Thursday, 27 August 2009

European initiative merges television with the power of the internet

Here at ANT we’re delighted to have been involved in the launch of “Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV” or “HbbTV”, a major new pan-European initiative aimed at harmonising the broadcast and broadband delivery of news, information and entertainment to the end consumer through TVs and set-top boxes.

It’s an exciting time for the market and we’ll be making further announcements soon so watch this space!

You can find out more information on the HbbTV website and

I’ve also answered a few questions here:

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The future of EPG

Every month or so Justin Lebbon interviews TV industry representatives on their views on emerging trends and technology for his new site, an online information sharing and networking hub for all things Convergence TV, as I blogged here before.

This time he has kindly asked my opinion on the future of EPG to which I happily answered in a form of video.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Making TV widgets talk

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is working with industry to develop a talking TV UI. A little more detail is available on the Ocean Blue Software site, but I'm looking forward to seeing (or rather, hearing) it at IBC to find out how the EPG part of it works.

I imagine that it's not just a case of speaking out the contents of a whole screenful of guide information. What the blind or partially-sighted user needs is to be able to navigate around a screenful of information to control the order that things are spoken, much like a sighted person would look around by moving their eyes.

For this to work effectively, the navigation paths would need to be logical and structured so that the minimum navigation is required to get to the info you want. I doubt you'd get that simply by mapping left/right/up/down positions on the screen display to left/right/up/down navigation, so each "talking" application must be structured with spoken interaction in mind.

Which raises an interesting question - with the trend towards 3rd party extension applications and widgets for interactive environments, would every application author have to design their app with a "talking" mode of operation (including navigation paths optimised for a talking UI), or is it possible to design the UI building-blocks such that a useful talking mode is achieved without the app-author considering it?

A widgets environment already forces some navigation structure onto applications (so that the user can navigate between widgets without all widget authors cooperating with one another) - could this be extended to make widgets talk more easily?

Sighted-users can also benefit from this area of work. For example, imagine if you could phone your STB from the office and interact with the talking interface to set a recording. Or if the TV remote control had a phone-like handset built into the back, you could check your stocks and shares widget without disturbing the video that others are watching.

Blinkbox gets content approval from BBC World service

Viewers of VOD service Blinkbox could soon catch up with popular programmes commissioned by BBC, according to numerous reports this week. BBC Worldwide has licensed the rights to offer shows, including Planet Earth, Top Gear and Spooks, in what seems like a revenue sharing deal.

The VOD service boasts 1.5m video streams to 750,000 unique visitors last month, and already has 5,000 hours of programming available, but much of the content is from US networks.

Blinkbox has an interesting proposition for the UK VOD market. Although the service has a competitive edge over BBC’s own iPlayer with its mixed catalogue of content, it remains to be seen whether its pay-tv model will work in the UK. The VOD market is fast evolving and companies such as Blinkbox are working to find a business model that works.

VOD viewers can be fickle so content could be the differentiator, but not without a good price structure, accessibility and usability features.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Challenging the conventional design

Just occasionally someone designs something that causes everyone else to ask "Why didn't I think of that?" - or even "Why hasn't someone thought of that before now?". This was very much my reaction when I first saw a design concept by Min-Kyu Choi of London's Royal College of Art.

The UK plug is generally considered the safest plug design in common use anywhere in the world. The use of rectangular pins, the cable exiting at the bottom (thus minimising the likelihood of the plug being yanked out by its cord), cable restraint and each plug being individually fused, are some of its key features. More recently the standard has been updated to require the phase (live) and neutral pins to have insulated bases.

However, there remain several factors about the UK plug that are sub-optimal. It is one of the largest physical plugs in the world and in particular its 3d footprint is big making it bulky and difficult to accommodate in product packaging. For anyone who has ever stood on its prongs with bare feet at 3am will contest, leaving them lying around the floor is not wise. And for anyone responsible for the forest of wiring behind their TV, UK trailing sockets are also space-consuming beasts. Mr Min-Kyu appears to have succeeded where so many before him have failed - to improve the UK plug while keeping all of its safety features and addressing the three issues I listed above. perhaps that is why people are calling him a genius.

Min-Kyu Choi's plug design - ideal for portable equipment

The design has been submitted as an entry for the James Dyson Award. Hopefully an enterprising company (maybe Choc Box?) will pick this up and turn it into a commercial product - how long before we see it and Choi on Dragon's Den?

What do you think of the design? Have you come across an innovative design concept worthy of mention? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Internet TV is reaching its peak in the hype cycle

Gartner has published an updated version of their annual Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report for 2009.

At a glance it’s an interesting piece of research looking at the most discussed and eagerly followed emerging technologies, with Internet TV being one of them (see graph below).

If this comes to fruition, Internet TV will reach a mainstream adoption in two to five years, which I think it isn’t entirely a bad forecast. I’d be more interested to see how this plays out beyond 5 years, as there are so much more to connected TV other than just hype.

Kudos to Gartner for allowing the use of this image.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Touchable hologram revealed at Siggraph

At this year’s Siggraph, the international exhibition for computer graphics and interactive techniques, a team of R&D boffins from the University of Tokyo demoed a piece of technology called Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display.

The technology uses ultrasound to enable a hologram to move around as and when a person touches it, creating what’s called a touchable holography.

What’s more striking is that you can feel the touch sensation from the acoustic radiation pressure coming out of the ultrasound, bringing interaction between human and technology even closer.