Friday, July 27, 2007

Only Tiles Will Tell

About a year-and-a-half ago I discussed Hewlett-Packard's patent application for tiled images that simultaneously show multiple video streams on your TV screen. Each stream comes from a different input device — set-top box, VCR, DVD, DVR, PS2, computer.

Today I just shake my head in disgust because it took me so long to devise a tiny twist on that idea. What if you use the same setup but use the four images to simultaneously stream live video? I'm not talking picture-in-picture. Four small images. All the same size. All shown at the same time. Plus, this new navigation tool will use lower-res video.

Think about it.

You press the 'favorite' button on your remote and four video streams appear on your telly screen. These channels are the four channels you view most often. (Don't worry about programming your system with your own favorites. Your set-top box knows all.) The video stream in the upper left corner is highlighted since that's your fave channel. Want to highlight another channel? Just use the arrow buttons on your remote. Want to watch that channel? Just press the 'select' button. Or maybe you want to see the next four channels on your list of faves? Just press the 'next' button on your remote. Of course you can use the 'previous' button to return to your top four faves once you nagivate away.

Since the feature uses lower-res video it doesn't require the full bandwith of showing four high-res video streams. It might only require the bandwith of 1.5 streams.

With this setup you may even be able to avoid the black screen of torture. About three months ago I described my own ideas about ways to eliminate the black screen that appears when you change channels. My whole premise was that the set-top box needed to guess which channels to stream before you selected them and guess when you might use your remote before you pick it up.

Now we'll just combine these ideas.

Your set-top box always streams lower-res video for your four most favorite channels while you're watching a single channel full-screen and when you are about to pick up (or are already holding) your remote control.
  • If you select one of those fave channels directly, your TV immediately shows the low-res video and the high-res video comes up within a second or two.
  • If you press the 'favorite' button, all four low-res images appear in a mosaic. If you select any of these faves, then the low-res image goes full screen and is quickly followed by the high-res feed.
Once you're using mosaic navigation, the set-top box will stream up to twelve low-res vid streams — the four you're watching, the next four and the previous four (if you navigated away from the first screen). That way the video is immediately available whether you select a channel or navigate through the mosaic mode.

No more black screen and a more effective way of searching. Now we're getting somewhere.

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