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[Design help wanted] Plasma Media Center home screen design.

bshah
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Hello!

I am Bhushan Shah, GSoC 2014 student. My project during this summer is to integrate Plasma Media Center with Plasma Next as a shell package and porting to KF5 and Qt5/QtQuick2. During this task we want to redesign Plasma Media Center user interface and components which currently looks like this,

- Homescreen screenshot - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/files/PMC1.jpg (with breeze theme http://bhush9.github.io/images/mediawelcome.png )
- Browsing artists - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/fi ... Cover1.jpg
- Folder previews while browsing - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/fi ... eviews.jpg
- Playlist - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/fi ... aylist.jpg
- Video Playback - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/fi ... wIcons.jpg (with breeze theme http://bhush9.github.io/images/mediacenter-player.png )
- Viewing images - http://dot.kde.org/sites/dot.kde.org/fi ... nshot2.jpg ( with breeze theme http://bhush9.github.io/images/mediabrowser-photos.png )

Right now we want to start with Home screen and then step by step other components. If we can get some cool design ideas for it and later other components. It will be very cool.. :) Homescreen is starting point for the Plasma Media Center, it lists available backends for example,

- Flicker
- Picasa
- Youtube videos
- Browse music
- All music
- All videos

It also have options to Full screen toggle and exit from plasma media center.

Some questions :

- Should we allow users to change background? or provide options like Dark or light theme?
- Any new ideas for the homescreen workflow? The current state looks like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfBRUogXsz0
- Should we create a separate Plasma theme for PMC? Or should we just use Breeze-dark?
- Do you guys suggest creating specific icons for PMC (in PMC's sources as png/svg), or use current icon theme, or force some icon theme?

Thanks ;D
AGuiFr
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Too bad there is so little interest in Plasma Media Center, I think building a media center using Plasma is a really cool idea. Rather than giving ideas about the home screen that would be directly useful for your GSoc project, I would like to try to understand why there is so little interest for such a cool idea.

Reading the page about PMC on KDE community Wiki, it seems to me that the goals of PMC are not well defined. The use cases read to me like : "we want to be yet another media center, but built on Plasma because it is easy to build on". There is already a very nice and well supported free software media center : XBMC. What could be the added value of Plasma MC? What is it really trying to achieve? As a user, why would I want to use it over XBMC?

Krita faced the same problem. At start, they wanted to be a all-purpose image management software, but there was already the GIMP, with a bigger feature set and a bigger community. When they decided to focus on a specific area (digital painting), it was easier to make design choices, to define priorities in development, etc. In my opinion, PMC should head in the same direction. Identify an area where the existing offer is lacking and where Plasma can do better, even if it is not as feature rich, and concentrate on this goal.

There is also another question : what are you expecting from a media center in 2014? XBMC was designed more than 10 years ago, and it may not be as relevant today as it was in 2003. For instance, I think there are a lot of cool ideas to borrow from the Xbox One, where you can display a web page on the right of your screen while watching TV, or make a video call. I am fully aware that this would require a lot of development work, and that there is currently not enough people to work on it, but at the same time, Plasma is so powerful and already provides a lot of features that could be adapted. If anyone would want to include the same kind of features into a free software media center, I think using Plasma would be make a lot of sense.

So I think the VDG forum could be an opportunity to discuss about these questions. Once having a better idea about what PMC should be, it would be really easier to come up with nice new design ideas to reach this goal. Sorry for not answering your questions and for trying to discuss about the bigger picture, but I think there is a potential with PMC that is currently not fully exploited, and which explains why it doesn't get as much attention as it could.
shantanu
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From what I remember from the times when PMC was started, the goals were to just provide a set of components that make it possible for Plasma to handle multimedia. A couple of years of development made us realize that instead of that we needed a full blown Media Center experience. Since then, the goal has always been that we want to make it easy for people to consume multimedia on KDE. However, it is sad that this was never mentioned on the community wiki. It is mentioned now, though its by far not something we've yet formally brainstormed on. I am hoping some discussion might eventually lead to refinements over this.

The comparison with XBMC is quite important, I think we all understand that we are not targeting the huge number of features XBMC has. In fact, the only place where we can do better than XBMC is to offer better integration with the platform (with KDE, for example). A result of this is already visible - if you're running KDE, just installing and running PMC will give you access to your media, without any need to separately configure media sources. I think such are the things that we should try to achieve.

