My annual ritual of food snobbery – watching Masterchef – has come to an end. And fortunately, that also means the end of another, substantially more painful annual ritual: having to use the tenplay app on Xbox.
A bit of context, first. In our shared living room, we have a decent TV hooked up to an Xbox One X. It’s become the main media box, ever since the PS4 Pro took a wander into the office. But while I’ve got no love for the Xbox dashboard, there was a major reason we persisted.
You see, there isn’t a tenplay app on the PlayStation Store. There’s a tenplay app for Sony TV’s. There’s an app for Android TV. You can even fire up the tenplay website, which works just fine on desktop.
But the PS4? Not a chance. So the Xbox became our console of choice.
And normally that would be fine — until we had to use this.
Have you ever used an app so unintuitive that it actively fights against you? Watching Presto was a bit like that: the service kept asking you to relogin, often multiple times during an episode, and then you’d have to login again when it finished. On top of that, it wouldn’t happily carry on from one episode to another.
Tenplay’s Xbox experience isn’t that rubbish. But it’s a great example of what people rage about when they complain about the Xbox experience — it’s not designed for clarity, efficiency, or even to display information in a helpful way. It’s not even consistent with other parts of the app, which uses a more square, tile-based layout akin to the rest of the Xbox One.
But let’s dig deep into precisely why this is a horrific, unfriendly experience. When you jump into a program of your choice, you’re given three columns. All the columns are visible on the screen at any one time, and two buttons are outlined in blue with a lighter blue to indicate they’ve been selected.
Which is the first problem: because that’s not what you’ve actually got selected. What’s selected is the single grey box with the light blue outline — in the GIF above, that’s the Play button first.
Logical, but visually, you’re immediately confused.
Pressing A to select – standard for Xbox controls – then jumps a column. It doesn’t automatically scroll the screen to the right, however, where you see the description of each episode. That only occurs if you press A or the left stick an extra time to scrub into the Episode column.
Just because we like keeping things consistent, once you’re in the Seasons column, the boxes go back to a full charcoal/gray-ish colour, with only the light blue outline. That’s reverted again when you jump into the individual episodes – the selected season (or wherever the controller landed when you accidentally bumped the left stick or hit A) is highlighted, and the individual episode boxes go back to the same colour as everything that’s not selected, save for the little outline.
And for extra fun, if you want to actually play the episode selected? That button’s off-screen. Pressing A scrubs the screen across, where you can then press play.
It seems like such a simple, almost innocuous thing. But every time I’ve opened the tenplay Xbox app, I find myself wondering what questions the designer was asking in their head when they put it together. Why is there so much blank space on the screen? Why have larger highlights for boxes when they’re not actively selected? Why use rectangular tiles for a bunch of text that is never going to be any different from “Season X” and “Episode Y”?
By comparison, this is what Masterchef tragics get if they load the show up through Android TV (in this case, through Nvidia Shield).
Look at it! It’s themed! There’s no dead space, but it’s not overly cluttered either. You can tell what’s marked at any given stage, using a series of rows allows users to swap episodes and seasons, rather than necessitating an extra, wasteful button press.
It’s vibrant, and it looks like it was designed by humans. On top of that, there’s also more content. The extras — basically basic cooking tips like making fried rice or recipes from dishes on the show — are included as well, which you don’t get in the tenplay Xbox app.
And you’ll never get that in the tenplay Xbox app, because it was clearly designed around the time of the Xbox One launch. Take a look at the Xbox app description on the tenplay page:
The Xbox’s snap mode was cut when the Xbox One Creators Update rolled out. Almost 18 months ago. It was cut because the console needed “resources going forward for bigger things”, according to Xbox VP Mike Ybarra, but also to help the console’s general speed.
That said, nobody seems to have told Channel Ten. I don’t blame them entirely for not updating the app — after all, technically, it works.
How long it takes you to identify what show is actually selected on this screen? Answer: too long.
It wouldn’t be a pain in the arse if, until very recently, Tegan and I had any other option. The tenplay app on our Sony TV (which resides in our bedroom) was less painful, but it wasn’t always kept up to date. At one point, halfway through the season, the Sony TV was three episodes behind what had been aired, and what you could watch on the Xbox.
I’d actually gotten so frustrated with the app that I fired up the PS4’s in-built browser, and logged into the tenplay website using the DualShock 4. I tried the same on the LG TV in our lounge room as well — because for whatever reason, the tenplay app wasn’t available directly on that either. But both of those browsers were far from updated, and the last thing anyone wants to do is to use the joystick on a TV remote to try and blow something up in fullscreen.
And even all of the design issues aside wouldn’t be a pain if there wasn’t some kind of syncing issue every episode. Without fail, usually past the first ad break, the video will freeze while the audio keeps playing. Occasionally it corrects itself, but sometimes you have to quit the episode and relaunch it, which sends you through another round of unskippable ads, and then you get the joy of having to skip forward to find your spot.
So to my dismay, the tenplay Xbox became the default experience. And 61 episodes on, it’s been an atrocious ride. It’s genuinely the worst experience I’ve had streaming anything since trying to use Presto. And maybe, God willing, someone might actually fix the app for the next season of MasterChef. On the bright side, at least the Nvidia Shield is an option in Australia now — and unlike the Xbox, the tenplay app there is actually a joy to use.
Once you get past the five unskippable ads, anyway.