YouTube takes aim at living room with Leanback

Google has unveiled a revamped version of YouTube that is designed specifically for viewers watching the service from a television screen.

The battle for control of the living room is hotting up, with a flurry of new internet-enabled televisions, PC software with a television-friendly interface such as Boxee, and Microsoft’s ever-expanding Windows Media Player.

The search giant is keen not to be left out of the picture, having unveiled its Google TV service earlier this year. Now it’s tweaked the YouTube interface to make it easier for sofa-bound surfers to watch online video.

Leanback replaces the busy YouTube homepage with a large video window, with a strip of thumbnails running along the foot of the screen.

YouTube Leanback

The service is controlled using only the four cursor keys and the Enter button – it doesn’t currently recognise mouse or trackpad input.

Users can scroll through the thumbnails using the arrow keys, hit the Down arrow to access a selection of pre-defined video categories (including a personalised stream and YouTube video rentals), or strike the Up arrow to engage the search menu and enter keywords using their keyboard.

As well as the millions of user-uploaded clips, Leanback also offers access to YouTube TV, offering full-length shows such as Channel 4’s Peep Show. Leanback will play the highest available definition stream by default, to take full advantage of the larger screens it’s designed for.

Leanback is currently in beta, although it looks almost certain to be included in Google TV when hardware is launched later this year.

Google has also refreshed the mobile version of YouTube. The new site is reasonably similar in design to the YouTube application that already ships on the iPhone, although there’s now a greater emphasis on HD content and an increased reliance on drop-down menus to refine searches.

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