Sunday, 12 September 2010

Connected TV brings it all together

We are currently in Amsterdam, attending the big IBC exhibition and conference. This grew out of a broadcast technology event and has got larger year by year, so that it outgrew central London, then outgrew Brighton and is now literally pushing at the boundaries of the gigantic RAI Centre here.

This year's top topic is undoubtedly 3D, with lots of 3D camera rigs on display (every manufacturer seemingly wanting to show that they too can do it), lots of displays ranging from ones with glasses to ones without and even one that can draw pictures in thin air. This last one is a sad victim of the demo effect, in that having shipped their big box of tricks over from Japan, the engineers found it would not function. Their video, however, gives a tempting indication of what they can do. (I sympathise, as a thermal camera arranged for my infrared session on Monday has been delayed in transit and I hope it will arrive in time.)

Besides 3D another big buzz is for connected TV. The connection refers to the internet. In some respects the display of web pages on your TV is not new, and it hasn't really taken off so far. Our nearest experience of this is using the BBC iPlayer through our Wii console and watching IPTV on occasions when abroad. But whereas 'traditional' IPTV is basically cable TV using internet protocols, connected TV comes much closer to my decade-old vision of what networks could do for us by opening up our home entertainment instead of walling it in.

At the heart of connected TV is the concept of using a 'living room' device/display to access content from a range of sources but do it seamlessly. The electronic program guide of today would expand its scope to include things you downloaded earlier, things available streamed on the internet and anything else it could get metadata for. Obviously as the range of material grows, browsing interfaces become less useful than searches and eventually you might need intelligent agents searching out things for you online. One world in one box.

A secondary issue is how best to use the display since your connected world could be offering you extra information while you watch a movie or programme ...if you want it to. The television solution is to pile all this information into the single screen space, where there is a risk of one thing obscuring another. That not only detracts from the viewing experience but it could result in sponsor messages and other paid for content being hidden. The computer solution to such issues is to allow the user to configure their own screen and to use separate windows to display separate things.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to making this happen with connected TV is the resolution of the screen. At least with high definition TV many people now have a 1920 by 1080 pixel TV, but they would want to display some 1920 by 1080 content on it rather than shrink this into a window. Does this mean that the TV industry should be looking to over-sized (in resolution) screens? Not something that has come up in any discussions I have heard so far, but possibly food for thought.