Archives for April 2012

IRFS Weeknotes #105

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Andrew Nicolaou | 11:32 UK time, Monday, 30 April 2012

This week the team welcomed visitors from NORUT, a Norwegian research institute located far into the Arctic circle. They were partners with us on the P2P-Next project and came to present their work on multi-device synchronisation of media presentations. Chris Needham and Dominic ran a couple of workshop sessions to generate ideas and identify areas of future work. Our guests also gave a lunchtime lecture (the first one hosted from the Central London lab) on this topic.

Duncan found time this week to migrate Whereabouts to Ruby on Rails. Whereabouts is a small, internal web app we wrote a while ago using Padrino to replace the deluge of emails sent around the team listing where everyone's going to be during the week. Instead, users go to the app, fill in their locations and it's done.

Screenshot of the Whereabouts system

The Whereabouts system shows the team's location for a single week

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IXManchester Launches

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Brandon Butterworth | 17:00 UK time, Thursday, 26 April 2012


MCUK by night, from Flickr user d35ign.  Creative Commons license

MCUK by night, from Flickr user d35ign. Creative Commons license

Yesterday we hosted the IXManchester launch event at the BBCs new home in Salford - Media City UK

The BBC has traditionally been quite London centric with most of the commissioning and thus production being concentrated in the south.  The MCUK intervention is the first step to changing that, moving some of the major commissioning to the North and thus the production and the rest of the eco system. It is also a catalyst for others to do the same, with ITV and others clustering around MCUK.

The UK internet is quite similar. When there were only a few UK ISPs the traffic volumes were small and so the first place they interconnected was in London, forming the mutual organisation London Internet Exchange (LINX) as a neutral platform to connect to each other.

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Notes from the WWW 2012 conference

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Yves Raimond | 09:36 UK time, Thursday, 26 April 2012

Last week I attended the International World Wide Web conference in Lyon, France. This conference is probably the largest one in that space: around 2500 participants and 15 parallel tracks. I presented two papers:

I also contributed to a panel with Peter Mika from Yahoo! Research, Ivan Herman from the W3C, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee from MIT/W3C. The panel was entitled 'Microdata, RDFa, Web APIs, Linked Data: Competing or Complementary?' and was looking at publishing statistics for structured data extracted from the Web Data Commons dataset and from a Yahoo! dataset to try and understand what format were used and for what use-case. One of the main message from this panel is that structured web data is already mainstream - Yahoo! reports that 25% of all web pages contain RDFa data and 7% contain Microdata.

WWW 2012, LDOW panel, day 1

From left to right, Peter Mika, Yves Raimond, Ivan Herman, Tim Berners-Lee (c) Inria / picture T. Fournier

I thought I would write my notes from the conference. Of course, I wasn't able to see everything so the selection of papers below just reflects the presentations I attended. Given the general quality of the papers, I strongly suggest going through the online proceedings.

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NoTube end of project wrap-up

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Libby Miller | 09:32 UK time, Wednesday, 25 April 2012

This post has been written by Vicky Buser and Libby Miller from the BBC, and Dan Brickley from the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.

NoTube, a 3-year EU-funded collaborative research project about the future of Web and TV has recently had its final review, graded 'good to excellent'. As one of the 13 project partners, BBC R&D has been responsible for leading one of the use cases around the theme of TV and the Social Web. This post is an overview and wrap-up of our work on the project, a look at some things we built, and a write up of some of the conclusions we came to.

The background to this work is the increasing competition from the Web for the attention that viewers used to give to TV. More and more people are using 'second screens' (internet-connected personal devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptops) at the same time as watching TV. This has spurred some programme-makers into thinking about ways they can capture back some of that attention by creating interactive applications for these second screens. In parallel, internet-connected 'smart' TVs have started to become available, and these offer better access to huge numbers of on-demand programmes and also programme-related interactivity via applications and the Web, but have associated problems of increased complexity in their user interfaces.

Example usecase illustration

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IRFS Weeknotes #104

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Libby Miller | 10:55 UK time, Monday, 23 April 2012

This week there's been a lot of work on the FI project, which has three deliverables due: Barbara has been producing content for documents and editing 16(!) partners' contributions, with help from Dominic. For the next phase, Pete's been updating UI wireframes and thinking around the scope and lines of inquiry, and Chris Needham's been researching network infrastructure requirements.

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Collaborative Project with Southampton University: Advanced UAV

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Matthew Postgate Matthew Postgate | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 19 April 2012

You may have seen a competition over on the Blue Peter website to name and design the look for a new remotely operated aircraft that the BBC hopes to use in capturing aerial footage in the future.


Drone in Flight

Southampton University UAV undergoing flight tests. Click for full size image.

This is an experiment that BBC R&D have been working on over the last few months, to equip an “unmanned aerial vehicle” (or UAV for short), built by University of Southampton, with BBC broadcast cameras. BBC R&D has developed new kit to enable us to film from the air, with improved shot stability and accuracy. We have also built the capability to stream HD footage directly from the aircraft to a BBC computer in real time.

