The Mad World Of Set Top Boxes – Part 2

James Rosewell

9/16/2013 6:45 AM


The remote is already in your pocket

At IBC 2013 in Amsterdam, there are a small but significant number of exhibitors focused on remote controls. The most significant innovation is the use of Bluetooth to replace infrared and placing a microphone into the control to enable voice control of the TV and set top box. Some vendors have also turned the control into a pointing device such that it can be used to move an on screen cursor. Other than these, the remote control doesn't look like its set to change.

Many of the set top box vendors are using operating systems and browser technology from the mobile industry and coupling it together with remote controls. However the user experience when it comes to anything other than controlling the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and changing channels is very poor.

Traditional Remotes Dominate at IBC

Those using traditional remote controls rely on numeric keypads to enter text, all without the use of T9 predictive text to speed up entry. An almost unusable experience results irrespective of any other cool technology involved.


Virtual TV Keyboard

Pointer controlled virtual keyboards similar to those used on touch screen tablets are only marginally better as it takes time to move the pointer and ensure it's over the correct key.

Voice control works well when the command or text is simple, but very poor when the phrase is complex as there's no keyboard to edit the mistake.

With so much talk of the second screen and multiscreen, so far I've not seen anyone making use of the touch screen tablet and mobile devices we already have to control the set top box. Such devices are already being used to enter text messages and navigate the web. They're ideally suited to control the TV and set top box. They already have a WiFi or data connection. The set top box is also connected to the same data connection and in home networks will appear as devices on the same local network. Therefore there's no new hardware needed to link them together.


High Level Architecture

The set top box is already powerful enough to decode high quality content and connect to the web. Therefore why not add a light weight web server to the set top box and enable mobile phones and tablets to connect to it to in place of the remote control? There would be an immediate improvement in the user experience for more complex tasks involving text. Further the cost of the hardware would reduce as a separate remote control and the infrared or Bluetooth components on the device could be removed entirely.

A method of linking the set top box to the mobile phone or tablet would be required. However, this could be as simple as assigning a default unique name to the set top box. Any device connected to the same WiFi, or with the right security technology internet, could then connect to the set top box. The process would be identical to that used to control WiFi or home broad band routers today.


Home WiFi Router Style Setup

Once the link has been established so much more would then be possible. The EPG and related information would be available to browse in parallel with video content on the TV. Web sites and related information included in the EPG data could be accessed. If metadata were included within the video this could be used to drive additional content, most obviously links to advertisers web sites during commercials which could be opened on the TV, mobile phone or tablet. The problem of synchronising second screen content would then be solved without requiring any new hardware or technology.

Of course can provide the technology to make the embedded web server work with any mobile phone or tablet.

Cisco are already demonstrating this kind of interconnectivity in the IBC Future Zone. However as all the technology exists today the future, in this area at least isn't very far away.

Maybe I'm missing something but it seems to me the solution to two major problems facing broadcasters and set top box businesses is already sitting in their pocket.