I personally loved the point that we should try being a 2014 media center, thats something that will help us give an edge on XBMC and the likes. If I think of it, thinking about a modern MC could mean - DLNA support, ability to work with Chromecast, easy to setup TV and probably some online services. While in the past we did not have enough manpower to implement such a list - with the recent addition of few members (like the OP), I am quite excited about the future.

That being said, I'd suggest we discuss general stuff about PMC in a dedicated forum thread so that we can be a bit organized.

Thanks for the input, btw :)
AGuiFr
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Thanks for your answer. I'm glad to contribute ideas. I wish I could contribute also code, but unfortunately, I don't have enough time currently to do so.

A better integration with other Plasma shells is already an information useful for improving the current design. It is not only a technical requirement, but also a design one. PMC should feel familiar to people already using Plasma Desktop or Plasma Active. So maybe use the same icons, use the same transparency and blur effects, etc.

Hopefully, if Steam machines succeed, there will soon be a lot of small boxes running Linux plugged to TV screens. It is a big opportunity for Media Centers. So in my opinion, you should focus on TV and aim at being an "environment for HTPC plugged to a TV screen". That doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed to use PMC on a laptop or desktop computer, just that the TV is the main focus. Focussing on TVs has very basic consequences :
You should be able to read everything written on a screen of [to be defined size] sitting [to be defined distance] far. Watching the screenshots and videos, it seems to me some labels would be very difficult to read on my TV screen (list of songs in the music library, labels of folders and pictures, etc.). At the same time, buttons are very big in the top bar, which feels inconsistent. You should define a minimum font size (in my opinion, the font size used in the home screen should be the minimum one).
Another requirement would be that it should be possible to do everything with a very basic remote control with only 7 buttons (4 directions, OK, Back, Menu). And you should also add game controller as a possible input method. This includes connecting to a remote server, and entering a URL only with these buttons. Thus there is a need of an on-screen keyboard. You can use the one from Plasma Active, or take inspiration of the one from Steam Big Picture, dedicated to gamepads.
But I am already drifting from the home screen design discussion. You really should open a more general forum thread about PMC, I have other ideas about it, which would require a broader discussion. This is more a discussion for actual PMC developers to which users like me could submit ideas, that's why I am not opening one myself.

Hope this is useful to you somehow. :)
User avatar alake
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Hi Bhushan.

Sorry for the lack of responses here. I'll be happy to help with the design on this. I have a few questions, the answers to which will help me understand the goals of PMC and how to put together a design for it.

1. How is Plasma Media Center intended to be used? Is this intended more as a living room experience or a desktop experience.
2. What control inputs should the design support? Just mouse and KB or also TV remotes?
3. Is this interface design strictly for media consumption? Is configuration meant to be managed separately?
4. Are you interested in a clean-slate visual design (including a potentially different visual layout approach) or just tweaks to the existing visuals in the current layouts.

I'll take a stab at putting a design together but the answers to the above question would be very helpful.
shantanu
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I'm replying with the answers I have, Bhushan please feel free to comment.

1. PMC is mainly intended to me used as a living room experience.
2. We make sure all operations are doable from a limited set of keyboard keys (arrow keys, esc, enter as of now) to which TV remotes would usually map to.
3. We haven't had a discussion on how to manage configuration, maybe we can have a separate settings screen.
4. We are ok for either clean-slate or tweaking, I'll want designers to take the call on that.

alake wrote:Hi Bhushan.

Sorry for the lack of responses here. I'll be happy to help with the design on this. I have a few questions, the answers to which will help me understand the goals of PMC and how to put together a design for it.

1. How is Plasma Media Center intended to be used? Is this intended more as a living room experience or a desktop experience.
2. What control inputs should the design support? Just mouse and KB or also TV remotes?
3. Is this interface design strictly for media consumption? Is configuration meant to be managed separately?
4. Are you interested in a clean-slate visual design (including a potentially different visual layout approach) or just tweaks to the existing visuals in the current layouts.

I'll take a stab at putting a design together but the answers to the above question would be very helpful.
bshah
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I will like to add in point 1 that in future we might have seperate user interface for living room and desktop..
User avatar alake
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Fantastic! Thanks for responding so quickly!

Ok, I'm going to take a stab at a design. I think I have a good understanding of the command structure and content structure so it shouldn't take too long to put something together.

