Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend CES in Las Vegas and spent a lot of time being wowed by innovations in TV-related areas. There was the obvious headline-grabbing tech such as curved screens (the jury’s still out, it seems) and gorgeous OLED, 4K and 8K screens (the jury is most definitely in!). 3D TV was also prevalent although for me, screens without requiring glasses were the most interesting and promising. The ones I saw had a surprisingly large viewing angle and even outside that angle, the content is still enjoyable as 2D. Like escalators becoming stairs, it’s a technology that degrades gracefully. There were also numerous input mechanisms on show ranging from sensors in the screen or in custom glasses detecting hand movement to handheld devices with innovative keyboards. Naturally there was also a lot of interest in using phones and tablets to control a second screen.
Outside the hardware space, other transformations seem to be taking place. In the news we hear of cable companies expanding more into media, online video providers expanding into production and e-commerce giants expanding into video streaming services.
Add this to the ongoing trend of devices becoming more powerful and becoming more interconnected and you have exciting new directions for the web to head towards. In the TV world, the progression seems to be TV browsers evolving into TV-based web apps which are now evolving into entire TV platforms based on web technologies.
So why was W3C at CES in the first place? Well in the Web and TV Interest Group we’re constantly looking at requirements for a variety of current and future use-cases. Based on those requirements, we investigate where there are gaps in existing specifications and how they can be filled. This could be done by feature requests or bug reports to existing working groups, establishing new community groups to address specific issues, or communicating with external organizations where similar work might be being done. But first, what kind of work is currently on the radar?
Multi-screen is a hot topic and although this is not a new idea — indeed, many consumers are already enjoying second-screen content — most of the current solutions are based on proprietary technology. We’re working to make this available in an open way through HTML5 and related specifications so users won’t be tied to a particular hardware manufacturer or operating system. There’s already a Second Screen Presentation Community Group which is producing a draft specification, and work continues on the Network Service Discovery API for finding devices within a local network. However the opportunities could still be explored further. This could be deeper integration with the main screen content, a more seamless experience without restrictions such as being on a single network, for example, or better synchronization of content, possibly using technologies such as audio fingerprinting. Immediately this raises concerns over security and privacy which are as important as any discussions of technical feasibility.
Earlier I mentioned 3D and although this technology might have had a slow start in the living room, I believe its progress has merely faltered and we’ll see it being adopted eventually. In which case, 3D-aware captioning is a challenge waiting to be met. Aside from the immediate problem of preventing on-screen captions from interfering with the 3D effect, there is also the opportunity of enabling creators to deliberately move captions through the 3D space as part of the viewing experience.
Metadata is another area where standardization is important and although steps are being taken, there are still gaps such as metadata specifically for audio (sometimes referred to as object audio), globally recognized categorization for individual videos, and exposing existing metadata within media streams. Regarding the last issue, a community group (Media Resource In-band Tracks CG) was recently set up to work on how web applications could access in-band track information within formats such as WebM, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 using the HTML media elements.
Already a lot of work is being done around the globe to bring these and other innovations closer to our living rooms. Avoiding duplication of effort and encouraging alignment of emerging standards is one incentive for an upcoming web and TV workshop on March 12-13 in Munich, Germany, where we intend to focus on convergence of the next wave of TV technology as it makes more and more use of the web. The workshop is open to both W3C members and non-members and the requirement for participation is either a short statement of interest or a more thorough position paper. We are also welcoming sponsors for the workshop.
Even if you’re unable to attend there are a number of options for taking part in the ongoing work. You could follow the Web and TV Interest Group mailing list archives which are public and include minutes of our face-to-face meetings. You could, of course, become a W3C member and join the Web and TV Interest Group and other groups directly. Lastly, a reminder that W3C community groups are open to all, both to join and create. They are diverse and currently include both forums for discussion and groups working on draft specifications which may be incorporated in to working groups in future.
To batter a well-worn cliché, the revolution may not be televised — the revolution may be in television itself and more and more the web will be a part of that.