6 ground-breaking EPG concepts
3rd Jan 2010 | 08:00
Innovations that show just what an EPG is capable of
iPhone 3G EPG and the recommendation app
The arrival of Sky's HD electronic programming guide this year was welcomed by many in the HD community, but was it really that much of an overhaul?
Sure, much was made of the debut of Sky's mini TV feature, episode stacking and search options, and the makeover did reveal how much difference a tweak here and a brush up there can do to making an EPG work for you rather than against you.
But what Sky has achieved is piecemeal compared to what could be winging its way to your televisions some time in the near future.
TechRadar was lucky enough to peer behind the curtain of NDS – a UK-based company which is looking to change the face of TV menu systems as we know it. Award winning and with an R&D department that's bursting at the seams with innovation, NDS may not be well known to consumers, but it delivers technology behind the scenes to the broadcast world which make most of the UK's set-top boxes tick.
Guided by Jonathon Beavon, Director of Marketing at NDS, and Kevin Murray, Systems Architect – New Initiative – for the 3D side of things, here's six EPG solutions, which may well herald how we view TV in the future…
The iPhone 3G EPG
- What is it? An EPG on your iPhone
- Why is it cool? It allows your TV to be completely EPG free, and turns the iPhone into the ultimate remote control
TechRadar: Why would we use this application?
Jonathon Beavon: Using this app, you can actually see what's on even though there isn't actually an EPG on the screen, so you are not annoying the others around you.
We have got all the channels, and you can see all the programmes that are on for today. There are things like synopsis, so you can see what's on the channel. And then you get the option of whether you want to record the programme, much like your Sky EPG. You have the option to record once, for example. Once you do that, it's recorded to the PVR.
TR: Is there any extra functionality?
JB: You also get web apps to go alongside the channel information. In this case we have info from Metacritic. Obviously, if as an operator you wanted to use this content, you would have to get permission from the website.
It's extra content from the web, in addition to stuff that's on the platform. It's treating the iPhone like a remote control, but at the same time you don't have to go on to your laptop to find out other information about the programmes.
You can use it both through 3G and Wi-Fi and theoretically do it remotely without being in the room. But we already have applications that fulfil the record anywhere role. We have a lot of control of the software that runs on the software box; some other applications haven't got this access.
TR: When will we see this app in the App Store?
JB: We are currently showing this application to operators and asking them if this is something that you would want to do. They might have something already and we can show them how to improve it.
- What is it? A complex recommendations system which offers up content you may like
- Why is it cool? It's one of the better ways to find new shows and movies on your EPG
JB: We can show whatever content is on the channel and for every piece of content we have an, 'if you like this you may also like this'.
What the consumer sees is an image with the options available to them. At the bottom is a synopsis with why it is recommended, reviews and even user reviews along a tab.
For this we use a variety of engine plug-ins, as some are great at analysing movie content and plot structure, others are better at half-hour British TV shows and so on. They all take different approaches, so we have an API to connect to the relevant ones.
The consumer would see this content launched through a green button. So if you like this, then you could choose these movies to watch after.
TR: How would we get this content?
JB: You would probably see it automatically at the end credits of a movie or a show, like you would with 'press the red button'. For these recommendation engines it is like a face to the back-end technology which they use.
Inventive advertising and on-demand channel branding
- What is it? New ways advertisers can use an EPG
- Why is it cool? You'll never stop advertising on TVs, so you may as well see it in a more inventive way
JB: Interestingly, consumers are skipping less than they thought they were. Advertisers obviously want to make their adverts more relevant, so this is where the idea of substituting adverts comes in.
Say they have bought 30 seconds of airtime on a channel, they may want to advertise half of the products to one household and half to another. So, say you have a household which has children and one that doesn't have children, they can show off the sports car/family car to the family it would be relevant to. They are getting better use out of their 30 seconds this way.
We have a whole infrastructure head end and in the set-top box that allows this advert substitution to happen on live television.
You can have a substitution from the hard-disk drive with no noticeable change to the live stream. When you get to the end of the advert it actually splices back to the live stream once more.
TR: What other advertising have you been working on?
JB: Another piece of space that you may want to sell is the pause space. So when you pause a programme, an advertiser may want a static advert to appear when the programme is paused.
There are issues with this, with programme makers not liking adverts going on the top of their shows. There are certain shows in America, which don't allow their credits to be squeezed to make way for page furniture but again it is something which advertisers are looking at.
On-demand channel branding
- What is it? A way to bring on-demand closer to the look of its TV channel
- Why is it cool? It makes on-demand viewing a more seamless TV experience
JB: The line between live television and on-demand television is becoming more and more blurred, so we are looking at how to help brand on-demand to make it look more like the live TV channels the shows come from.
So, while EPGs at the moment shunt you off to another menu for on-demand and break up the brand of the channel, we have designed menus to move away from the 'now' and 'next' banners and actually use a new interface which shows, say, the brand of Channel 4.
In effect customers shouldn't notice if something is on-demand or not. The interface should make it as easy as possible to watch content, not hamper the user.
3D menu system and EPG - Snowflake-style
3D menu system
- What is it? An EPG for 3D television
- Why is it cool? 3D is the future of TV, and this EPG concept makes it that little bit more accessible
Kevin Murray: When it comes to 3D, what we have been looking at mostly is the graphics.
When you watch TV it is amazing how much of it is graphics – more than most people realise. By making minimum adaption to the graphics, you can make them respond a lot better to 3D. What you usually see with an on-screen graphic is that it is offset, so it looks as if it is pushing away from the screen.
Because we have made a relatively simple change to the underlying graphics, it still works in 3D terms. The graphics for the selection has been moved forward.
We are exploring what you can do with the 3D space to make the EPG easier to use.
TR: What can we expect from a 3D EPG?
KM: With 3D and graphics, you have got some space. But if you put up some logos in the 3D space, it may clash with the 3D which is behind it. It destroys the illusion. Some people can handle it, but for others the 3D illusion just collapses. To stop this from happening what you can do is tilt the logos, making them much easier to see with a stronger 3D presence. So, when dealing with graphics, you don't just have to think about the XY placing but also the depth.
By adding gentle movement to the graphic this aides in the 3D illusion, it gives the person watching it more clues to depth. If you move your head nothing changes in the background, so adding slight movement makes the effect work better – as does the gentle disappearance and appearance of logos and graphics. If things are flat on, they also ruin the illusion, so by adding a slight angle, depth is added.
EPG – Snowflake-style
- What is it? An award-winning design-lead EPG interface
- Why is it cool? Minimal fuss with maximum potential, Snowflake proves that EPG's don't need to be feature-rich to be ultra cool
JB: 'Snowflake' has been designed to deliver a similar look and feel across a variety of platforms – broadcast, mobile phones and so on.
Snowflake's is a minimal overlay on to live TV, and is controlled by a remote with just six buttons. A bit like the iPhone concept we also showed you for Sky, Snowflake can also be controlled by iPhone or iPod touch. The interface can also handle stored photos, music and radio.
TR: So, things like Flickr can be accessed?
JB: Exactly. If you are watching, say Planet Earth, then you will also be able to access photos from the places that are shown on the programme.
Like-wise with travel shows, you will be able to order your holiday through the EPG, or view more details on the places.
If we show you a scene from Lipstick Jungle, you can see that you will be able to order the dress you can see. And if you look at this snowboard scene, if you like the clothes and the equipment, then there can be links to this as well to tell you more.
Liked this? Then check out The Complete Guide To 3D TV
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