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Goodbye analogue telly, hello digital. Part 2

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 17:22 UK time, Wednesday, 18 April 2012

In this final image of the spectrum analyser output you can see the radio waves are now entirely devoted to digital television multiplexes, and no more analogue stations are seen.

In this final image of the spectrum analyser output you can see the radio waves are now entirely devoted to digital television multiplexes, and no more analogue stations are seen.

So there we have it, exactly on time the final transmissions of analogue TV from Crystal Palace ceased last night, with the BBC Director General Mark Thompson actually pushing the final switch.

As we promised yesterday here's the final spectrum analyser shot, showing the spectrum over london now being entirely full of digital multiplexes of channels.

 EDIT: Corrected a muddle with the Palaces, apologies for confusion.

Goodbye analogue telly, hello digital! Part 1

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 16:00 UK time, Tuesday, 17 April 2012

This post was written by Tom Ellinor & Martin Thorp, of our Distribution Core Technology research group.

It might be old news for most of the UK, but this week sees the final implementation of the big switchover to digital TV for the London area. Arqiva’s Crystal Palace transmitter that towers above South London, and is revered by most UK broadcast engineers / broadcast geeks, will complete its switchover in only a few days’ time.

Spectrum Analyser output for TV spectrum in the London area on April 2nd 2012.  Graphic includes identifiers for the analogue TV stations and digital multiplexes (Mux)

Spectrum Analyser output for TV spectrum in the London area on April 2nd 2012. Graphic includes identifiers for the analogue TV stations and digital multiplexes (Mux)

Here at BBC R&D’s Distribution Core Technologies group, we’ve been involved right from the very start of Digital Terrestrial TV (DTT) in the UK. We’ve helped to conceive and develop many of the technologies and standards used to build the network. Over the years, this work has included the development of prototype modulator and demodulator reference designs as well as performance testing and know-how which have been licensed commercially. The group has also contributed heavily to the standardisation of the physical layer aspects, not least the development of DVB-T2, an entirely new second generation physical layer standard, conceived and standardised in record time. So it’s not surprising that we’re more than a bit interested to watch the completion of the switchover process in our local area, and thought it would be nice to share some pictures that illustrate the process underway. These have been taken using a Spectrum Analyser that’s connected to our roof antenna here at Centre House in Shepherd’s Bush, West London.

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The BBC Philharmonic Maestro

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Anthony Churnside Anthony Churnside | 12:12 UK time, Monday, 16 April 2012

We are very excited to find out that The BBC Philharmonic Maestro has been nominated for a Webby and a Design Week award.

The BBC Philharmonic Maestro is an interactive virtual orchestra that allows a user to step up to the conductor's podium. Using intuitive and natural gestures, the user can conduct a performance of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra as if they were a real conductor.

The user's view of the BBC Philharmonic

The user's view of the BBC Philharmonic

We captured a performance of the William Tell Overture using a 3D audio technology called ambisonics and high resolution video. A 4K video was captured with the camera positioned where the conductor would normally stand. The camera was equiped with a very wide angle lens so we could capture the conductor's whole field of view. This gave the conductor an unusual challenge because he had to conduct around our rig.

Conducting around our recording equipment

Conducting around our recording equipment

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Stagebox Launches

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 10:00 UK time, Monday, 16 April 2012

Today at NAB we are launching our new Stagebox technology in concert with our partners from Bluebell, Leading Light Technologies, CoreEL, and Xilinx.  The technology is on display and available for demonstration at NAB, one of the worlds largest trade exhibitions and conferences covering broadcast technology.


BBC R&D Stagebos camera back prototype

The prototype Stagebox camera back enclosure, showing the full range of I/O connections and ports, plus aerials for wifi connectivity. Note the v-plate attachement point.

Stagebox has been developed by BBC R&D engineers over the last eight months, building on open internet standards to provide a new way to allow high definition multicamera productions to use standard internet technologies to link their equipment and move content in real time.  Given the huge advantages we think this can bring to productions in the BBC and further afield we're moving quickly to license our inventions into manufacturers kit which should be available in the market this year.

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IRFS Weeknotes #103

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Olivier Thereaux | 17:08 UK time, Friday, 13 April 2012

These weeknotes are brought to you by the numbers 1, and 3. Weeknotes 103 on Friday the 13th. The only scary thing about it all is that, having almost forgotten to send the call for weeknotes in a timely manner, I decided to go around the office, look at what people are up to, and ask questions...

Theo has a wireframe on his screen that says "Hello". Which is nice. He is working on the ABC-IP project, coming up with the process and interfaces for a prototype which would allow users to agree or disagree with tags on a given programme. Andrew explains that the ABC-IP team has been planning the implementation of an experiment to understand tagging behaviour. They've got the user journey all planned out in some detail and broken into tasks so next week he just has to build it.

ChrisLo and Matt are leaning on Matt's desk, talking over a complex audio processing graph. They are looking at the diagram for the ring modulator demo of our Audio API project, on which Matt has been working most of the week. The hard part was trying to understand how the web audio api synchronises and renders audio - with a view to report back to the group, try and understand. He says he has been listening to sine waves all day. He does look a little tired. Meanwhile, ChrisLo has been turning Pete's interface into HTML/CSS/JS, starting with making a twiddly knob. It's actually quite hard to make something that feels natural - something you can actually grab and rotate. Most "knob" interfaces on the web are actually either left-right or up-down. Chris remarks that what is a natural analog interface is not necessarily natural with a mouse or touch interface. Score one for the anti-skeuomorphism camp.

