February 23, 2021

My Golden Rule of Smart TV development

In over a decade developing video streaming applications for Smart TVs, I’ve seen plenty of companies make fundamental mistakes that cost them time and money. No matter what TV brand you’re working with, as a pay TV operator, broadcaster or OTT provider, I’ve got one golden rule of successful Smart TV development: set realistic expectations from day one.

As a solution architect, it might surprise you that my golden rule isn’t about a specific technology. But expectation setting at the beginning of a project is fundamental to success, no matter which tech you use.

When is a Smart TV not a Smart TV? 

To start, let’s be really clear about what we mean by a Smart TV application. You may think it’s obvious, but you’d be amazed how many meetings I’m in where the client’s management team wonder why their Smart TV app can’t be as slick and responsive as other apps on their big screen. Most often, the apps they’re talking about are running on an Apple TV or Roku streaming device connected to the screen by HDMI.

When we talk about Smart TV development, we very specifically mean those apps that run within the TV’s own operating system. They are downloaded from an app store run by a manufacturer like Samsung or LG. The screen may be the same, but the computing power inside a flat screen TV is highly optimized for display. It can’t offer the kind of data processing that goes on in a streaming media device. 

For technical teams, this may be an obvious distinction, but for senior management and the people responsible for your brand, it’s important to be clear at the outset about what they can expect of a Smart TV app. Especially with those who’ll eventually be signing-off the final app! It goes a long way to avoiding frustration and delays. 

Don’t out-design your tech stack

We’d love to include all the animated graphics, 3D-style buttons and dynamic menus that designers adore in our Smart TV apps, but we’ve seen the end result in testing and it’s not always pretty. The devices just can’t cope, the responsiveness of the application plummets, and the end result is a truly disappointing user experience. 

Less experienced Smart TV developers won’t necessarily have this knowledge and they may agree to build you an Apple TV-style application for a Smart TV platform. But I can guarantee you’ll be spending an extra six months in development while you strip-out all those fancy features to create an app that actually works on a consumer’s television screen. Being practical from the earliest design stage can avoid much of this delay. 

Remembering the role of the remote control in Smart TV development

Of course you’ll want your big screen apps to be fully aligned with the design aesthetics of your brand and any OTT applications you’ve already created. But in a world dominated by swiping, pinch-to-zoom and voice search, how many UX designers have real experience of working with devices that can only only take commands via a remote control? Make sure you’re working with a team of experts who do. 

There’s more information about the process of designing and developing for Smart TVs and set-top boxes in our Big Screen solutions brochure

And for more information about the latest developments in Smart TV technology, don’t miss the round-up of the big smart TV announcements at this year’s virtual CES by my colleague Matthijs Langendijk.

By Petr Mazanec, VP of Solutions Architecture at 24i

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