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Updated October 22, 2001

Design Tip:
Test Your Site With WebTV

by Larisa Thomason,
Senior Web Analyst,
NetMechanic, Inc.

  
August 2000
Vol. 3, No. 9
 • Beginner Tip
 • Design Tip
 • Promotion Tip
  

Web developers who routinely test their Web sites in Explorer and Netscape often overlook WebTV because of it's comparatively small user base (1 million subscribers). That could be a costly mistake: according to WebTV, 40% of its subscribers have made online purchases via their WebTV service. If the WebTV browser can't accurately and attractively display your site, you could be turning away customers.

Is your Web site WebTV ready? It's easy to find out.

Important WebTV Design Differences

There are many display differences between WebTV and other browsers. The most obvious is size. It's big. Really, really big. Since people would have a lot of trouble reading 12 pt. Times Roman text from across their living room, the WebTV browser uses 18 pt. Helvetica as its default . This is the single biggest display issue for most Web sites and there is no HTML "trick" to get around it.

Here is how WebTV displays our NetMechanic homepage.

The Developer portion of the WebTV site contains a complete list of design issues, but here are a few of the most important:

  • Supported Types: WebTV supports Helvetica for proportional s and Monaco for fixed-width s. WebTV converts your s to one of these two depending on the type.
  • Frames: WebTV modifies frames by converting them to tables. All the frame content is displayed, but the whole page scrolls at one time so you can't keep a navigation bar always visible. Nested frames can cause real problems when WebTV tries to resolve them.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Size Limitations: The WebTV browser displays pages in a fixed area 544 pixels wide by 372 pixels long. Longer pages can scroll vertically, but WebTV doesn't support horizontal scrolling and scales wider pages to fit into 544 pixels.
  • JavaScript Support: WebTV supports JellyScript (a limited version of JavaScript). Test your rollover images carefully and avoid window.open event because the results aren't always predictable.
  • Page Background Colors: Make your web sites easier to read with the WebTV browser by using light text on a dark background. That contrast is much easier to read on a TV screen than dark text on a light background.

Test Your Site With The WebTV Viewer

The WebTV Viewer is a free tool you can install on your PC to test how you site will display in the WebTV browser. Download it here. Caution: the Viewer is still in Beta testing, and a number of bugs are noted in the online Viewer Guide. Read about them before you start work and save yourself some time.

Not all Viewer bugs are clearly documented. You may be particularly interested in one if your Internet Presence Provider uses "virtual hosting" - and most of them do. A virtual host takes a server (or multiple servers) and maps unique domain names to them so that multiple web sites reside on the same server, under the same IP address. The current version of the WebTV Viewer can't resolve the domain name and IP address issue. When you enter your site's domain name, you get your Web host's home page instead of your own.

You can still test your site in the Viewer by using the address your host provided when you signed up for service (NOT the one you registered with InterNIC). For instance, if your InterNIC-registered domain name is AlsHomePage.com and your Web host's name is GeorgeHost.com, the domain name that GeorgeHost assigns you will probably be in one of the following formats:

  • AlsHomePage.GeorgeHost.com
  • GeorgeHost.com/~AlsHomePage

This usually isn't a problem in the real WebTV system, but always test it to be sure. If you have any problems with your domain address, you may need to customize your site for WebTV with a browser redirection script.

WebTV Browser Detection

When you tested your site with the Viewer, you may have noticed that some of your page elements are confusing, illegible, or even missing entirely. Some design elements don't display well in WebTV - others don't display at all (such as JAVA applets). Consider creating pages optimized for WebTV if you want to keep those elements on your site while still attracting WebTV visitors. Use a simple JavaScript browser detection and redirection script on your home page to test for the WebTV browser.

Insert the following code inside your tag on your home page. If your visitors also enter your site from other pages, you may want to include it on those pages as well. Remember to change the page names inside the script!

<SCRIPT LANGUAGE = "JavaScript">
<!-- Hide script from old browsers

IF (navigator.appName == "WebTV")
   {
window.location=
  "AlsHomePage.com/WebTVHome.html"
   }

// End hide script -->
</SCRIPT>

Insert your own domain name and the name of your WebTV optimized page in the window.location statement.

If you already use a script to check for other browsers, just incorporate the IF statement and test for WebTV too. Always test for WebTV first in a browser detection script because the WebTV browser thinks it's Netscape.

The Final Test

The Viewer is a helpful tool, but not a completely reliable one because colors and navigational cues may display much differently on a TV screen than on your computer monitor. WebTV recommends that you visit a dealer location to test your Web site. Search for local dealers by ZIP code or by city and state on the WebTV site. Call ahead though: many dealers use the demo version provided by WebTV instead of installing a live system.

Your site's purpose and expected audience dictates whether this process is worth your time. The WebTV market is small but growing, so a modest effort now could generate a large return in the future.



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