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Appliance Studio reverts to drawing board in the development of its groundbreaking SurePlay DVDR

14 April 2003 - The Appliance Studio, a UK-based innovation firm, today released details of a new generation of DVD recorder (DVDR). The SurePlay prototype is the first to be developed from scratch without the design baggage of the DVD or VCR.

SurePlay has been developed with ordinary people in mind and is based on the best attributes of everyday electrical appliance design. In developing the new DVDR design Appliance Studio has stripped out all the complex and little used DVDR features and focussed on the core design challenge of how users interact with the machine.

The Appliance Studio is now seeking OEM partners in the digital consumer electronics sector to bring the innovation in SurePlay to the market.

The Appliance Studio has introduced two key innovations to address usability issues which it identified in existing DVDRs: the TimeWheel to overcome laborious programming menus and the Disc Library to address the problem of finding a recording when you want to play it back.

TimeWheel is a single control on the remote control that makes setting the DVDR to record quick and easy. A small wheel is used to direct a cursor on screen and highlight a TV channel, day, start time and recording period on a familiar table.

Disc Library keeps track of what’s on every disk in an individual’s collection enabling the contents of up to 100 disks to be reviewed at anyone time.

SurePlay also has a much-simplified remote control incorporating the TimeWheel, and a simple display on the front of the machine that shows the status of the DVDR when it is in use, or the time for when it is on standby.

The Appliance Studio's belief is that in developing DVD players, and subsequently recordable DVD players, consumer electronics manufacturers have bolted on the basic controls from a video cassette recorder (VCR) and added some additional buttons with little thought to usability. SurePlay represents a different approach that could be offered to consumers for the same price.

“Most people would rather paint the Forth Bridge in a rainstorm than be forced to learn how to work their VCRs or DVDs,” said Simon Lewis, Technical Director, Appliance Studio and leader of the DVDR redesign project.

“Manufacturers have used the VCR as a blueprint for the design of DVDR players. Programming the latest DVD recorder to capture a TV programme is hardly any different from programming the first VCR machines in the early 80s,” added Lewis.

The Appliance Studio used a process called heuristic evaluation using a mixed discipline team of social scientists, technologists and product designers to measure and rate the performance of the DVDR interface from a usability perspective. It identified 10 primary issues that were tackled in the development of the SurePlay DVDR.

1. Poor Navigation: functions are spread around a number of menus and buttons, creating confusion for the user

2. Inconsistency of function: basic DVDR functions such as play are given equal prominence on the remote control and throughout the user menus as more complex tasks such as edit

3. Poor visual design: there is no attempt to interrelate the various onscreen menus and functions visually in terms of format or style.

4. Sub-optimal language: some of the vocabulary used by the DVDR is defined by the DVD format, but in other cases the terms are simply poorly chosen and error messages are often harsh and overly dramatic

5. Feedback: the DVDR can appear to lock up when in fact its busy, but there is no clear feedback

6. Function overload: the DVDR controls are trying to offer more things than an ordinary user can cope with

7. Buttons with everything: the remote control is stacked with buttons with little correlation between size, colour, placement and function, and little relation to on-screen menus

8. Dead ends: its possible to get into a number of dead ends when navigating the menu structure with no apparent way of escape, short of completing the chosen action

9. Front panel failure: the front panel of a DVDR apes a VCR in terms of buttons and display. Critical information is often buried amongst tiny icons on the display and the buttons are designed for visual appeal, rather than usability

10. Recording hell: the function to program a future recording, arguably one of primary applications of the DVDR, is buried deep on remote control. A similar button is also contained on the DVD panel and cited below the DVD tray, where you’d expect the eject button.

Simon Lewis, Technical Director, Appliance Studio, who led the DVDR redesign project has developed a white paper entitled “Reinventing DVDR” evaluating current DVDR designs and discussing the development and design of the Appliance Studio SuperPlay DVDR. More details are available at

Photos of the Appliance Studio SurePlay can be downloaded from:

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About The Appliance Studio

The Appliance Studio is a Bristol based company that provides innovation, technology, and design services for customer facing companies. It combines in-depth understanding of user behaviour with state-of-the-art technology know-how to enable its clients to explore, define and implement new solutions.

With world class expertise in pervasive computing and communications The Appliance Studio is pioneering the emerging field of information appliances. It works in strategic partnership with clients to create business and product strategies for everyday information technology products, whatever they might be.

Its 20-strong team comprises experts in sociology, psychology, software and hardware engineering, design, and business.

The Appliance Studio was awarded a coveted US Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), sponsored by Business Week in 2002, for its work in developing of Steelcase’s RoomWizard product.

For further details, check:

Alia Ilyas/Laura Sykes
Rainier PR
+44 (0) 20 7494 6570

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