Do you sometimes get frustrated while watching a sports game or a live concert on television? Have you ever wished you could pick your camera angles or zoom in on a player at will? A network of European researchers is working to make this science-fiction fantasy a reality — be it on a panoramic LCD (liquid crystal display) screen with surround sound, or on a mobile phone. The FascinatE ('Format-agnostic script-based interactive experience') received EUR 9.35 million from the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to create a technologically advanced system for future immersive and interactive TV (television) services.
Creating a truly interactive, personalised TV experience that immerses the viewer in the action on screen is a challenge. On the production side, this represents a real technological shift. Nowadays, directors and cameramen select the frames they believe are of interest to viewers for a specific screen format. In the future, a whole scene could be captured using multiple microphones and different types of cameras simultaneously. Together, this range of video signals would make up a multi-layered, high-quality representation of a whole scene, and the viewer should be allowed to navigate from one layer to the next as they please. The word 'format-agnostic' means that the technology would function on any kind of display, in terms of resolution, field-of-view, colour, etc.
The FascinatE consortium, comprised of 11 partners from 8 European countries, is covering a range of technical issues: video, audio, distribution infrastructure, etc. For instance, researchers at the University of Salford in the UK are responsible for investigating the sound aspects of the project, capturing panoramic sound and matching the direction of the audio to changing video angles. The project is also investigating viewers' preferences; viewers of different ages and cultures might expect different things from their TV experience.
Eventually, the technology shift should enable real immersive experiences to move from amusement parks and IMAX theatres to daily home entertainment. For instance, the FascinatE team believes that the technology will enhance a live music experience in different ways within three of four years' time. Using a mobile phone to connect to a set of fixed high-definition cameras capturing the event in real time, a rock fan in a stadium could zoom in on the bass player's fingers. After the gig, they could also retrieve the whole concert video and navigate to their favourite bits, both in time and space. At home, a football buff could also point to a particular player or choose to watch the game as if they were standing behind the goalkeeper.
FascinatE will enable a more exciting way to watch television, create new standards and push European companies to become leaders in the field. In addition, a range of other EU-funded projects are exploring the future of television technologies, and the distribution networks necessary to transfer these large amounts of data via satellite, broadband or broadcast. In particular, several projects are focused on 3D (three-dimensional) viewing and other interactive technologies that will make watching TV a richer, easier and more personalised experience.