Rob is surrounded by cardboard boxes. He and the Snippets project team joined us and moved in just days ago, and have been presenting/demo-ing a lot. On Thursday their demo of the new download and transcode service in Snippets was followed by a great chat on the snippets APIs and how the tool could be adapted for radio. Thursday was also an occasion for Adrian to come and talk with us about the newly launched Connected Studio initiative, in which we'll definitely get involved.

Yves, meanwhile, has been in full public-speaking mode: « I've given a talk at the IRI at the Centre Pompidou in Paris on Tuesday. The talks (in French) were recorded, as well as tweets, questions etc. on the polemictweet website run by the IRI. I shared the stage with the IRI and Raphael Troncy from Eurecom, who presented his work in the W3C Media Fragments Working Group. On Wednesday, George and I went to a meeting at the Institut Francais in Paris for a potential collaborative project. Finally, I've spent the last couple of days preparing my talks for the WWW'12 conference in Lyon. I'll be presenting two talks, one at LDOW on the Monday and one in the demo track on the Wednesday. I'll be in a panel at the end of LDOW as well, with Ivan Herman (W3C), Peter Mika (Yahoo!) and Tim Berners-Lee (MIT/W3C), entitled "Microdata, RDFa, Web APIs, Linked Data: Competing or Complementary?". »

The FI-Content team is continuing its work on user data transparency and control, and starting to scope the next phase of work. Dan is still working on a protoype aimed at explaining the value of giving up a little privacy for a better experience of catch-up TV. Barbara has been working on several FI-Content deliverables, including writing the material for a presentation to be given at the upcoming project review at the EC, while Sean and Chris Needham have been defining a new project to develop a protocol for authenticating TV and radio devices and pairing them with online accounts.

No week, even a 4-days week, would be complete without its lot of meetings. This week the social-butterfly award is a draw between Tristan and Sean. Both of them have been connecting with colleagues across the BBC. Sean seemed rather pleased with the meetings we've had with colleagues in R&D, and how our related work on video in HTML and the interactive TV research platform (a.k.a eg-box) seems to fall nicely into place.

Connected Studio Launches

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 17:30 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Over on the Internet Blog you'll see that BBC Future Media has just launched the Connected Studio initiative.  We shan't steal their thunder here, but in essence it's a very exciting new process which over the coming months will allow developers and designers from inside and outside the BBC to work together to come up with some innovative offerings for the BBC's online presence over the next 18 months to three years.  More details will follow soon, but for now the blog post from Dr Adrian Woolard outlines the main aims of the effort, and the new website provides more background and the opportunity to engage with the BBC.


The Connected Studio is also tweeting, and can be followed from their twitter page.

IRFS Weeknotes #102

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Barbara Zambrini | 09:30 UK time, Friday, 6 April 2012

This has been a short week due to the Easter break and yet a lot has happened at our Central Lab. As we are all back from our March holidays, projects are again in full swing!

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Teaching coding to kids at Hack to the Future

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Michael Sparks | 22:27 UK time, Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Last month, the BBC went into a school in Preston to help some children get started with learning to code in order to inspire them and help answer some important questions around children, coding and the BBC. I helped with the preprations and went along to assist BBC Learning. This post gives you a little background, describes how it happened, what happened on the day, and why. I personally find the video giving a flavour of the event inspiring and hope you do too.

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BBC Research & Development - Life on the Manchester Ship Canals

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Brendan Crowther Brendan Crowther | 15:28 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2012

Back in January a film crew from BBC WebWise joined BBC Research & Development at our lab in Dock House, MediaCityUK to find out a little more about what we do.

The film they produced is part of a series looking at the lives of people who live or work along the banks of The Manchester Ship Canal. Each of the films examines how people use computer-based technology to help improve their lives. The film about R&D gives an insight into making a living out of an interest in technology and features interviews with Research Engineers Chris Pike and Bruce Weir.

A film crew shoot R&D staff going about their business in their lab in MediaCityUK, Salford

BBC R&D Senior Engineer Bruce Weir demonstrates a prototype kinaesthetic device for the camera

The film features BBC R&D's work on new a sports graphics systems first trialled at Wimbledon, a collaboration with the Natural History Unit on an Augmented Reality system for live venues and prototype production tools for use with 3D audio.

There is also information about the possible future use of kinaesthetic devices in the home. These prototypes allow viewers to "feel" what is happening on the television by using small vibration or pressure motors in garments or pieces of furniture that trigger in response to on screen events. These extra sensations can be used to enhance the experience for people who are hard of hearing or partially sighted.

You can find the film on the WebWise Website.

BBC WebWise is an online resource for anyone who wants to learn more about computers, the internet and mobile technology. It guides beginners step-by-step through modern technology, from learning the basics to creating a blog or website.

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