BBCi Labs Blog

BBCi Labs is no longer updated. Please visit our new blog, Press Red, for the latest from the BBC's Red Button team.

Freesat Sport Audio Issue

  • TVP
  • 26 Feb 09, 5:35 PM

Simon Lumb writes...

We launched new functionality for the Freesat Sport Multiscreen service last week. The new service is designed so that the BBC Sport team can make available extra audio streams to allow you (for example) to choose between audio commentaries during a sporting event, like the Six Nations rugby. However, reports came in from call centres and online communities like Digital Spy that something wasn't quite right...

The updated application changed the way audio was handled for the sports streams and it seemed that some set top boxes were having difficulty with this. As user aw01949 states:

For the past week or so, I have had a problem with selecting streams from the Sport Multiscreen menu. What happens is that the video changes almost immediately but it takes two or three minutes for the audio to be acquired and for the "Please wait ..." to go away. In the meantime there is some clicking on the audio.

We couldn't reproduce the problem internally on our dedicated Freesat play out systems even on the same set top boxes that were exhibiting the problem on live broadcasts. After inspecting our code we found a potential issue. As we posted on the Digital Spy forum, here's how the system works step by step:

  • When you tune to a multiscreen video (i.e. select a video from the Sport Multiscreen, page 3001), the application asks the set top box to tune to the video stream you've selected.
  • Sport Multiscreen videos can potentially have a number of audio "tracks", or streams, carried along with each video.
  • The application turns off the "default" audio track for the stream, which may or may not be the suggested audio track as selected by the BBC Sport team.
  • It then reads its configuration to see what BBC Sport have identified as the default audio track to accompany the video.
  • Then it cycles through the available audio tracks for one which matches the one chosen and enables it.
  • The problem was that this cycling was taking about a minute on some set top boxes because the application couldn't find the correct audio track.

Inspecting the code logic showed that the cycling code could end up in a state where it was forever calling "get next audio" in streams that did not carry multiple audio tracks. But we couldn't recreate the excessive delay seen on live broadcasts. In-house it was taking much less than a second, meaning the cycling was still finding what it needed.

We changed the code to prevent it from performing any audio track selection operations for videos with a single audio track. This fix was released today and happily the forum users have reported it has alleviated the problem. Great news as the audio switching will be available on Freesat for Wales vs. France tomorrow night. We'll take a look at why the problem didn't get picked up before transmission — broadcasting can be pretty tricky and minor differences can cause hard to replicate problems.

I hope you enjoy the new service and thanks to awo1949, Snoods, Lengster and the fine people on the Digital Spy forums for their help. Please feel free to engage with us here, on Twitter (@BBCRedButton) and on Digital Spy forums. If there's anywhere else where people discuss the Red Button that you want to point us to, please do.

Simon Lumb is a Senior Software Engineer for the BBC Red Button Service

One Big Day

  • TVP
  • 23 Feb 09, 7:00 AM

Susan Richards writes...

As we've written about before, the BBC Red Button team has a scheme called One in Ten where members of the department can work on innovative ideas which they are interested in and which may also be of benefit to BBC audiences or to the BBC internally.

As part of that, in February we ran our first ever One in Ten Big Day with chances for the team to hack around a selected subject area.

The theme for the day was games, consoles, quizzes and TV Platforms. This day was put together in collaboration with our colleagues in the Red Button team of BBC Vision who brought focus and drive on the editorial side of ideas. The aim was to learn and try new ideas, and to get an idea of what the BBC may be able to do in the future.

A number of ideas were worked on by different team members describe what they did:

Pong challenge

Ian Morton and Andy Mace looked at what you could do with two player Pong on the television screen.

"We took Mark Hatton's Pong game - from a previous Red Button Arcade One in Ten project (more on that in a future post) - and changed, or attempted to change, it so that instead of playing against an artificial intelligence you are playing against a friend via the internet. Some good progress was made so that games were created in the database and opponent paddle positions were passed between the 2 games, these would get out of sync though and then you end up with different game scores on the different boxes. The next step would be to sort this problem out..."

Games creation on Xbox (Andrew Evans/Simon Lumb)

Andrew Evans and Simon Lumb hit the XBox and had fun with Daleks!

