Social Telly? The Near Future Evolution of TV User Interfaces

In When One Screen Controls Another I pulled together a few links that showed how devices like the iPhone/iPodTouch might be used to provide rich UI, touchscreen interfaces to media centres, removing the need for on-screen control panels such as electronic programming guides and recorder programming menus by moving those controls to a remote handset. But there’s another direction in which things may evolve, and that’s towards ever more “screen furniture”.

For example, a prototype demoed last year by the BBC and Microsoft shows how it might be possible to “share” content you are viewing with someone in your contact list, identify news stories according to location (as identified on a regional or world map), or compile your own custom way through a news story by selecting from a set of recommended packages related to a particular news piece. (The latter demo puts me in mind of a course topic that is constructed by a student out of pre-prepared “learning objects’).

You can read more about the demo here – Will viewers choose their own running order? – (which I recommend you do…) but if that’s too much like hard work, at least make time to watch the promo video:

For another take on the software underpinning the Microsoft Media Room software that underpins the BBC demo, check out this MediaRoom promo video:

For alternative media centre interfaces, it’s worth checking out things like Boxee (reviewed here: Boxee makes your TV social), XBMC and MythTV.

It’s also worth bearing in mind what current, widely deployed set-top box interfaces look like, such as the Sky Plus interface:

In contrast to the media centre approach, Yahoo is making a pitch for Connected TV: Widget Channel (e.g. as described here: Samsung, Yahoo, Intel Put TV Widget Pieces in Place, showing how the widget channel can be buot directly into digital TVs, as well as set-top boxes).

(Remember Konfabulator, anyone? It later became Yahoo widgets which have now morphed, in turn, into content for the widget channel. In contrast, Yahoo’s media centre/PVR download – Yahoo! Go™ for TV – appears to have stalled, big time…)

The widget channel has emerged from a collaboration between Yahoo and Intel and takes the idea of desktop widgets (like Konfabulator/Yahoo widgets, Microsoft Vista Sidebar gadgets, Google Desktop gadgets , or Mac Dashboard) on to the TV screen, as an optional overlay that pops up on top of your normal TV content.

Here’s a demo video:

So – which approach will play out and hit the living room first? Who knows, and maybe even “who cares…?!”

PS maybe, maybe, the should OU care? As an institution, our reputation and brand recognition was arguably forged by our TV broadcasts, back in a time when telly didn’t start till lunchtime, and even when it did start, you were likely to find OU “lecture-like” programmes dominating the early afternoon schedule):

Where’s the brand recognition going to come from now? 1970s OU programming on the BBC showed how the OU could play a role as a public service broadcast educator, but I’m not sure we fulfill that mission any more, even via our new web vehicles (Youtube, iTunesU, OU podcasts etc.)? I’d quite like to see an OU iPlayer, partly because it allows us to go where iPlayer goes, but I also wonder: do we need to keep an eye on the interfaces that might come to dominate the living room, and maybe get an early presence in there?

For example, if the BBC get into the living room with the Canvas set-top box, would we want a stake somewhere in the interface?

PS just so you know, this post was written days ago, (and scheduled for delivery), way before the flurry of other posts out there on this topic that came out this week… ;-)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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