1.1 Digital switchover provides the consumer electronics industry with the opportunity to supply new digital television receivers that will bring consumers a wider choice of channels and new interactive services. To help ensure that all consumers, including those currently relying on analogue only television reception, embrace and fully utilise the new digital services it is important that the receiver equipment is easy and convenient to use.
1.2 Ofcom has a duty under Section 10 the 2003 Communications Act to promote the development and availability of easy to use consumer equipment, and this report provides a summary of the research conducted by the ITC and Ofcom over the last three years on digital television receiver equipment usability. The intention of this report is provide background information on equipment usability for stakeholders involved in the practical management and implementation of digital switchover, including Digital UK, equipment manufacturers, and broadcasters. Ofcom does not plan to conduct further research in this area but it is willing to provide additional information and insights gained from the research if required.
1.3 This report describes recent user and expert evaluations of available digital television products and services which has informed the development of two prototype checklists for:
1.3.1 the design of easy to use digital television receiver equipment including on-screen guides and remote controls; and
1.3.2 the provision of easy to use installation and set-up instructions for digital terrestrial television receivers.
1.4 The objective of these checklists, which are reproduced in full in sections 3 and 4 of this report, is to provide an informed starting point for equipment manufacturers to develop and refine their own good practice design guidelines for digital television receiver products and services. Whilst these checklists have been developed on a technology neutral basis, and are potentially applicable to all digital television platforms, they are expected to be of most use for the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) platform where there is greater scope for variability between the user interfaces and equipment usability provided by different equipment manufacturers. These reasons for the greater receiver equipment variability on the DTT platform compared with satellite, cable and broadband IPTV services are described below:
1.4.1 Free-to-view and/or subscription digital television services are available in the UK via satellite, cable, terrestrial and broadband. Currently, there is a single television platform operator in respect of digital satellite, each cable network and each IPTV broadband network. As a consequence, these operators control the design and supply of the equipment used to receive the service, the installation of the equipment, and the look and feel of technical services, such as electronic programme guides, provided to end-users.
1.4.2 In contrast, no single entity controls the digital terrestrial television (DTT) platform. (“Freeview” is an umbrella brand used to market existing DTT services.) Consumers have a range of receiver devices which they can chose to purchase and install themselves in order to receive DTT broadcasts. As a result, there is substantially more variation in the look and feel of the user interface (including the layout of the on-screen display and remote control) within the DTT market.
1.4.3 Operators which control their own platforms can more easily incorporate well designed user interfaces, because they control the whole system design. They are also more likely to reap the benefits of good usability - an improved experience for the consumer leads to more happy customers, and to reduced support and help-line costs. Such operators supply only a few different types of remote control handset and few, if any, variations of on-screen user interface. This means that it is easy for installers to give well rehearsed tuition to new users, and that help-lines can quickly identify solutions to caller queries because they do not have to spend time finding out what type of handset is being used.
1.4.4 Platform operators such as Sky, ntl, Telewest, KiT and HomeChoice have put considerable effort into well-designed user interfaces. In some cases this has extended to easy access to subtitles and audio description, and to recording using hard-disk based recorders. The Sky+ personal video recorder is a case in point; it was reported to be very popular with users for its ease of use in the Go Digital trial, a project that took place in the West Midlands in 2002 that focused on consumer experience of digital television.
Figure 1: Sky+ Personal Video Recorder
1.4.5 As the operators of single-operator platforms have full control over the end-user experience on those platforms, the emphasis of the research reported here was largely directed towards DTT receiver equipment. Of course, many of the themes identified can apply to the optimisation of non-DTT digital television products and services.
1.5 Earlier research conducted between 2001 and 2003 by the Independent Television Commission identified that improvements to the ease of use of domestic digital television equipment could make digital television services more attractive to a much wider range of viewers. The interested reader is referred to two research reports describing this early work.
1.5.1 The first described a study conducted to benchmark public perceptions of the ease of use of different domestic products and services, including digital television(-1-).
1.5.2 The second described research that identified the consumer groups most likely to benefit from easier to use digital television equipment and services, and the equipment design changes most likely to provide greatest improvements in its ease of use.(-2-)
1.5.3 These two research phases were led by the Independent Television Commission, in a joint initiative named ‘Easy TV’ in collaboration with the Consumers’ Association (Which?) and the Design Council.
1.6 Section 2 of this report describes the follow-on research used to develop good practice design checklists for easy to use and easy to set-up domestic digital television equipment. These research activities were conducted in close collaboration with industry, in particular the UK Digital Television Project’s Technical Equipment Group, and its DTT converter sub-group TEG-C, the Digital Television Group (DTG) Domestic Systems Group, and the manufacturers’ representative body Intellect, to ensure that the focus of the research was of most relevance and use to industry.
1.7 In summary, the research described in this report has resulted in identification of two prototype design checklists, one for digital receiver equipment user interface design and one for receiver equipment installation and set-up instructions. The purpose of these checklists is to provide an informed starting point for equipment manufacturers to refine and develop their own good practice guidelines. Whilst the research was conducted on a technology neutral basis these checklists (provided in full in section 3 and 4 of this report) are expected to be of most use for the DTT platform where there is currently a wide variability in consumer equipment user interfaces and set-up instructions provided by different equipment manufacturers.
1.- ITC-UsE - Ease of use and knowledge of digital and interactive television: Results (Easy TV 2001 Research Report) ITC (December, 2001; research conducted by i2 media research). Available online: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/itc/uploads/UsE_report.pdf
2.- Easy TV 2002 Research Report (ITC-MaTE): ITC, Consumers' Association, Design Council (7 January, 2003; research conducted i2 media research and ITS Research and Testing Centre). Easy TV 2002 Research Report (ITC-MaTE). Available online from: http://www.which.net/campaigns/other/communications/0301easytv.pdf
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