Thanks again for your patience!
User avatar alake
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OK, here's a first stab at the design for a few screens.



The list selection on the left could show your backends at the top level or you could show you them in the their respective category one layer down. The former is probably more direct though.

Here's a stab at some music screens:




Missing are still the video and picture screens and any special designs you may want for certain back ends. Of course, if this is not at all what you were looking for just holler. We can figure it out together. :-)
joaob
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alake wrote:OK, here's a first stab at the design for a few screens.




If PMC is to have a Home section like this it should a "recently added" section, not sure if this is possible or even implemented at code level but it was just a thought I had. It would give the user easy access to recently added media right from the home screen.
AGuiFr
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Very nice mockups Andrew ! I like how you focus more on the content in the home screen than on the categories. I second joaob that recently added content should be also easily accessible. Recently watched videos should only be highlighted if the video was not completed.

Two comments :
  • I cannot differentiate which is the focused element from the activated ones. For instance, in the music mockup, which is the focused element ? The song "Maria Pitache" or the element "Music" in the left panel ?
  • Do you intend to leave the left panel visible at any time or would it slide from the left when you want to change category ? When using a remote control, I think it would make more sense to use the "back" or "menu" button to focus an element of this menu, rather than going left until the focussed element is in the menu, and then go up or down to select another category. If this behaviour is chosen, then it would be awkward to have it displayed all the time but having to press "back" to be able to give it focus.

For me, when you start PMC, the home screen should be displayed with the menu opened on the left and focus on the "Home" category. You could go down to select another category. If you want to select a content in the home screen, you can either press "OK" or "right", and the menu would hide. You would have to press "back" or "menu" to display it again.
User avatar alake
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joaob wrote:If PMC is to have a Home section like this it should a "recently added" section, not sure if this is possible or even implemented at code level but it was just a thought I had. It would give the user easy access to recently added media right from the home screen.


Seems like a pretty reasonable idea joaob. Thanks! :-)
User avatar alake
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AGuiFr wrote:
  • I cannot differentiate which is the focused element from the activated ones. For instance, in the music mockup, which is the focused element ? The song "Maria Pitache" or the element "Music" in the left panel ?


Good catch AGuiFr, thanks! Some visual distinction between selection and focus should take care of that. Will be fixed.

  • Do you intend to leave the left panel visible at any time or would it slide from the left when you want to change category ? When using a remote control, I think it would make more sense to use the "back" or "menu" button to focus an element of this menu, rather than going left until the focussed element is in the menu, and then go up or down to select another category. If this behaviour is chosen, then it would be awkward to have it displayed all the time but having to press "back" to be able to give it focus.


Actually while working through the mockups I tried several approaches: hidden, collapsed and visible. After some consideration, with the real-estate available, I erred on the side of maintaining maximum user awareness of the top levels of content structure and location within it, as well as to avoid shifting the layouts around too much during use. That's not to say hiding the left panel is a bad thing. I actually think you make some reasonable arguments for why a back button approach can also be successful. For the moment though, I'd like to explore leaving the left panel visible at least while browsing. I do remain open to the idea of collapsing or hiding it in some way though.

Thanks for the high quality feedback AGuiFr. Much appreciated. WIth great feedback like this I'm confident we'll get this design the best it can be for the awesome PMC devs. :-)
shantanu
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Wow, that was quick :) Here are my quick notes-
* A recently added section is supported by the data model we have, its just a 5 minute task
* We do not recently watched data, but I guess that also is couple of days' work

* "Recently watched videos should only be highlighted if the video was not completed" . I thought the highlight should be depending on what is currently in focus?

* About the left panel hiding, maybe we can do what Blackberry folks do on Z10, just hide the text and only show icons. Sounds good?

Again, thanks for everyone for the help, greatly appreciated. Eagerly waiting for alake to come up with selection vs focus ideas.

\o/
AGuiFr
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Two additional comments :
  • PMC supports playing a media while browsing the library (either music or video). The left panel could be used to display the name of the media being played, as well as a way to quickly go back to the player to be able to pause, forward or so.
  • As discussed above, one of the goals of PMC is to integrate well with other Plasma shells. I think this should also translate into the design. Maybe you could consider using some concepts from Plasma Active, like column-based navigation or drawers for settings. It would increase the feeling that PMC is part of the "Plasma family".

 
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