"The XBox 360 is a hugely powerful machine, and unlike most PCs it is connected to the large screen in people's living rooms. In this regard, it is not too different from its competitors; the PS3 and Wii. The difference is we can develop for the platform without the cost of setting up a professional development suite - thanks to Microsoft XNA - a home development toolkit for PC, XBox 360 and Zune.

Dalek graphics on an XBox

"The goal for the hack day was to get a small demo up and running. By the end of the day we had two demo applications running, one exploring 2D and the other 3D rendering, and both featuring Daleks. It is a long way from a full application, but we learnt a lot along the way, including how easy the platform is to develop for, and how much of a community has built up around the platform. And hopefully we've taken the first steps towards building the big ideas.

Level creation on LittleBigPlanet

Andrew Bowden on the other hand was soothed by Stephen Fry whilst attempting level creation in LittleBigPlanet.

"I experimented with LittleBigPlanet - a game for the PlayStation 3 which is a platform game where the emphasis is on customising and creating your own levels, as well as sharing them online to the community.

"I spent most of the day getting to grips with the level editor, working out how to use it (it's complicated and I barely scratched the surface, but did feature the soothing tones of Stephen Fry who tried to tell me what to do) before making a very basic level, featuring some BBC blocks made out of 'pink floaty'.

"It won't give you hours of game play, but I did learn it's possible for a player to get stuck in a rotating big wheel (you may need to actually play Little Big Planet to understand this...) One thing I did learn was that creating a decent level for a platform game is hard. Very hard. And perhaps best left to the professionals..."

Brain training on TV

Ruhel Ali worked on some game concepts.

Sample screenshot of 'Brain Gym'

"A set of small games that can be played on any device, the games will help you keep your senses sharp. You can dip in/out of the applications any time you like and on any platform (web, mobile and TV). You can also save your game and restart it on any platform too. The backend of the games feed all platforms so it's truly cross platform."

Dick and Dom

Tanya Hethorn worked with a team looking at a potential interactive TV quiz:

"Viewers at home compete with the celebrities and also with Dick & Dom who play along on giant plasma screens in studio. Dick & Dom give the viewer at home step by step instructions on how to interact using their remote control, they add two other competitors in studio for the viewer to compete against, and allow for any viewer who hasn't pressed red to still enjoy a full experience. During the One in Ten day we worked up the game rounds and figured out how the technology would work. Next, we're going to take the idea to CBBC & Entertainment programme teams."

BBC mytown

John Horth wondered if maps could make good gameplay...

"Originally I'd conceived a PacMan style game using local maps as alternative mazes. Thinking about it a bit more though I think it would be better realised as a navigational device for an IP platform, in particular helping to avoid manual input of URLs via a remote.

"Other bits and pieces... personalised characters, the ability to mark your home on the map so your character would always begin their journey from this point. Perhaps there's a way to use the same interface to allow viewers to explore fictional worlds (Walford, Postman Pat's Greendale, Lark Rise to Candleford etc).

Visualising Radio on TV

And finally James Sheppard took a look at voting on Virgin Media, collaborating with colleagues in TV Platforms, and the Visualising Radio team in BBC Audio and Music.

"At first I ignored functionality and started trying to recreate the design of the online Visual Radio Flash application. Through my contacts at Audio and Music Interactive I got in touch with one of the designers who sent me the graphical assets used. I then played around with these to mock up a cable HTML page. My next step is to leave the design alone for a while and write some prototype Javascript. This will show if I can recreate some of the Visual Radio functionality, and hopefully add simple voting capability."

As with every new venture, we mere organisers of the One in Ten Big Day went through a steep learning curve to get the day up and running, however by the end of the day we'd come out with a lot of learning, and some projects to develop further. Just don't expect to see any BBC logos made out of "pink floaty" any time soon...

Susan Richards is a Project Administrator, and runs and co-ordinates One in Ten in the TV Platforms Group

Removing Press Red Icons

  • TVP
  • 16 Feb 09, 10:32 AM

James Parkin writes...

Although we in the Red Button team love it when our viewers press red, if you don't wish to have the "Press Red" icon (also known as the trigger) on screen at all times then you might be interested to know that you can remove it at the press of a button.

If you want to hide it and are watching Freeview try pressing the green button. On services other than Freeview, you need to press a different button to remove the trigger. Here is the complete list:

  • Freeview - Green
  • Sky - Back Up
  • Virgin Media- Blue
  • Freesat - Green or Back

James Parkin is a software engineer for the BBC Red Button service

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