YouTube is testing a new interface that turns it into a full-screen personalised channel. YouTube Leanback can be controlled using only the cursor arrow and enter keys and is ideal for viewing on a large screen with a remote control. If you have a very large screen, YouTube has also announced support for video up to 4K resolution or 4096 pixels across. For smaller screens, YouTube has also updated its mobile version.
YouTube Leanback provides a feed of video based on the user account, such as uploads, playlists and favourites, from searches or browsing existing categories, or based on prior viewing preferences and linking to services like Facebook.
Videos play sequentially. Pressing the right arrow moves to the next video. Other controls can be accessed by pressing the up or down arrows.
Users have to log in to a YouTube account, which can also be linked to Facebook, to show videos that friends are sharing.
YouTube wants to increase the number of minutes that viewers currently use the service by removing the question of “What next?” to become a continuous feed or a personal channel.
The name Leanback is a reference to the often stated distinction between the lean forward experience of using a keyboard and mouse with a computer and the lean back view of television using a remote control.
Building on the experience of the YouTube XL version originally introduced for big screens, YouTube Leanback could be compared to the big screen version of the only video directory Clicker, although the latter is aimed at linking to premium programming from other sites.
With Google TV promising to provide an open platform for network-connected television devices and displays, Google and YouTube are both destined for the living room screen.
As a statement of ambition, Google has announced support for videos up to 4K resolution. That is up to 4096×3072 pixels, or up to six times the resolution of 1080p high definition. In practice most people are not going to be able to take full advantage of such resolution, at least not for a while, but it does mean that YouTube is not limited to 1080p video. For most applications, however, quality is more likely to be compromised by the relatively low bit rates that YouTube currently employs for delivery.
At the other end of the scale, YouTube has also launched an HTML 5 mobile version of the service. The browser-based version offers full features and will be updated more frequently than dedicated applications. It also frees YouTube from dependence on the pre-installed app on handheld Apple devices. Of course it is also a very similar experience when used on mobile devices running the Google Android operating system.
YouTube Mobile already delivers more than 100 million video views a day. With predictions that within five years more users will connect to the internet with mobile than desktop devices, that number can only be expected to grow.
From the smallest screen to the largest, Google wants to be a big part of the future of online video. By being able to track users across these different devices, Google will be even better placed to deliver targeted advertising.