Traditionally, the human-TV interaction has been boiled down to buttons on the remote: press the power button, and the set turns on. But as with many aspects of television, the rise of online video means rethinking how we consume and interact with media. Interactive TV creates a two-way relationship that goes beyond the remote, drastically altering the linear TV experience.
Some are hailing Microsoft’s latest update to Xbox Live as a step toward a more interactive and engaging television experience. The update, which began rolling out last week, integrates with a number of pay-TV partners, including Verizon, Comcast and HBO. One of the most interesting new features is that with the update, viewers can control their sets with hand gestures and voice commands using Kinect. This serves to drastically redefine how viewers communicate and interact with their sets. Others are innovating in the space as well. Apple is rumored to release a line of TVs that will adopt Siri, the popular and sassy personal assistant that debuted with the iPhone 4S.
While Microsoft and Apple are heading in the right direction, interactive TV is much more than hands-free control. Panasonic’s Life Wall, which stole the show at CES in 2008, is a 150-inch television wall that’s designed to make every seat in the house the best seat. In addition to integration with different services, such as YouTube, the screen uses facial-recognition technology to follow viewers’ movements, shrinking or enlarging the picture depending on their distance from the wall.
Interactive TV is not just about hardware. It’s centered on improving the viewing experience—something Ooyala is actively working on. It's about letting viewers choose which angles they want to watch the game from, for example, or enabling them to easily purchase items seen on a program. The key here is two-way interaction, or a return path that relays information back to the broadcaster. Advances in interactive TV could let networks and set manufacturers learn user preferences, even building psychographic profiles, such as favorite movie genres and past purchases. Using this information, the linear TV experience could transform into a completely personalized one resembling online video and second-screen experiences.
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