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The Mad World Of Set Top Boxes – Part 1

Published on Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Mad World Of Set Top Boxes – Part 1

Why pretend to be a mobile phone?

The number of vendors large and small promoting web enabled setup boxes will not escape the attention of those attending the IBC show in Amsterdam 2013. Manufacturers are all showing web browser enabled devices. Most of the operating systems and related browser software comes from the mobile world with Android by far and away the most popular operating system coupled with the Chrome Mobile browser.

There’s two important points all the manufacturers I've seen so far have missed. The first is that the Set Top box is not a mobile phone. In fact it’s about as far removed from a mobile phone as browsing devices can get: the viewing distances are larger, fingers aren't used to touching it directly, and in almost every case it stays in a fixed location and is connected to a broadband internet connection.

When accessing the web, many Set Top Boxes appear exactly like a mobile phone resulting in the worst user experiences. For example, when used to access Google’s home page a tiny text box is displayed for the search query. The results that come back from the search are too small to read at viewing distances greater than 1 meter.

Typical Smart Phone Search Page

Typical Set Top Box Search Page

Two simple changes will fix many of the problems. Changing the default font size and zoom settings so that standard size text is viewable at an average viewing distant will help a lot. Then make a 1 line change to the default browser configuration so that the Set Top Box identifies itself correctly when browsing web sites. For Chrome based browsing this involves changing the user agent string so that it includes the model information.

Here’s a user agent for a Nexus mobile phone:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.0.4; Galaxy Nexus Build/IMM76B) AppleWebKit/535.19 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/18.0.1025.133 Mobile Safari/535.19

If Chrome Mobile were reconfigured for a Humax DTR 1000 then the following user agent would be used.

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 4.0.4; Humax-DTR-1000 Build/IMM76B) AppleWebKit/535.19 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/18.0.1025.133 Safari/535.19

Notice also that the Mobile sub string appearing towards the end of the user agent has been removed. More information can be found on Google’s web site for Chrome.

If you're at IBC 2013 I'll be on stand 4.C88 in Hall 4 until Tuesday. Alternatively comment away.

Tomorrow I’ll be covering the next missed opportunity for Set Top Box vendors.

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Author: James Rosewell

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