Personalized startup screen "my Home Screen"
Panasonic announced "my Home Screen" to defy the common wisdom about TV. It has gained a high degree of acclaim for the freedom that it gives users to customize their TV’s startup screen to match their own lifestyles. In today’s interview, we talk to the engineers who took the challenge to “redefine smart TV” through this development.
Tanaka: The first key phrase when we started developing my Home Screen was "a TV that nobody has ever seen before." Specifically, we wanted to completely change the startup screen of the TV. When people hear the term "startup screen," most of them think of the startup screen of a PC, but this term can also be used for TV. People take for granted that the TV displays a broadcast when it is turned on, and they never think of a startup screen or a home screen as far as the TV is concerned. For our project, we questioned this common assumption. We wanted to create a totally new TV startup screen to propose a new TV value to customers.
The question was what should be displayed on the startup screen. That was where we began.
Did the widespread use of smartphones inspire you to come up with that idea?
Tanaka: Yes, nowadays, people access the Internet using smartphones all around the world. Although some TV products has accessibility for browsing the Internet, TVs are still not a popular Internet gateway. Many people turn on their TVs to watch TV broadcasts and use their smartphones to browse the Internet. They do that without even thinking about which device to use. Frankly, we felt a sense of crisis for TV when we realized that the amount of time people spend using a device other than TV to view information was sharply increasing. On the other hand, the level of intuitive TV operation has been rising because of the customers' experience with smartphones.
Even though we have been involved in producing TV products for so many years, we wanted to develop a totally new TV that would satisfy the customers today.— that is, a TV that would allow easy access to information other than TV broadcasts and be easy to use — and to let consumers surprised with new TV.
Could you describe the process of deciding on the concept of the new "Home Screen"?
Tanaka: We gave sheets of A3-size paper to about 30 members in our company and asked them to draw what they would like the TV to display after it is turned on. They provided a variety of concrete ideas. They gave us a lot of tips and ideas. There are many interesting examples, such as a screen similar to the top page of a portal site, and a screen that simultaneously displays multiple channels as well as web news.
This survey clarified two points. First, we found that the content people wanted to see on TV varied by individuals. Secondly, we were also convinced that there was a certain pattern in what people wanted to see on the TV startup screen. That was a great discovery. Based on those two findings, we refined the concept.
Moreover, we know the TV is used by all family members. Therefore, we realized in the early stage of development that multiple home screens would be needed so that each family member could have his or her own home screen.
We scrutinized those factors and examined them repeatedly with team members. Then,we decided to provide multiple templates for the home screen so that each user could create a personalized home screen by picking up their favorite elements.
Kubota: When you listen to the description of our concept forming process, you may think the direction of development was decided without any detours. The truth is that establishing the concept before creating the actual new product was very challenging.
We had to put our common sense aside in order to create a TV that nobody has ever seen before. In other words, we started from nothing, and that meant overcoming many difficulties ahead.
How did you improve and refine the icon layout on the home screen and the quality of motions and response resulting from button operations?
Kubota: We worked in close collaboration with our Design Company. First, we asked them to freely propose home screen ideas from scratch. The designers did a marvelous job. All their sketches showed original and novel ideas.
Keeping diverse and flexible ideas in mind, all of our Technology Development members continued to focus on one target: "changing the TV completely." We felt strongly that our goal could be achieved in our 2013 products by enabling users to access content other than TV broadcasts from the home screen that appears after the TV is turned on.
Tanaka: The most important thing was "easy access to content." We did not want the home screen or its operation to be too prevailing. From the start of development, we were determined to make the home screen design simple so that the content would stand out and operations would be comfortable to perform.
Kubota: Our ultimate goal was to provide a screen that would allow the viewer to concentrate on the content he or she wants to watch without being disturbed by the screen design.
Did you have any difficulties in achieving the concept, such as motion effects?
Kubota: Since we set our goal and concept firmly, we did not want to compromise. Therefore, we worked non-stop in order to achieve our ideas in the actual product.
Hirose: First, it was difficult just to create a system that displays the Home Screen when the TV is turned on. In particular, we worked hard on making the startup time shorter. By simple arithmetic, it takes a longer time to display multiple information sources using an Internet connection and applications than to display only a TV broadcast. We strove to reduce the startup processing time as much as possible in order to minimize the stress in viewers. We aimed to reduce it to a level that would not seem longer than the startup time of an ordinary existing TV.
