Nokia Mediamaster review

I've been an owner of a digital television (DVB-C) box for a while now. My chosen model was the Nokia Mediamaster 260C, which I bought as soon as it got out.

While the idea of a 80 GB hard drive recorder is good, the Navibar UI looks cool, and the box looks nice, that's pretty much the extent of the good things about it. Let me explain:

First of all, this is an expensive box, considering that it only has a single tuner (making it impossible to tape one channel, and watch another). And the fact that it is cable only tends to hamper its moveability (you have to buy a new one if you move to a place with only terrestrial or satellite digital tv). It's really only for first adopters. Also, for an expensive box the construction is rather shabby - the power button on the device itself feels as if it was breaking off. And the remote feels wrong - some of the buttons (like the "opt", which is used for getting a pop-up menu) are located in inconvenient positions for frequent usage. The navigation key doesn't really work, either (my words are failing: what's "tunnoton" in English?) And the fan is LOUD.

A far bigger problem is the unstability. If I leave the box on for a weekend, it has almost certainly crashed when I get back. And you can't download firmware updates, because my cable company does not officially support this box. And the Nokia support site is not helpful either, because you are supposed to download the updates over the digital tv network.

Those I could still live with, being an early adopter and all - you know, first generation problems and so forth.

But what really kills the whole thing for me is the usability. You know, sometimes you just notice that usability studies were done with engineers, and "regular people" have problems with the UI. But this one - I am an engineer, and I have *serious* problems with it. So it makes me wonder, was this thing tested at all before market?

First of all - you cannot go through the program guide and say "record this program". Nope. You just have to scribble the date, time and channel down, and then return back to the top level and go to the programming menu. This box does not support the "SI" data (which allows the program to be recorded even if it was late or changed slots), but then again, neither do the cable channels in Finland (I think). So the UI resembles an old VCR in that sense. You even have to add an extra ten minutes or so, so that you get the whole program.

This, of course, makes the entire "record this program weekly" -feature near-useless. At least in Finland, programs keep shifting schedules weekly (by five-ten minutes), so it is almost impossible to record a particular program correctly for more than a month. And in most cases, the programs I want to record are in the middle of the night, which slot is particularly subject to programming changes. This is, of course, mostly a problem with the networks. But hey, they don't want me to watch the programs, fine.

I have so many usability gripes with this machine (like the fact that the EPG is damn unusable, or that the menus - aside from the Navibar - look so horribly, horribly crappy, as if the designer had only a Commodore-64 - or that the playback stops if you use the menus, and you have to go back to the taped program listing and select the program again if you want to resume watching, so I will concentrate on the two major fuck-ups.

The Timer menu does not show the week day. It does not show it while you're programming, or while you're viewing. This makes it a hard cognitive task to figure out which program is which. Let's say that you want to tape a program next Wednesday (because programs tend to repeat on a weekly basis): You actually have to find out today's date, and then figure out which day is next Wednesday before you can enter it into the timer menu. This is NOT easy to do every single time you record something (I'm an engineer - I'm supposed to be good with numbers. I find this difficult. YMMV.) Especially since the machine is unable to tell you the current date (or time) in any useful manner.

But the super-major-cluster-fuck-up is the "Back" key. One would imagine that when you have a "back" key, and an "ok" key, they would be roughly equivalent of "cancel" and "ok". Five minutes ago, I was going to remove a timer setting from the timer menu. I press "opt", and I get two options "remove", and "remove all". First of all - I don't get why the "remove all" is on that menu - it's too easy to select by accident due to the fact that the "ok" key is right next to the cursor keys. Which I did.

Oops, the TV now shows a "Information - all scheduled recordings will be removed (Ok, Opt, Back)". So, I hit "back", and the machine dutifully removes all of my 8 scheduled recordings.

WHAT THE MOTHER OF ALL IDIOTS?!?

Why is there not a "are you sure you want to remove every single thing you just used an hour of your life to hunt down from the newspaper and painstakingly type it in this dumb box" -confirmation dialog? Especially since you just cannot go through the EPG and say "record this". Especially since it is so easy to accidentally delete all recordings. This is one of those mistakes you easily catch if you do proper usability studies. This is one of those mistakes any designer with half a brain could've told you about in a heuristic evaluation. This is one of those mistakes that makes the box an object of hate more than an object you can't live without and recommend to your friends. This is a classical example why usability matters.

I just simply cannot recommend the Nokia Mediamaster 260 C to anyone. Don't buy it. I'll be getting rid of it myself. If I can still sell it after this rant.

Update: The story does not end here. Check out The Crash.




Comments

Thanks for informing. I had considerd buying that box, but after reading your rant, I think I'll pass.

--Julius, 18-Sep-2004


Gee Janne, it's not like you to hold back your opinion, what do you really think of it? ;-)

I have the Toshiba with the 80Gb of disk and I still love it after 7 months. My only regret is not getting one earlier.

--Foster, 19-Sep-2004


I have a first generation British Tivo (4 or 5 years old) and just got a Nokia Mediamaser 260 S. Did the people who made this thing never use a Tivo? So intuitive. I honestly thing my Mom should have a TV to make watching TV eaiser. You need a degree in computer the the UI of the Mediamaster. Your blog is so right on this clumsy UI design.

OK, it is ugly but really the loud fan is the pits. I have popped the top off and disconnected the fan and have left the top propped open at the back. Honestly, it might overheat but I'd sooner it fried than list to the noise.

Lovely rant!

--Terry, 24-Oct-2004


I wonder if I could change the fan - there are some quiet PC fans as well... Was it just a standard part?

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Oct-2004


I have two 260C's and I've been running these boxes with the fan disconnected for years now with no problems. I have also tried to change the hard drive to a 250Gb. This hard drive worked but the recording capability didn't increase. Does anybody know any tricks to get it to work?

--Perty, 28-Dec-2007


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