Multiscreen is an evident industry buzzword at the IBC trade show, having emerged as a theme over recent years, together with the rather nebulous term cloud. References to IPTV are now few and far between. At least with an emphasis on the display screens rather than the devices or distribution technologies it suggests a shift in thinking to the overall user experience.
Multiscreen is yet another expression with a wide spectrum of meaning. In general it involves delivering media to multiple screen types, from televisions to tablets and smartphones. It may or may not mean delivering an equivalent experience to each of these screens, and is generally confined to the home, with some exceptions.
Some of the more impressive demos show how the viewing experience can be shifted seamlessly from screen to screen or follow the user from room to room, or in some cases even follow them out of the home.
There is a general recognition that the touch screen in your hand may represent a better user interface than a large flat screen and a remote control, particularly for selecting and controlling media without necessarily interrupting the shared screen experience.
This also presents a potential solution to the problem of personalisation in a shared viewing environment, allowing an individual user to have or select a personal profile without explicitly having to log in to their television.
The implication of this is that service providers are no longer delivering to an anonymous household but should be addressing individual users.
This may involve a variety of networks, from broadcast to broadband, fixed and mobile, which in turn may involve multiple network operators.
The more sophisticated user interfaces are now elegantly designed, fast and fluid, taking advantage of improved graphics capabilities and high definition displays. Prototypes for ultra-high-definition displays allow even better typography.
Nevertheless, it is notable that some of the most successful services in the market still have relatively primitive and largely textual user interfaces, although these are hardly to be seen among this show of all that is shiny and new.
One major vendor demonstrated their latest thinking, with little apparent regard to what would be involved for an operator actually implementing such a proof of concept while admitting that it had not been tested on users, who would no doubt be bemused by the experience.
A more pragmatic version, recently launched by a service provider, was sensibly confined to an optional remote control app that could be downloaded by subscribers.
One of the better ideas was that the network-connected television could also control the room lighting, assuming the lamps are also network enabled, to adjust the ambience for different types of programming.
A number of companies were talking about network video recording. In theory this should allow true multiscreen services, liberated from the confines of a set-top box, although this is still rather a grey area in terms of rights.
The set-top box still lives on. In some cases it is becoming a lot smaller but many of them remain rather industrial in their design. They are no longer limited to tuning to one or two channels at a time. Some have up to eight tuners, which can now be implemented largely in silicon as part of the system on a chip.
One reference design has two video outputs, in case someone wants to connect two separate screens displaying different channels, or view information on one and a programme on another, a not entirely unreasonable alternative to providing a picture-in-picture overlay, which brings a whole new meaning to multiscreen.