow the TV, STB or gateway driving the TV screen to play an active role in the IoT. An example exists today of Caller ID on the TV and other uses could be security cameras in parallel to TV viewing or a live feed from a child’s smart glasses.

“Monetising this capability and who offers the service is the key point,” says Cheevers. “Certainly an MSO/MVPD could offer a service to support this on their gateway and STB solutions connected to the TV – and it’s an area where we believe there is merit to explore.”

“There are very meaningful services and enhanced UEX’s that are feasible with the additional real estate offered by UHD,” agrees Cisco CTO, Ken Morse. “As consumers become more comfortable, and in many cases demanding, of a more connected life these services will be integrated into the UX not only on UHD but across all consumer-relevant devices.”

The brightness, contrast, colour precision, and resolution of the best tablets and smartphones rival the traditional living room TV. Even so, the large screen TV in the home remains the heart of TV viewing. In Arris’ 2014 Consumer Entertainment Index, a survey of 10,500 people across 19 countries, two out of three people choose to watch broadcast TV in the living room, and 61% watch subscription paid TV there too.

“The large screen in the home can also provide a consumer experience that is hard to replicate on a smaller mobile display,” says McCarthy.

“Large TVs can provide a very wide field-of-view that gives both a sense of immersion and a focal distance that allows a viewer to relax the eyes. Smaller displays need to be held too close to the face. For the same field-of-view the eyes would need to adopt a more extreme eye vergence and nearer focal accommodation, both of which would tend to distract from the sense of immersion.”

McCarthy believes that smaller screens will act as companion screens to the main TV screen. “We already see the ability for the tablet to provide individual look ahead search in a communal room environment as well as changing content source using inputs on the second screen.

Arris also believes the second screen will act as a parallel feed to the primary TV with network content being sent to both at the same time, “creating a synchronized experience” across both screens which will be used for various applications including advertising.

“We need to ensure that television can always be centre stage while augmenting it with additional capabilities,” stresses Morse. “Operators should leverage additional input/control devices rather than overloading the primary viewing screen with complex navigation schemes.”

According to Alex Fishman, director of user experience at Nagra, managing the interplay between multiple devices is one of the biggest challenges to tackle. “Users who experience inconsistent usage across devices will finally look for alternative content sources, especially on portable devices, eroding the value of service provider’s brand,” he says.

Nagra created a prototype UI for 4K TV dubbed Gravity Ultra, which premiered last September and will be shown with new iterations at this IBC.

“The UHD UI and UEX is not just about rescaling HD and tidying up tired old SD or HD interfaces, EPG’s and pop-ups,” says Fishman.

“It is about looking at the UHD screen real estate, the resolution and big-screen format in a different way, in order to create a complementary and visually stunning ‘wow factor’ that goes beyond UHD video.”

None of this will work if the UI is not simple to navigate. The jury is still out on whether voice control, gesture, second screen or traditional remote control is the best means of interacting with the giant screen.

One of the ways Nagra achieves this is with a zoomable user interface (ZUI). Instead of traditional time-oriented grid guides, the ZUI offers fully rendered three-dimensional spaces, similar to those of videogames, to offer engaging navigation and new kinds of interface representation.

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Embedded or Virtual UI
Customers expect instantaneous ‘zero lag’ interaction with a new, and often expensive, box. Virtual UIs running in the cloud probably do not yet offer the same level of performance and quality of experience as a resident UI.

“For devices that are compressed on specification, there will always be the lure to develop native UI code to the direct hardware,” says Cheevers. “This usually necessitates a single STB solution.

It’s also important to remember that almost every solution today that claims UHD does not support UHD graphics performance, so to create a true UHD UX experience, operators will need to have graphics rendered at full UHD 4kp60.

“This will come with new silicon and in particular could be provided by adding a STB to purchased 4K screen TVs,” says Cheevers. “With additional pixel, colour and other elements of the image to get to p60 frames the UX graphics need to be revised to be at true rather than upscaled levels.”

With the increase in STB graphics performance there has been a shift to try and create Design Once Render Everywhere solutions. Arris has led with DreamGallery in this space – where a single cloud- generated solution can run across STB and tablet devices.

There has also been a recent push to leverage HTML5 based solutions either running in browsers which are written to other frameworks like Webkit or Blink and in some cases non browser-based using technologies like QML.
Increasingly technologies like WebGL are being promoted to allow for Remote User Interface Generation, but still the defined graphics has to be parsed and drawn with high performance interfaces to the graphics core in the STB.

“So while virtualised UI/UX may be part of the future in some corner cases, the vast majority of deployments will continue to use a resident ‘full stack’ UI with flexibility to quickly deploy new UI version,” says Cheevers.

“What is probably the most challenging is to ensure that video Wi-Fi networks in the home are capable of distributing 4K content as it potentially requires 25Mbs of airtime for one stream,” he adds. “This may make wired technologies like G.Hn and MoCA more attractive for distribution of in-home content – but the goal is to develop a 4K Wi-Fi distribution solution capable of delivering the quality experience required for UHD.”

With its Fresco interface, Cisco is asking us to expand our view of what television is and to think outside the traditional television box. Fresco proposes a future where content is displayed across multiple screens – or multiple types of content displayed on the same screen – with resolutions, aspect ratios and presentation styles entirely determined on-the-fly by the viewer.

“If the TV screen is extremely large and takes up the whole wall, then it could be used in principle to display multiple individual screens,” says David Wood, deputy director, EBU Technical. “But I am somewhat cautious about the wall being used for multiple things at the same time.

“If the wall is being viewed by one person, they probably just want to follow one thing at a time. If the wall is being viewed by more than one person, they might find it distracting to have lots of things happening. Don’t forget that you would have to choose which sound to play, unless everyone has headphones.

“My money is on the large screen being used for a TV programme, and the rest going on the tablet on your lap.”

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Extra real estate
As TVs become bigger, so broadcasters can make use of the additional screen real estate to promote additional content or even allow viewers to watch more than one sports match or show at the same time.

Indeed, there are already signs that many viewers want to split their screen to watch multiple Premier League games simultaneously.

Furthermore, the quality of larger UHD screens allows for 4x4 and even 10x10 mosaics of ‘on now’ programming, affording the viewer a superior view of what content is being aired on other channels.

The additional screen space could also be used for non-broadcast applications, such as displays related to Smart Home and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

From big screen to small
While the size of the main TV in people’s living rooms gets ever bigger, broadcasters also need to consider the effects of the smaller screens – tablets and smartphones – and the way these devices can interact with the main screen.

Sean McCarthy, Fellow of the technical staff, Arris, believes that smaller screens will act as companion screens to the main TV screen. He points out that tablets are already being used to provide an “individual look-ahead search in a communal room environment”.

McCarthy adds that the second screen will act as a parallel feed to the primary TV with network content being sent to both at the same time, a phenomenon which will aid various applications including advertising.

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