Computer Wizardry, Esoteric Spirituality, and Mind-altering Substances
I am one of the lucky Astro subscriber that were able to get the new Astro Max decoder for free, if I subscribe for another decoder, another Astro smart card that is, but the device itself is free.
The device will cost you RM599 as an additional, there is a RM50 discount if you purchase it online via Astro’s site, astro.com.my. RM938 for new subscribers and RM849 if you are upgrading from your old decoder. Clearly Astro wants you to add a second account for Astro with Astro Max.
Astro is a subscription-based direct broadcast satellite service in Malaysian which currently is where I get all my TV channels from. Astro Max is their new receiver/decoder device. Unlike the previous Astro decoder, Astro Max is a digital video recorder as well.
The new decoder has an 80GB hard disk drive that could store up to 60 hours of programme. Two tuners, so you could watch a channel while record a different channel. It creates a 30 minute buffer which actually enables you to pause or rewind for instant replay or slow-motion replays.
It however could not fast forward a live broadcast. You could not fast forward to the end of a football match to see the final scores before everybody else. The time-travel via satellite technology is not ready yet.
Astro Max has something which they call as ‘the Planner’ where you could scheduled your recordings. You decide what to watch and when to watch. Pretty much similar to a popular product in the US known as Tivo.
The technical details sound fascinating and it is a cool device for your Astro. The let down however is it’s interface. The on screen interface, the controls and basically the whole user experience is horrible, at least to my standard.
There is nothing wrong with the aesthetics, I understand that looks can be very subjective. The problem is with the interface and interaction with the software and the device. The menu placement is everywhere, you have to drill down to get something done. I lost count on how many clicks it takes now to change the language on the channel I’m watching.
The integrated programme guide looks awful but yet still barely usable.
The control itself is ridiculously long, and this is my first time using a control that has two directional keypad. Why would you design such interface that needs two different directional keypad? I’ve to admit that it does took me some time to get used to the two different directional keypad and the overall controls.
Apparently, the white directional keypad is for you to move around to certain section of the menu while the grey directional keypad is for you to scroll within the selected section. Things do get pretty confusing.
Astro (if they were the one responsible for the design of Astro Max) please take a look at Apple TV and how there are way much less buttons on its remote. If you don’t already have a designer on board please get one. Yes I know both Astro Max and the Apple TV are two different thing.
Aside from the bad user interface design, Astro Max is really fun device to have if your are an Astro subscriber. As now I could pause broadcast, rewind what I missed and even record shows that I don’t have the time to watch.
While Astro Max is a great device to have in companion with your Astro subscription, but for a device in this current century it could be better.
Here are some of my suggestions for the upcoming 2nd generation of Astro Max, which I hope there better be one, and that they are really working hard on the next generation. You don’t seriously think that this current model is the bomb.
So here, if I were to design the next Astro Max: -
1) Better menu interface and controls - The whole user interaction the design and the flow needs another look. It really isn’t an elegant device to use and interact with.
2) Better output connecters - Right now what I see at the back for the output are, one composite video RCA connectors (the yellow connector) and a S-video output. Why not include better output such as component video connector (on most new DVD players) or HDMI for digital video, this way the decoder is High-def ready. This way I would have a reason to buy the latest Sony high-def TV sets. Then again the quality of the Astro broadcast itself should be up to that standard.
3) Able to stream contents from your computer Mac/PC - It would be awesome if this could happen. Astro will totally take over the living room. Make it possible to stream contents form your computer, Mac and PC to the decoder for display on the TV. Photo slide show, music and even video.
4) Smart recording - It would be great if it is possible to just specified the show to be record and the software in the decoder will search for the channel and the time slot the show is on. It then will record whenever possible. If it misses a time slot it will wait for the repeat. If the show is a series, then it will schedule to record every episode whenever possible. Right now I only could specify the time slot of which episode I want to record and on the next day I’ll need to set it back again for the next episode.
These are only a few of options to make the decoder better I have other ideas of making Astro Max better which I’ll post later. I do hope some of them is currently in the pipeline for the next Astro Max.
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