In this article, we take a break from our lengthy series on software testing for a little rant about the importance of user interface design, and specifically what's horribly wrong with YouTube TV's UI.
The Urge to Switch
I very much wanted to switch to YouTube TV. I'm increasingly disappointed with DirectTV, especially since AT&T has taken over. It's expensive, I find its pricing deceptive, and I'm not a fan of its customer service. In addition, it does maddening things like charging extra for High Definition TV, which is now standard — it's virtually impossible to buy a new Standard Definition TV. They also pad your bill with what I view as bogus fees.
YouTube TV has all the channels I want, would save me a lot of money, and would simplify watching TV for me.
Why Don't I Switch to YouTube TV?
I've been playing with YouTube TV for a week now. I love the unlimited-storage DVR and the ability to record many programs at once, but a week is more than enough time to spot the glaring problems with the YouTube TV user interface.
I imagine that the YouTube TV UI seems fine for people who've never had a decent DVR, but I've been using a DirecTivo DVR for over 20 years and I've got a pretty good idea of what a DVR should do (and not do).
I've divided the issues into "deal breakers" and "annoyances", but for others it's likely that some of these things will switch categories.
Keep in mind that every capability I mention in this article is something I've had for over 20 years! I'm not asking for the moon, just the basic stuff some DVR makers figured out during the previous century.
No ability to delete shows from library
After a week, my library is completely crapped up with shows I've watched and shows that I have no intention of watching.
Why do I have to wade though these to find what I want to watch now? Why are they there at all? On my current DVR, I can delete any individual recording in the library and I can mark any recording to be kept until a future date or indefinitely.
No distinction between first run shows and repeats
It drives me nuts that after I've selected a show for the library, YouTube TV will record all episodes of that show on any station it has. This means filling my library with dozens of shows I've already seen and have no intention of watching again. On my current DVR, I have the option to record only first run shows or both first run and repeats.
Insane Pause Button Behavior
What was the thinking here? When you press the pause button, YouTube TV hides the screen with an overlay and shows you (in a giant typeface) the name of the show you're currently watching. Worse yet, the overlay and the title persist long after you've resumed play.
I sometimes pause a show to go to the kitchen or the bathroom, but usually, I pause a show to get a better look at something on the screen. It might be a graphic, a player's stats, a close play at first base, or even a piece of furniture in a scene that I might like to buy or build.
What I have never, ever done in many years of TV watching is to pause a show to FIND OUT WHAT F*%#@^* SHOW I'M CURRENTLY WATCHING!!!
Just stop the action — no overlay, no titles, nothing but the current frame — stop the action and resume it immediately when I press play.
I could live with these annoyances if the deal breakers above were fixed, but these should really be fixed too.
Minimal Program Information
When I browse the guide or my library, YouTube TV shows me almost nothing about a show except its title. Unless I'm a fanatic devotee of the show, the title means nothing to me. I need a brief plot description and an original date to find out if I've seen the episode before (possibly on another service), or if I want to see it again.
My current DVR and my local newspaper give me a date and a brief plot description. On the DVR, with a few clicks, I can see the full plot, the original air date, the cast, the director, the running time, and the rating without having to start the playback. My previous DVR also gave me a star rating (1-5) for each show.
Also, don't tell me how long it's been in days since the show was recorded. Just give me the recording date and time. I don't really care how many days it's been, I need to know exactly when it was recorded and I don't want to do the math.
Shows Continue Playing
I've turned off the extremely annoying feature of some show I don't want to see starting to play when I launch YouTube TV (this should be off by default). What I haven't been able do is stop the equally annoying "feature" that lets shows continue to play after I navigate away from them. If I've navigated away because I hate the show, I certainly don't want to be listening to it. If I intend to go back to it, I don't want to miss the part that's been playing with only the sound. And why would I ever want to listen to a show I can't see?
No Manual Recording
I don't use this often, but it's essential at times to be able to simply set up a recording on a specific channel with just a date, time, and duration.
No Control of Padding
On my DVR, I can have a recording start early or run long by up to three hours. The YouTube DVR adds time to the end of live events, but it may not be enough. Missing the end of a close game or match you've spent hours watching can drive you up the wall.
On my current DVR, I can set it to record shows that have never aired. I can create any of the following wishlists regardless of whether a relevant show is on the current schedule:
- Actor wishlist — any show with that actor in the cast
- Director wishlist — any show directed by that director
- Title keyword wishlist — any show with the keyword (or keywords) in the title (with wildcards)
- Overall keyword wishlist — any show with the keyword anywhere in the title or description (with wildcards)
- Category wishlist — any show in a category or genre (e.g. award shows, HD shows, G-rated shows, Sports/Curling, Sports/Rugby, etc.)
- Combo wishlist — combination of category/genre plus key word (e.g., sports baseball/mariners, sports/baseball/playoff).
The heading says it all.
Individual Team Recordings
This works for many teams, but not all. For the WNBA, for example, you can't record games with a particular team. You have to record *all* WNBA games or none of them.
Team Win-loss Records Display
When I turn off scores for a team, turn off the display of the win-loss record for that team! For any serious sports fan, seeing the record tells you whether the team has won or lost the game you're about to watch.
Most of the fixes I've suggested above should be relatively easy to implement, (assuming that the design of the underlying code is sound — if not, that needs to be fixed too).
I really do want to switch to YouTube TV, so I'm hoping these issues get fixed sooner rather than later. I'm not the only one who has experienced a decent DVR, so it's pretty much guaranteed that YouTube TV is losing a substantial amount of business by letting them persist.
Back to the software testing series.
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