Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Pause That Broke the Camel's Back

You know the pause. You switch from one channel to another and your telly screen is completely black, except for the electronic program guide (EPG) info along the bottom of the screen. Sometimes it's a short pause; other times it seems like forever. Either way, you're sick of seeing that black screen. When you change the channel, you want to see the new content immediately.

So that's the problem. How can we solve it? Let's take a look at a few different ways.
    1. Stream three signals simultaneously: The set-top box (STB) actively acquires the signals for the channel you're watching, the channel you would watch if you press the 'channel +' button and the channel you would watch if you press the 'channel -' button. If you navigate the channels only using the 'channel +/-' button, you'll always see a picture. If you change channels any other way, you'll still see a black screen.

    2. Stream more than three signals simultaneously: The STB actively acquires more than three signals. Of course, the STB acquires the signal for the channel you're watching, but the STB also acquires signals for the channels you're most likely to view next. The STB analyzes your historical viewing habits and records video for all channels you're likely to watch. That can be a lot of video, and the STB may only record a fraction of a channel's signal based on the likelihood that you'll change the telly to that channel next. If you do something the STB doesn't expect, such as switching direclty to MSNBC when you hear breaking news about the al Zarqawi killing, then you'll still see a black screen.

    3. Insert content during channel switches: It's likely that the STB won't have the capacity to record all channels simultaneously; so it's very likely you'll still see black screens during some channel switches. Still can't stand these peaceful interludes of blackness? Then maybe you'll enjoy the product described in US Patent App 20060123443, Inserting local signals during channel changes. The patent suggests that ads and games can be stored locally, and subscribers can watch/play during slightly longer breaks. I think that this last feature would also be convenient for real-time shows that run late or long.

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