YouTube tries for the TV again with Leanback

If online video on big-screen devices like HDTVs is ever going to take off, it's going to need a specialized user interface. YouTube's latest attempt is called Leanback.

YouTube Leanback hopes to make it easier to watch YouTube videos--like Google's Chrome browser demonstrations--on large-screen TVs and monitors.
YouTube Leanback hopes to make it easier to watch YouTube videos--like Google's Chrome browser demonstrations--on large-screen TVs and monitors. YouTube

SAN BRUNO, Calif.--YouTube is ready to take the wraps off its latest vision for how online videos can be enjoyed on larger screens.

YouTube Leanback is the newest name for an idea that has been circulating inside the company for some time, YouTube engineers and product managers said in briefings Wednesday. It's a problem the tech industry has been working on for a long time: the need to provide a unique user interface for the so-called "10-foot experience," otherwise known as watching TV while on the couch.

That means no mouse and dead-simple keystrokes are required for navigation, and YouTube thinks that a new design is a "breakthrough" in this type of user interface, said Kuan Yong, product manager for YouTube Leanback. The company is hopeful that features such as this one can help it increase the amount of time viewers spend on its site: the average user spends just 15 minutes on YouTube but 5 hours watching TV in a given day.

Watch the video below to best understand how YouTube Leanback works, but it resembles YouTube's previous attempt at solving this problem-- YouTube XL --if you imagined YouTube XL flipped on its side.

Users can enter YouTube Leanback by pressing a button, at which point the video takes over the full screen. Additional related videos--set by one's YouTube preferences or videos liked by friends--can be viewed in a stream of thumbnails crawling across the bottom of the screen while the video plays, and searches for new videos can be conducted at the top of the screen. All navigation commands are based around the arrow keys and the enter key, said Julian Frumar, user interface designer for YouTube Leanback.

This project is still in beta, but it can be accessed from YouTube's skunkworks side, TestTube. Somewhat interestingly, iPad users won't be among the early testers, as YouTube decided to build Leanback in Flash , Yong confirmed.

However, the idea is to make sure that Leanback works as a general concept before taking it to other platforms, Yong said. Given Google and YouTube's commitment to the HTML5 standards process , an HTML5-version of Leanback seems to be a forgone conclusion.

About the author

    Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.

     

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