If the recent IBC 2010 trade show and news from around the technology world are any indication, the ongoing convergence of the Internet and broadcast television appears to be rapidly accelerating.
Conceptually, of course, manufacturers and content creators have attempted to bring the two mediums together since the late 1990s. Now, broadband's maturation and a plethora of digital Web-TV services have brought the concept to consumers in dozens of flavors, although not yet with any consistency, since the available options currently are largely closed systems.
Availability of tools and services for Web-based or Web-enhanced TV is now, in fact, approaching ubiquitous range. Indeed, a Screen Digest research report titled "The Global Transmission Market" suggested earlier in September that almost a billion digital receivers are now in use around the world for consumers receiving broadcast signals, IPTV signals, or both. Earlier this year, a report on the TechCrunch website declared that more than 800,000 American households have already abandoned cable and/or satellite TV subscriptions in favor of Web-only connectivity. And, of course, Apple TV is back and reconfigured to confront Google. Screen Digest published a chart this summer suggesting Google is entering a marketplace that is already crowded and predicted to grow at a startling pace over the next four years. Still, analyst James McQuivey of Forrester Research suggested this summer in a column that the arrival of Google TV's approach to convergence is a game-changing event with huge implications for consumers and the technology world. The reason, he suggests, is Google's expanding list of technology partners who are plugging into the initiative, including Logitech (set-top boxes), Sony (Google TV integrated TV sets), and many more.
And the drumbeat gets louder. At IBC in September, Web-enabled TV announcements were particularly popular. News about breakthroughs in scalable video coding techniques, set-top box development, and technology partnerships abounded. IBC also devoted six hours of programming to what one seminar described as "connected TV, in which broadcast and the Internet collide."
One implication of these developments is the issue of broadcast and file standards in such a world. Several initiatives are currently examining these issues, of course. Interestingly, one of the crucial niche pieces of this puzzle that is in need of such examination is the issue of Web-enhanced TV, which is to say, the development of protocols for building and connecting to a consumer's larger Web/broadcast viewing infrastructure, a wide range of technologies for personally enhancing whatever a viewer happens to be watching. One IBC sessions examined, for instance, how consumer services can be enriched through what organizers call "a consolidated service platform" that joins IPTV and broadcast TV signals.
To that end, ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) recently announced a new planning team to closely examine "Internet Enhanced TV." The committee, co-chaired by Rajan Mehta, director of Digital Television Standards, Policy and Strategy for NBC Universal and longtime digital television consultant Adam Goldberg, will examine technical issues and requirements for growing the world of "enhanced content" for things such as E-commerce, video on demand, teletexting, subtitling, even potentially linking broadcast television to cloud-based servers to add additional data into a personalized programming chain.
Goldberg tells SMPTE Newswatch that according to the committee "Internet Enhanced TV" largely means, "any broadcast services that would require an Internet return path, either intermittently or full-time. What we are doing is looking at how to enable applications in those scenarios, figuring out ways to build equipment and broadcast services in a way that produces an attractive service to viewers in an open sense."
All this is different, Goldberg says, from the development of closed application environments, in which different manufacturers offer different solutions that consumers have to purchase or rent. The potential to expand this area is huge, Goldberg suggests, which is why the ATSC thinks its planning committee's time has come.
"It might be for service usage measurements—to see who is watching what, and when," he says. "Or maybe new voting applications to play along with "Jeopardy" or vote someone off the island—that's another potential area. Or, perhaps, consumers will want to generate a stock ticker on the bottom of their financial channel that only displays their own, personal portfolio."
Goldberg says the planning team will be meeting regularly in coming months, and is reaching out to ATSC members, SMPTE members, and others in the technology world, as well as to key manufacturers to contribute ideas. Contact ATSC to learn more here.
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News Briefs Whither White Space?
Now that Federal rules to allow the use of unused portions of the TV broadcast spectrum have accelerated with the recent, unanimous FCC decision to open up so-called "white space" to unlicensed uses, interesting things are happening on the landscape to figure out how best to utilize suddenly available and new broadcast spectrum. Recently, researchers at Houston's Rice University announced they had won a $1.8-million Federal grant to conduct real-world tests of wireless communications' technology across a broad spectral range, including dormant broadcast channel space, to theoretically deliver free high-speed broadband service to consumers. Researchers expect it to be a five-year project involving Rice scientists and a Houston non-profit called Technology for All (TFA), with the goal of first adding white space technology to a Wi-Fi network they operate together in Houston. For the announcement and an informative Houston-area NPR radio report on the initiative, click here.
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IMF's Next Stage
In recent weeks, USC's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) put out a call for feedback on the current state of its ongoing Interoperable Master Format (IMF) draft specification project. ETC has been hosting the project as a first step in moving the motion picture and broadcast industries toward a spec for an interoperable set of master files, including metadata, to better let content owners distribute content suitable for output and broadcast on any of a number of different types of screens, bit rates, codecs, and so on. The goal is to come up with a spec that can be proposed to SMPTE as a starting point for formalizing the standards' process in this particular area. Those involved in the IMF project say they are eager for feedback on their proposed specification from interested parties throughout the industry—especially feature film and broadcast post-production and distribution types. No one knows if the project will require the time and resources that were required by the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI), but project participants say their call for input is crucial to getting it right in the long run. You can find their announcement and download the specification draft here.
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Parts of the famous ASC Cinematographer Manual and a variety of other tools for cinematographers to use in the field for making various types of data calculations are now available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. That's because the cinematographers' trade organization (ASC) recently announced it had partnered with technology platform developer Chemical Wedding (creator of other mobile device Apps for cinematographers) to release the Toland ASC Digital Assistant. The App reportedly gives input and feedback as DP's change calculations and shift their plans, and may well be the first in a suite of cinematographer's tools coming to mobile applications with participation from the ASC. The App, of course, is named for legendary cinematographer Greg Toland, a giant in the industry's development of revolutionary lighting techniques. Read more about it at the MobilizedTV site.
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