Nokia Big Screen - HDMI-out optimised media viewer

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Nokia Big Screen, available through Nokia Beta Labs, provides a UI optimised for viewing media via HDMI-out, effectively turning devices like the Nokia N8 and E7 into portable media centres. Nokia Big Screen can be used to view photos and video and listen to music. Additional features include support for video subtitles and audio lyrics (karaoke style). For the best user experience, Nokia Big Screen can be used in conjunction with a Bluetooth remote control device (any HID device), such as Nintendo's Wiimote. 

Here are the key features of Nokia Big Screen, as described by Nokia Beta Labs:

  • Show your photos and videos in high definition on your TV screen
  • Listen to music from your phone on your home audio system
  • View song lyrics in karaoke style and watch videos with subtitles
  • Play music on the background while you browse your photos
  • Enjoy a photo slideshow with music of your choice (change the direction with left/right arrow keys)
  • Screen saver activates after a minute's idle time to protect your TV
  • Use your phone as an entertainment hub you can take everywhere with you

The key feature of Nokia Big Screen is the provision of a UI optimised for use on big screens. Many existing Nokia devices have TV-out or HDMI-out functionality, but in general they simply replicate the phone's screen to the big screen (TV) and, in most instances, up-scale the resolution of the standard UI, which results in an blocky graphics. By contrast, Nokia Big Screen provides a UI, similar to a dedicated media centre, that is optimised for viewing and browsing on the big screen and is fully HD throughout (720p). It thereby offers a far superior user experience to standard HDMI-out / TV-out mode.

Here's the Beta Labs video explaining Nokia Big Screen:


Bluetooth remote control, lyrics and subtitles

When using Nokia Big Screen, a navigation pad (up, down, left, right, OK, and back) is shown on the N8's screen. This works well, and is a significant improvement over using the standard UI. However, both the length of your HDMI cable and the inherent limitations of the physical size of the device and touchscreens, are likely to provide some restrictions for media viewing from the sofa. Both of these obstacles can be overcome by using a Bluetooth HID device as a remote control. Nokia Big Screen has been tested with a Nintendo Wiimote and various Bluetooth keyboards, but other devices should also work. During my testing, I found the Wiimote particularly seems well suited to lazy couch viewing.

In addition to the core media viewing functionality, Nokia Big Screen has a number of additional features. Lyrics support for music files has the potential to liven up any party with some karaoke antics. Lyrics can be drawn from either an embedded IDv3 tag or a separate .lrc file. Nokia Big Screen can, optionally, show subtitles during video playback (via .srt or .sub files), and also supports video posters (a way of showing film posters as a video's thumbnail). 

More information on both of these areas is available on Nokia Beta Labs.

Using external screens

Nokia Big Screen is started automatically when you plug in an HDMI cable. This means a big screen optimised UI automatically appears without any user intervention. In other words, the device automatically recognises the context in which it is running and changes the UI to optimise the user experience. A similar approach is being taken with Nokia's Terminal mode. However, in the case of Terminal Mode, the UI is optimised for in-vehicle usage, rather than the big screen.

This intelligent use of external screens is something we have long anticipated at All About Symbian. It allows manufacturers (and users) to get round the inherent physical limitations of mobile devices. The use of external displays and controls is likely to become much more common in the next few years and will be part of a move towards more intelligent integration of devices (e.g. think of the number of consumer electronic devices in the home or office and how they could take advantage of each others' capabilities). 

Beta Labs and supported devices

As with all Beta Labs applications, Nokia is looking for feedback. Notably, some users have noticed screen flickering with certain TV models and Nokia are keen to hear about such cases.

Nokia Big Screen requires HDMI-out functionality, which means it currently supports the Nokia N8 and Nokia E7.  Nokia Beta Labs categories Nokia Big Screen as being 'likely to graduate to a commercial product'. It seems probable that Nokia Big Screen will ship built in on future HDMI-enabled devices. 

Rafe Blandford, All About Symbian, 5 Jan 2011