More Guide Innovation on Show at IPTV World Forum

One clear theme that stood out at IPTV World Forum in London last week was some fresh approaches to the ubiquitous TV Guide. I saw several companies with new designs for their interface. Most focused on leveraging the new-found space on HD flat panel TVs. But a couple of them went a little further to really help the user avoid some of the traditional pitfalls of the guide.

AV Networks Cloud TVNetgem, a set-top box and software stack maker, was showing a new interface for their boxes at the show. One of the things that really caught my eye about it was the clean lines and open feel of the interface. They seemed to get a good balance between minimizing visual clutter and providing contextually relevant information.

Particularly interesting was the complete absence of the heinous on-screen keyboard. One of the advantages of building the remote, STB and software is that you can start to take advantage of the hardware to simplify the on-screen interface. Netgem remotes include letters associated with the number keys, exactly like a mobile phone. When a user needs to enter a search term they simply multi-key the relevant number (for example, touching the number 2 three times puts a letter “C” on the screen.) I know this sounds less than revolutionary but it is streets ahead of hunting and pecking at an on-screen keyboard.

Another theme in interface design is leveraging an iPhone as an extension of the guide. In some cases it also acts as a remote control as well. Orca was demonstrating this at the show. The iPhone version of the Orca Compass guide is targeted at quadruple-play operators. Much of the guts of Compass is running in the cloud allowing any client – iPhone, TV or PC – to access it. Using this approach a users preferences are stored in “the cloud” allowing Compass to bring their content preferences to all devices the user may have. The iPhone version is shown below.

The iPhone app can even act as a remote. I mentioned this development a couple of weeks ago here when I reviewed the Active Video approach to leveraging the iPhone. Orca’s approach, while technically quite different, achieves the same goal. The remote connects directly to the STB via the home Wi-Fi network. Of course, the usual remote functions are supported. But this creates an interesting scenario for consumers: they can browse the guide from the iPhone while continuing to watch their favorite show on the TV. This two-screen approach has been tried before with the PC with small success but perhaps the convenience of an iPhone will help propel it into the mainstream.

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