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Mashed interactive TV

  • TVP
  • 7 Jul 08, 9:43 AM

Rob Foreman of BBC Research and Innovation writes:

Mashed08: London, June 21/2 2008So, Mashed is over and now that I've caught up on some sleep it's time to sit back and look at what a great success the weekend was. Of course we'd hoped that some people would want to find out about interactive TV and in the end there was more interest than we had expected.

After the talk on Saturday morning, several developers were interested in learning MHEG and turning their interactive TV ideas into reality. MHEG is the open standard middleware used on Freeview and Freesat and increasingly in other countries. From a programmer's point of view, MHEG has some interesting features; it's a declarative language and it has some quirky syntax. Although we have a tutorial and example code, there is still less easy documentation than is available for more common languages. (The official reference, ISO/IEC 13522-5:1997 "Support for base-level interactive applications", has been cruelly overlooked by Richard and Judy yet again.)

All this gives MHEG a steep learning curve. To combat this, we've developed a toolkit called MHEG+ which hides a lot of the complexity from the programmer. This makes it much easier to develop large applications and removes some of the need for specialist knowledge and equipment. The BBC is keen to encourage the developer community and the MHEG+ tools will be an important part of that. I collected some great feedback (and a few bug reports) and have passed everything on to the MHEG+ team.

As well as making interactive applications easier to write, we're also working on extending their capabilities. Future set-top boxes will not only have Internet connections, they will allow MHEG to make use of that, combining broadcast and IP data in a seamless way. The developers at Mashed also had access to this functionality.

MHEG Player and editor

I was impressed by how quickly the developers were able to get to grips with the language and start implementing cool ideas, which was the whole point of Mashed. At the presentations on Sunday, two applications were being broadcast on the digital TV station we had set up and viewers could read email or see Twitter messages on their televisions. Not only that, but the Twitter on TV application won a prize.

Credit: Martin Deutsch

Mashed 08 has been a really valuable experience for the interactive TV teams in the BBC. We've got some great feedback on our tools, learned a lot about participating in similar events in the future and it's given us a chance to engage with a community that has some great ideas and skills to offer but has so far been excluded from the broadcast world. Now we're looking at how we can continue to foster that collaboration.
If you were there too, I hope you got as much from it as we did.


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