Television companies realise they can really make use of the Internet now that it’s fast and benefits from broad bandwidth and geographical reach. They are beginning to air services not just on TVs, but also simultaneously on PCs, tablets and smartphones – however such integration is often limited.
Thanks to technology known as Hybrid Broadcast and Broadband TV (HbbTV), broadcasters can offer additional internet services directly to the TV set. Demand for broadcast and broadband integration is growing fast, and to this day HbbTV is the only open standard to support it. This led the European Commission to fund a project, HBB-NEXT, to drive the next generation of this technology. The project partners have come up with many novel solutions, from synchronising video across consumer devices via the cloud to controlling TVs using face and gesture recognition technology along with innovative accessibility solutions.
Synchronising video across smart devices
Thanks to the HbbTV standard, a plethora of new services are now appearing across devices. These include complementary content (for anything from elections to sports coverage), home shopping and links to advertisers’ web pages, catch-up TV and educational courses.
‘We identified several missing pieces in the user experience for which we and our partners designed and developed solutions. These include the personalisation and recommendation of content for users, notably in a multi user environment, and the synchronisation of broadband with broadcast content onto one or more screens.’
HBB-NEXT came up with novel middleware that uses the cloud where a consumer device does not have the capability, e.g. to synchronise video. This is not a small achievement, since even a delay of 40 milliseconds between devices is noticed by users. ‘With HBB-NEXT, we contributed four features that will be supported in the new HbbTV 2.0 standard hopefully to be released later this year,’ said HBB-NEXT technical coordinator Michael Probst, of IRT, the German broadcasting technology institute.
HbbTV allows broadcasters to add information into their signal, enabling a TV to load apps retrieving related content from the Internet and displaying it on your TV. And HBB-NEXT came up with a range of novel applications for editors’ consideration, including instant voting (first aired on a popular TV science programme in Germany). Others, benefiting users, permit customisation of subtitles, sign language for the hearing-impaired, smartphone audio for the blind or partially sighted, and services for minority languages – all of them sourced via the Internet.
Television recognises viewer
The project partners also developed an app that makes recommendations to individuals and groups of viewers about what they should watch, combining it with face, voice and gesture recognition technology. When a viewer, whose profile has already been loaded into the TV, walks into the room and says ‘Hello’, the television recognises the person and replies by suggesting programmes he or she might like to see. A second person might then come in and both will receive their ‘group’ recommendations.
‘The face and gesture recognition achieved in the project goes beyond what has been possible before,’ Bettina enthused. ‘It is really innovative and people will enjoy it. It is the future, I think!’
‘As for the broadcast apps, we are now creating an HbbTV Toolbox based on HBB-NEXT so that very soon editors will be creating them on a day-to-day basis so that everyone can personalize and enrich the television they are watching,’ she added.
HBB-NEXT involved representatives of the various sectors affected economically by the advent of hybrid TV, from broadcasters and application developers (many of whom are SMEs), to TV and consumer electronics manufacturers, and telecoms companies.
The HBB-NEXT project comprised 9 partners from 5 countries and ran from October 2011 to March 2014. It received 2.98 million euros from FP7.