WebTV Development Checklist

July 26, 1999

The WebTV Development Checklist will help you build Web pages for the WebTV system. Use the checklist as a way to make sure your site functions well on WebTV, or to build a site that appeals specifically to the WebTV audience.

Test your pages with the WebTV Viewer

The WebTV Viewer is a free program for your PC or Macintosh that enables you browse the Web in much the same way as a WebTV user. The WebTV Viewer reproduces layout changes caused by the way WebTV displays your pages, such as narrowing of graphics and tables to the WebTV screen width of 544 pixels. However, the WebTV Viewer doesn?t reproduce the blurring effect of a TV screen, or its treatment of color. Use the WebTV Viewer to check your Web site for layout problems and to preview your Web pages under development. You can read all about the WebTV Viewer or download it for free.

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Make content displayable within 544 horizontal pixels

All WebTV-based systems in North America and Japan (both use the NTSC television standard) display Web pages in a fixed 544 x 372 screen space. Pages may scroll vertically, but not horizontally. Pages that are wider than 544 pixels will be scaled to fit that width. For more details on screen size, read What is the Resolution of a Television Screen?

Knowing these size boundaries gives you near-total control over where elements will appear on the page. While users have no trouble scrolling through a long page, you may want to try to make short pages fit the 372 pixel boundary. It can be frustrating to scroll down to find only an extra sentence or two for your trouble.

If you want every last pixel of screen space for your site, you can eliminate the small buffer the WebTV browser places around all pages by default. You can achieve a total screen size of 560 x 384 pixels by including the attributes hspace=0 and vspace=0 in the <body> tag. However, be very careful that you don't place any links by the edges of your page, as the WebTV browser selection box will only be able to surround the link on three sides. Although this will not harm the functionality of your pages, it will certainly harm their appearance.

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Avoid small text in graphics

Traditional television technology is over 100 years old, and can show its age when used to display Web pages. The display of a television screen is simply not as crisp as computer monitors. This will not make much difference when displaying ASCII text or images, but can be crucial when displaying navigational buttons on a Web page.

As a crude rule of thumb, try to keep graphical text over 16 points in size to ensure legibility on a television screen. Legibility is also enhanced by bold text and high contrast between text and background color. Be sure to test your pages on a real WebTV system, and, to really cover all of your bases, use mouseovers on crucial navigational elements.

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Use supported code and file formats

The most important part of designing any page is ensuring that your users will actually be able to read and use the content on your site. Check out Does WebTV Support ... for specifics on supported image and audio types, as well as our Authoring page for specifics on HTML, JavaScript, and more. WebTV users do not have any way to download and read Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat files, so try to make your content viewable in a supported Web format instead.

If you're designing pages specifically for WebTV browsers, you will want to learn WebTV-specific code that can enhance your pages. Our HTML Reference Guide contains a list of WebTV-specific HTML tags and attributes. You can, for instance, use gradient colors in tables to create stunning backgrounds for your pages. Or, experiment with the "transparency" attribute of the image tag to alter the appearance of your images right on the Web page. With a few minutes of experimenting, you'll find you can easily create pages that look great in the WebTV browser.

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Keep page titles short and descriptive

The title for your page that you enter in the <title> tags of your document is some of the most important text that you will write on your site - construct page titles carefully. Your page's title will be visible in many different parts of the WebTV browser interface, and the number of characters shown will depend on context. The numbers below are approximate, since the WebTV browser uses a proportional font:

  • 12 characters of a page's title are visible in the recent panel.
  • 20 characters of a page's title are visible in the contacting publisher panel (shown when the browser is going to a new page).
  • 25 characters of a page's title are visible from the favorites screen.
  • 35 characters of a page's title are visible in the WebTV browser's status bar.
  • Over 100 characters of a page's title are visible in the info panel of the WebTV browser.

You should not use these numbers to try to create a title of an exact number of characters. Rather, create your title so that the most relevant and distinguishing information is in the first 12 - 20 characters, and try to avoid titles longer than 35 characters.

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Write concise text

The default font for WebTV users is Helvetica, approximately 18 points in size. Although most users do not bother, this default size can be changed to "small" or "large" depending on preferences. The only other font available is Monaco, which is used as a fixed-width font for tags that require one, such as <code>.

Due to the smaller screen resolution and larger font size, less text fits on a television screen than a computer monitor. This makes it even more important to be concise when creating content. Break large paragraphs up into groupings of no more than two or three sentences. Avoid small text sizes in HTML or embedded in graphics. For more details on this topic, read Making Text Readable on Television.

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Use TV-friendly colors

An NTSC television displays colors differently than a computer monitor. No color will ever dither, meaning you have millions of colors to work with, rather than just the 216 in the browser-safe palette. That said, certain types of colors should be avoided. Although full white and red backgrounds are used on many home pages, they may not look good on a TV screen. Consider a dark background with light text for best readability on television. Read our article Avoiding Color Distortion on Television for more details. Again, testing with a real WebTV system is the only way to really know how your visitors will feel about your color choices.

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Avoid complex tables or frames

The WebTV browser converts frames into tables , so design considerations are similar. Avoid narrow columns. While columns of text set to 25% width may be very attractive on a large computer monitor, the large font of a WebTV browser may only allow a few words per line.

If you are using a large (over 600 pixels wide) table for either data or to splice images together, make sure you read our article, Making Spliced Images Work.

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Simplify forms

Keep forms simple. The WebTV browser can be confused by extraneous or bizarre code, and WebTV users can be confused by complicated or inconsistent forms. To ensure that your forms can be used by a WebTV browser, test them on the WebTV Viewer, and read Function Follows Form. To ensure that your forms can be used by a WebTV user, avoid long pull-down menus (tedious to use) and long values on buttons (they may get truncated).

Once your forms are working properly, you can tailor them to your site's appearance by changing their color. Read WebTV-Specific Tags and Attributes for more info.

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Don?t use server-side or irregular area image maps

WebTV users employ a selection box to surf the Web. While this selection box will work seamlessly on client-side image maps with rectangular hot spots, any other type of image map can be incovenient to use. Read our article on Seamless Image Maps for more details on this topic.

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Create pages smaller than 250K

It's difficult to recommend a solid upper boundary on page size. How big a page is viewable by a WebTV browser depends on what type of browser it is - WebTV Plus, WebTV Plus for Satellite, or WebTV Classic - as well as how much information is currently in the browser's cache. The browser's cache can only be emptied by turning off the WebTV-based system. To be safe, don't make Web pages any larger than 250K. To ensure playback, MPEG and audio files shouldn't be much larger than 400K. Of course, the main problem with a 250K page isn't the browser's technical ability to display it; it's the user's patience to wait for it to finish downloading. Like everything else on the Web, small size is a virtue.

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Test on a real WebTV system

The final step is to test your pages on a real WebTV system. If you don?t have a WebTV system of your own, go to one of the many retail outlets that have WebTV systems on display to get some "hands-on" time.

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