IPTV: killer apps and dead horses

Proceed with caution...

Mobile-style text entry using the remote control

Sky spent many tens of millions of pounds finding out that people don't like interacting with their TVs in the same way as their PC. If they even get that far at all, as most people are still terrified of computers. Keyboards, as explained later, are ugly, expensive, unreliable and utterly useless for the TV environment. Despite the fact that we want a viewer to have to do as little as possible, limited text entry is important and the winning formula is to use a format that is familiar to everyone - the lettering notation on a mobile phone (i.e. the 2 key has ABC as its subset), and optionally T9 predictive text technology. People know how to write text messages with their thumbs, so doing it on a remote control is not a great leap to make. It won't work for essays, but it can aid the smaller tasks in a TV user interface that viewers would find easy to pick up.

Live, real-time personalised information

We've had Teletext and on-screen graphics for a very long time, but being a true two-way internet-connected medium, IPTV takes information display to an entirely new level that leaves its predecessors standing. Creating menus and screens from web languages like HTML means we can dynamically generate content and update it in real-time, but broadcast can do that too, obviously. The difference with IPTV is that we can provide truly personalised information, based on a viewer's individual preferences and interests. That information can be anywhere (e.g. alongside or inside the video stream) and anything - sports scores and statistics, text messages from friends and family, stock market prices, billing information, notifications and reminders, IMDB and CDDB information for movies and music, flight and holiday offers and so much more. AJAX is being used for this recently in so-called Web 2.0 software applications to great effect.

Video-centric multiplayer games

Go into any HMV or Virgin Megastore and you will see a whole range of the latest quiz DVDs the whole family can play, for example Trivial Pursuit. These generally can offer thousands of video clips and one-frame MPEG slides that are weaved into a complex menu structure for several people in the same room to interact with. The great thing about these games in comparison to their interactive TV, PC and plain board counterparts is that they offer rich video animation as part of the experience, which is so much more compelling for the average viewer. The BBC have got the nearest to this functionality with their "Spooks" and murder mystery "red button" applications, and the response has shown they are hugely popular. IPTV allows us unlimited video-on-demand over the network, which when stitched together with nano-payment, great gameplay, and personalisation is an unbeatable proposition. We can build leagues and tournaments for teams in their own living room, or allow groups to play each other whenever they desire, house versus house, or even pub versus pub.

TiVo-style web access

The original and the first PVR to hit the market way ahead of its time, loved by geek and layperson alike, hated by advertisers and TV networks, has never truly been beaten for functionality. One of the most lauded features was the ability to program your TiVo remotely while at work, in the office, or over the internet like many other CPE devices, for example your home DSL router. Through a simple web admin panel, you could schedule recordings and adjust settings without even needing to be in the same country, let alone the same room. Sling Media has now taken this concept even further by creating a media device (the SlingBox) that can behave like a media server and stream your TV through your home broadband connection to you wherever you are in the world on virtually any device. So not only can you set it to record remotely, you can watch it once it's done. They call the technology "place shifting".

Fun entertainment accessories

People love to personalise what they own. PCs in offices get the Comic Sans treatment, while machines at home have ridiculous backgrounds, outrageous colours and other little quirks to represent the many faces of the owner's personality. Being firmly in the grip of the commercial overlords, TV has never been able to offer this - until now, of course. Viewers should be able to send each other video greeting cards, MSN-style "winks" and animations, JPEG backgrounds for their start screens and even audio effects like incoming VoIP call ringtones. Serious hard-working men call it "chick crack" - the rest of us call it mindless fun and a great revenue generator.


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