TV Out on the Nokia N95 - Part 6: The problems with TV Out, and how they could be solved

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To conclude AAS's series on using the Nokia N95's TV Out feature, we take a look back at the kinds of problems we encountered, and how TV Out needs to be improved in order to address these issues.
TV Out on the Nokia N95
 Part 1: Will the smartphone eat the PC? & How to connect N95 TV Out to a TV
 Part 2: The N95 as a games console
 Part 3: Word Processing, Spreadsheets and PowerPoint on the Big Screen
 Part 4: What retro computers have become?
 Part 5: Communicating through your TV set
 Part 6: The problems with TV Out, and how they could be solved


TV Out on the Nokia N95 - Part 6: The problems with TV Out, and how they could be solved

Over the past five articles, we've taken a look at various specific applications for the TV Out function of the N95. While using these apps, it became clear that certain things worked well while others worked badly, and to finish off this series we're going to sum up what needs to be fixed.

Improvements that TV Out needs

1. Higher resolution output

Increasing the resolution of the TV Out from QVGA to VGA would do wonders for the ability to use software on television screens. TV Out on the N95 can already output VGA during video playback from the camcorder, so there's clearly scope for other software to do this as well. If High Definition Televisions (HDTVs) become the new standard, outputs at even higher resolutions would potentially allow applications through TV Out to look virtually identical to PC applications.

2. A pointing device

If you're going to use applications on a big screen, it would be a huge improvement if the phone was compatible with some kind of pointing device such as a mouse, or Wii-style 3D pointer, or even just a touchscreen built into the phone itself. As one of AAS's readers pointed out, the phone itself can act as a mouse if you install the right software, because a phone camera is pretty much the same hardware as an optical mouse. There's already an S60 application which allows S60 cameraphones to act as PC mice, so why not make an app that allows such phones to act as their own mice?


System Rush Evolution through TV Out

3. A Bluetooth joypad

AAS mockup of bluetooth joypad Gaming through TV Out works brilliantly, and titles with high quality graphics such as System Rush Evolution (above) look closer to something you might see on a PS2 rather than a phone. Retro gaming also works really well as the QVGA output is more than enough to display most 1980s computer and console systems at full resolution. However, controlling games with a Bluetooth keyboard isn't always satisfactory, and it would be wonderful if there was some kind of Bluetooth joypad available instead. It wouldn't be difficult to do, from a technical point of view it would just be a repackaged Bluetooth keyboard. There is an unofficial Bluetooth joypad already out there, but it's not exactly high quality and it hasn't got enough buttons to be compatible with all S60 games. Ideally there should be a Bluetooth joypad with a full keypad as well as gaming-oriented direction pad, something like an original N-Gage or QD with the screen removed (see our inlaid QD-inspired mockup on the right).

Agile Messenger through TV Out 4. Developers should be encouraged to test their apps on TV Out, and to include TV Out modes

From a technical standpoint, virtually all the applications worked fine on TV Out. Their appearance on the television screen was exactly like their appearance on the phone screen, but bigger. One application had a flickering problem in one particular mode, but it worked fine the rest of the time so there's presumably some rare flicker bug which could have been removed through testing the software in TV Out mode.

From an interface standpoint however, there were some common problems with much of the software.

Perhaps most annoying, and easiest to fix, was the positioning of the blue soft key options. Because the N95 has its soft keys on the right of the screen in horizontal mode, the soft key options would also appear on the right of the television screen when in horizontal mode. However, the soft keys on the Bluetooth keyboard are side by side, just like on a phone in vertical mode, so you have to think a bit before realising that the keyboard's left soft key is the television screen's bottom option, and the right key is the top option.

ProfiMail with smallest font size selected Another interface problem was the lack of small fonts in text-based apps. Small fonts which would be impossible to read on a phone screen are very easy to read on a television screen, and they allow large amounts of text to be viewed at once, just like on a PC. Small fonts are ideal for using word processors or email applications through TV Out, yet small fonts are surprisingly hard to find. The built-in S60 messaging application which handles SMS text messages and emails can't use small fonts, whereas the third party application ProfiMail allows the user to use any size of font. As a result, ProfiMail was far more pleasant to use through TV Out.

A more subtle problem was to be found in the Instant Messenger program Agile Messenger, which allowed small fonts but only displayed them next to large icons, which prevented the user seeing more than four or five lines of text at once.

It's clear that application developers should be encouraged to not only test their apps through TV Out, but also develop special modes for use with TV Out where the font sizes are smaller, soft key options are always at the bottom, and perhaps (if this is possible) the application would output at a higher resolution than the phone screen.

5. An option to switch the phone screen off

The most minor problem but still significant: the N95's screen stayed on at full brightness despite the phone being connected to a TV screen, wasting a lot of battery life. It's understandable that some people would want both screens to be lit (for example if an audience is viewing the TV but the person controlling the phone is viewing the phone screen) but there ought to be an option in the TV Out settings which automatically switches off the phone backlight when it's connected to a television.

Mobile Phone TV Out: What computers will become?

TV Out on phones is still very rare, as is the computing power of a smartphone. The vast majority of phone sales are of very basic models which cost US$100 or less. However, the feature set of a budget phone has become more and more advanced every year. Sub-$100 phones now mostly have colour screens, MP3 ringtones, speakerphones, internet connections and primitive web browsers, features that were once the preserve of luxury phones which cost hundreds. It seems likely that in ten years time even the cheapest phones will be more advanced and feature packed than the N95, in which case anyone with a TV and budget phone would have something that could function as a PC. While this would be technologically way behind the power of a current or future desktop PC, most people may not need that power.

One of the tragedies of modern desktop computing is how inefficient it is. Most PC users buy computers that are far, far in excess of what they actually need, with most of their money going to waste on technology they never need or use. Typing a letter or viewing a website or ripping a CD could be done on PC hardware from five or more years ago. Despite its slower processor and smaller amount of RAM, a current smartphone has more than enough computing power to do most of the things that ordinary people use a PC for.

Even without computing functions, televisions and phones are already far more popular purchases than PCs. If a TV and phone can also work as a PC, the separate PC itself may end up becoming a niche item purchased mainly by technophiles, hardcore gamers and industry professionals.

Thanks to TV Out on smartphones, the PC as a mainstream consumer product may become extinct. At the same time access to computing and the internet may hugely increase, because mobile phones and mobile phone networks are reaching people and communities in the poorest parts of the world which computers and broadband lines have never touched.


Krisse, AllAboutSymbian, 23rd August 2007


Word processing through TV Out