During the development process, we measured the actual startup time using software. In the final stage of development, however, we used a stopwatch for measurement in order to achieve the startup time that we actually felt was reasonable and acceptable. Developing 'my Home Screen' was all about creating THE most easy-to-use UI for large-screen smart TVs. Panasonic engineers were totally dedicated to their uncompromising pursuit for intuitiveness in every detail of the UI -- from building the logical scheme of the system to the subtle effects of the graphic actions. We made sure that each of all the series of operations made sense to the user, and the results were presented in a way that was convincing and natural to the users' expectations. It was difficult to maintain a good balance between speed and operation quality, especially for users who are already used to operating a smartphone.
Tanaka: Indeed, it was important that TV operation seem familiar, natural and smooth even from people who use smartphones so frequently.
For example, when the viewer returns to the Home Screen from the full-screen display of a TV broadcast, the frame around the broadcast content shrinks to the preset size on the Home Screen without any jerky motion. Although this motion looks very simple, it was very difficult to achieve this smooth and fluid motion on the TV screen.
Kubota: For example, the memory capacity used in the "TV" is limited as compared to those in "computers" such as PCs and smartphones. It was our first challenge to reproduce the smooth and crisp motion that customers are used to seeing on their PCs and smartphones on the TV screen.
Achieving the unique features of my Home Screen, such as the switching of the Home Screens and the transition of screens for accessing various functions was tough because there is only a limited capacity available for the memory device. We solved this problem by developing an original drawing window system. The development of this system enabled us to create and produce the new TV products in time.
I understand that my Home Screen can start up based on face recognition.
Iwata: Yes, the face recognition function was also a challenge for us.
I was in charge of both the hardware and software for "face recognition." I got involved in the installation of a camera in the TV, and I was also in charge of planning the software by considering how the face recognition function on a TV would be used by customers. When the concept of my Home Screen was proposed, I immediately thought of face recognition. Display of the user's face on my Home Screen by the face recognition function would provide added convenience, and frequent use of the face recognition function would result in effective utilization of the built-in camera.
Panasonic had already established face recognition technology through the development of LUMIX cameras. For the new TV models, we used the same engine as the one mounted in LUMIX cameras. Therefore, incorporation of this function into a TV started up smoothly. But, difficulties came up later. We had no experience or ideas for creating an interface that would easily indicate that "the TV is recognizing the user's face." The reaction of the TV after recognizing the user's face also needed to be newly developed. Just like when we designed the Home Screen, we had to tackle this challenging task through trial and error.
Specifically what kind of struggle was it to achieve the face recognition system?
Iwata: Suppose one of several people watching the TV says "my Home Screen" to the microphone in the remote control. First, the built-in camera of the TV tries to simultaneously recognize the faces of multiple people watching the TV screen. The image captured by the built-in camera is displayed on the TV screen. If there are three persons in front of the camera, marking appears on each of the faces of those three persons displayed on the TV screen at the same time.
We refined and tuned the frame design of the marking and the motion of the marking frame during its positioning on each recognized face so that viewers feel comfortable seeing the face recognition process.
Conventionally, people only press a few buttons on the remote control when they watch TV. It's really simple. We added the face recognition function to the TV, so users can now sit face-to-face with the TV in a true sense. (Laughs) We must ensure that this new "event" will not cause any stress in users. If the new function is not as plain as the pressing of a button on the remote control, users may consider that the function is bothersome to use or unnecessary. So, we carefully designed and tweaked the system to provide smooth, high-quality motion without causing any visual disturbance to the user.
In particular, which work process was the most labor-intensive?
Iwata: We conducted the face recognition test with numerous faces in order to improve the recognition performance of the camera. We did tests with the faces of our development staff members. The members also brought many facial photos of people for testing. We were confident about the precision of the recognition.
Is there any "difficult" pattern for face recognition?
Iwata: Eyeglasses can cause a recognition error because some facial characteristics are hidden behind the eyeglass frame.
It was also quite a job to ensure accurate recognition of the faces of family members. TVs are generally used by family members and the faces of family members displayed on the screen often look similar. (Laughs) In fact, some family members look alike. If the target person cannot be selected in one face recognition operation, the next screen asks the user to select one from multiple candidates displayed on the screen so the user can make the selection for the authentication process.
Tanaka: When we were working on easy usage of face recognition, we thought of combining the face recognition function with the voice recognition technology being developed for another project. This combination is another secret of simple face recognition operation. I would say the tireless efforts of all teams to incorporate various functions in order to create a whole new TV paid off.
In the new TV, not only the face recognition and voice recognition technologies, but also other technologies developed and refined by each of our departments complemented one another.
