Too much effort to actually decide on a YouTube video to watch and click on it? YouTube has the solution???the new Leanback feature, announced Wednesday evening.
Leanback makes YouTube more like watching TV???the thing we Americans do best! Just head to the Leanback site, and you won’t be pestered by choices like choosing among “featured,” “popular,” and “watched now” videos. Instead, you’ll just get a full screen of just videos, based on your preferences, subscriptions, and Facebook contacts (if you’ve connected Facebook to your YouTube account). Supposedly this is a “test tube” prototype, but there’s no indication of such.
According to a YouTube blog post on Wednesday evening, “YouTube Leanback is all about letting you sit back, relax and be entertained. Videos tailored to your interests play as soon as you visit the site and they play in full screen and high definition, continuously.” Of course, that last depends on whether the selected video was uploaded in HD. In my case, that was far from being true for majority of the videos I watched with Leanback.
The abruptness of Leanback strikes you as soon as it loads: A full-window video started playing, and at first I had no idea where it came from. And you’re at the mercy of the site’s algorithms, so your first video might not be a killer choice. Since I’m a tech journalist, for example, my contacts sometimes upload odd test videos that aren’t the most entertaining. Luckily, a click of the mouse button anywhere on the screen explains how to control the service. Well, actually it just says to try hitting the arrow keys on your keyboard.
The Up Arrow pops up a search box at the top of the screen. I typed, “bird,” and in addition to the expected Attenborough clips, I was offered a clip from the Family Guy “Bird is the Word” episode. Hitting the Down Arrow brought up VCR-type controls that let me pause, fast forward/reverse, and skip to the next or previous video. It also showed the clip’s duration and how far along my playback was.
Each of these requires navigating to the button you want and then hitting the Enter key. Even the YouTube logo at the end of the control set, which lets you open the current video on the standard YouTube video page, requires the Arrow/Enter sequence. Luckily, the Spacebar key also functions as pause and play, as with nearly every other video-playing software.
Hit the Down Arrow key a second time, and you get a thumbnail stream of videos in your queue. You can skip back and forward to these with the Right and Left arrow keys, but you can’t click on one with the mouse button. The site is really keyboard-centric, giving the mouse the shortest of shrift. Below the thumbnailed playlist are category choices. In my case, the first option here was my “bird” search, followed by “Your Feed”???the stuff from my social contacts, then the typical YouTube categories???”Autos,” “Comedy,” “Education,” “Entertainment,” and so on. A third Down arrow click lets you select one of these.
One major omission in YouTube Leanback’s controls is that there is no way to adjust the sound volume. And trust me, YouTube videos vary plenty in volume level. You’ll have to use your systems or speaker volume controls, which really defeats the purpose of Leanback.
Leanback is a sort of Pandora for video with social input. For all this to work on a big TV, you’ll need a wireless keyboard you can type on from your couch. Some kind of mouse control would be nice, too; I’ve watched Hulu that way successfully. And they’ve got to get some volume control in there. But for lazies who don’t want to be bothered with the arduous burden of having to choose which video to watch and then click the “full screen” button, Leanback might be a welcome option.