Easy Navigation of Web Page Content With a Remote Control

Use of accesskey

Web pages that can be viewed on a television you must allow navigation (change a page, select an option etc) without the using a keyboard or mouse. The remote control is all the visitor can be assumed to have when sitting on the sofa, ten feet from the television.

Remote controls can be configured to simulate key presses, so pressing a button on the remote control "sends" the key stroke to the application or web page. Providing that the web page or application has been designed with keyboard shortcuts then most actions can be controlled from the ten foot distance.

Applications need to be programmed with keyboard shortcuts but for web pages the accesskey attribute can be used to provide a similar effect. For example:

<a accesskey="x" href="url">Press the x accesskey</a>

... selecting the x accesskey will cause the browser to change the displayed page to the specified url (except Internet Explorer where the focus moves to that element, the visitor must then press Return to finally action the page change).

With Firefox if there is more than one element with the same accesskey then the focus moves to that element rather than actioning the url page change.

Each browser has different key combinations for invoking accesskeys:

  • Firefox : uses ALT+SHIFT as modifier keys to invoke accesskey. This combination can be altered by visiting the "about:config" page and editting the value of the ui.key.contentAccess preference, see http://kb.mozillazine.org/Ui.key.contentAccess
  • Google Chrome : uses the ALT key as the modifier key to invoke accesskey
  • Internet Explorer: uses the ALT key as the modifier key to change the focus to the selected element
  • Galeon/Mozilla on Linux : uses the ALT key as the modifier key to invoke accesskey
  • Konqueror on Linux : uses the CTRL key as the modifier key to invoke accesskey
  • Opera : SHIFT+ESC displays a list of accesskeys on the current page, with the list displayed the visitor then press the accesskey required
  • Safari : uses the CTRL key as the modifier key to invoke accesskey. In Mac OS X the combination is CTRL+ALT

e.g. to invoke the "x" accesskey in Firefox it is necessary to press ALT and SHIFT and X keys at the same time.

Fastext RGYB Remote Control Buttons

Some remote controls have the red - green - yellow - blue fastext buttons. These buttons were introduced for easy navigation of Teletext as a convenient way to avoid entering the page number for the four most common "next page" choices of the currently viewed page. The RGYB buttons are also ideal for navigation of web pages that have been designed for viewing on a television. This is exemplified by the content aggregator site homenet.tv and the re-presented photo journalism from the Boston Globe Big Picture big-picture on homenet.tv. At the bottom of the pages these web sites show four navigation links using the accesskey "r" for red, "g" for green etc. It is possible to configure a remote control to easily select options and navigate these web sites.

The Netgem iPlayer anticipated the use of the RGYB fastext buttons for navigation and uses the following specialised accesskey extension in it's browser:

<a accesskey="{red}" href="url">Press the red fastext button</a>

This seems a sensible approach and could have offered a complete solution for an encompassing "button to accesskey" definition, think what could be accomplished with accesskeys for the "stop", "play", "rewind" buttons found on remote controls and media-aware keyboards. Work continues on the HTML5 specification for accesskeys but it seems likely the Netgem iPlayer method of accesskey definition is destined for niche usage.

tv-true.org recommends that dynamically generated web pages use browser sniffing to detect the Netgem iPlayer browser and specify the {colour} accesskey syntax, defaulting to the single letter r/g/y/b shown below for other browsers:

<a accesskey="g" href="url">Press the green fastext button</a>

If the web page has been designed with the accesskey attribute to make use of the fastext buttons then you can configure the client OS software to generate the accesskey sequence, instructions for Linux can be found here.

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