TVs with my Home Screen are now widespread in the market. Having developed your new TV products, what do you want customers to look forward to in the future?
Tanaka: I want them to know that my Home Screen will continue to evolve. "Wallpaper" is a good example.
Hirose: Changing the wallpaper gives a completely new appearance to the TV and makes the TV more personal to the user. I want customers to experience the dramatic change created by a different wallpaper.
Tanaka: To advance the my Home Screen feature, we developed a system for downloading data from a cloud service, which we call "Home Screen Collection." This system was announced in September 2013.* It allows newly released wallpaper designs to be downloaded via a cloud service. The system was well received, and that encourages us to tackle the next development phase.
* The Home Screen Collection function can be used by some of the 2013 released TV models by updating the software. Wallpaper available for downloading varies according to the marketing region.
Hirose: Although the flexibility is currently limited, we have many plans to bring greater fun to our customers.
Tanaka: I hope many more fun "parts" for the Home Screen will be made available in the future from Panasonic as well as other content providers through cooperation.
Can you tell us how users can enjoy Panasonic's new TV?
Tanaka: Since video messages, voice messages and memo functions are provided, users can enjoy bonding and communication among family members through my Home Screen.
Hirose: I feel the same way. (Laughs) We developed the function to operate exactly the way the user expects. Users can use it without any awkward feeling.
Kubota: With respect to the screen design, there is nothing that I want users to recognize as being really special. Since we want them to enjoy the content displayed on the TV, we made the design to be as unnoticeable as possible. Users should simply enjoy the displayed content without giving much thought to the screen design.
Iwata: There is an interesting way to have fun with the face recognition function. (Laughs) If a person changes his or her facial expression, the face recognition function may recognize the person as a different person. So, the user can set a different Home Screen according to how he or she feels at the time of turning on the TV. Try it out.
How is the market reaction to the newly released TVs?
Tanaka: In Europe, the feature that allows Home Screen personalization has been particularly well received. On the other hand, some customers say there is room for improvement. We take those opinions sincerely and strive to make our products more convenient by reflecting their requests in our development.
I mentioned earlier that our Design Department proposed various ideas during the initial stage of development. I would like to incorporate some of those ideas for the Home Screen in 2014 and later products. Please look forward to these future products. Unlike conventional TV, the Home Screen displays many frames. Because of this, some customers may feel confused at first. There is a Tutorial button at the upper right section of the Home Screen. Pressing the button displays an easy-to-understand explanation on the screen. Please utilize this button.
I simply want people to enjoy using their TV. That's what my Home Screen is for. I want them to know and become familiar with the concept of my Home Screen, which is to simultaneously display various types of content including Internet content.
I want users to enjoy TV more at home. As I said in the beginning, I hope users will enjoy the large TV screen and spend more time in front of the TV.
I believe that my Home Screen on our new TV products will dramatically change the way people use and enjoy TV. We will continue developing TVs with more advanced functions and features so we will be able to hear more customers say "Panasonic TVs are more convenient and more fun than any other TV!"
Project Leader/Software Engineer
Entered the present TV Development Section of Panasonic in 1998.
Develops software system and middleware of digital TV for JP/EU market.
Develops new concept for digital TV platform.
<My> Home Screen’s Taste
I picked up my favorite apps like online video streaming and Internet radio. Video memo & voice memo are also my favorite because I can communicate with my family easily. Don’t miss my background as well.
Entered the present TV Development Section of Panasonic in 2001.
Developed system software of HD STB for China market from 2003 to 2006.
Developed system and application software of DTV for EU/ASIA/LATIN maker from 2006 to 2012.
Develops application software of DTV for global market from 2012 to 2013.
<My> Home Screen’s Taste
I like to keep myself updated with the latest interesting news, so I put my favorite webpage bookmarks of news site on my Home Screen. Relaxing background makes me ease off anytime I see it.
Entered the present TV Development Section of Panasonic in 2002.
Develops graphics middleware software for TVs.
<My> Home Screen’s Taste
Because my children are big fan of TV animation, I put the bookmarks regarding their favorite programs on my Home Screen. You’ll see their picture in the bottom right corner. For myself, I like to put the news sites. It’s also useful that I can access my recorded contents from my Home Screen.
Entered the present TV Development Section of Panasonic in 2003.
Develops TV application software such as TV settings and facial recognition.
<My> Home Screen’s Taste
I put the image of my precious car on my Home Screen. Because the applications are very useful, I put many “Internet Apps” on my Home Screen. That really comes in handy.