Text Entry: A Comparison Amongst OTT Video Devices
When I had Comcast service — back before my sister and I moved to the farm, where DSL is the only option — I don’t think I ever used my set-top remote for text entry. I never had to set up my own box, and the idea of searching for what I wanted to watch was comical. Besides, I had most of my favorite channel numbers memorized, and the VOD selection was all in one place and easy enough to browse by channel.
Streaming devices are a different story altogether. I find myself using the search feature more often — there’s a lot of content out there, and most of it is organized by cover art. While the cover art makes for a much nicer user interface indeed, it can take significantly longer to browse than a grid guide.
You’ll also be setting up your own box, which means at a minimum entering a wireless password, and probably a handful of passwords for streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Depending on the method of text entry, setup can either be a breeze or a multi-hour ordeal that has you ready to ship the offending device back to its manufacturer.
In other words, a great device can be spoiled by a bad text entry experience. Fortunately, most manufacturers now allow you to download remote control apps for iOS and Android which are often a much more elegant solution. Which brings me to a question: Whither the fate of the physical remote?
Click below for highlights of the text entry experience on some of our devices, I’ve summarized each device after the video.
Apple TV offers the simplest remote, but the most elegant onscreen keyboard. The cursor is very quick to respond to the remote, and you can easily scroll through the letters by holding down the directional buttons without overshooting. One very nice feature is the ability to quickly toggle between keyboards (letter, number, symbol) by pressing the play/pause button. iOS and Android remotes are also available.
The Boxee Box takes it a step further by including a full QWERTY keyboard on the back of the remote. This works very well, with two exceptions: the letters are difficult to see in a dark living room, and it’s easy to accidentally press the buttons on the other side of the remote. Boxee also has iOS and Android apps, including an iPad app that works both as a media server and a remote control.
Roku’s onscreen keyboard is quite clunky and slow to respond, especially when attempting to scroll over to a letter on the other side of the screen. It’s also difficult to switch between different keyboards, so entering passwords is very time-consuming. One thing about Roku is that for most services you’re not actually required to enter your password using the onscreen keyboard. Instead, a message directs you to visit a URL and enter a 5-digit token code to link your account to your streaming player. It does require another device, but I rarely watch TV without a smartphone or laptop nearby.
GoogleTV remotes are often criticized for their complexity, but they are great for text entry. The Sony remote features a full QWERTY keyboard, and the Logitech device comes with a full-size wireless keyboard. There are iOS and Android remote control apps also, but they are almost as cluttered as the physical remote.
The controller doesn’t make for easy text entry — it’s difficult to scroll using the joystick controller — but the voice recognition features of the Kinect camera may make content searches a breeze in the future. You’ve also got the option of plugging in a USB keyboard for text entry.
TiVo offers a unique solution to the text entry problem: It sells a $50 remote, called the TiVo Slide, which opens up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard. This is a nice option for text entry, but if like most people you already have too many remotes, it’s a tough sell — especially since there are free apps for iOS and Android devices.
WDTV Live Hub
This is another one of those devices where a smartphone remote app really saves the day. The flimsy remote control makes text entry even more tedious, each button press requires a substantial amount of effort.
I’ve saved the worst for last here. The virtual keyboard on Sony’s new device is smaller than it needs to be, and is laid out in a T9 format with the letters spread out across ten number keys — completely unchanged from last year’s N100, except that the numerical keypad was removed from the physical remote so now it makes even less sense. The letters on screen are small and hard to see, and they are interspersed with numbers, which only adds to the confusion. To switch case or add a symbol, you have to scroll to the bottom and switch keyboards. In other words, a text entry nightmare.