PBS crossing new ITV frontier

The interactive-TV capabilities enabled by the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) Transport B Type specifications will get their first over-the-air tryout on March 27, when the Public Broadcasting Service sends enhanced programming for Scientific American Frontiers
to DTV receivers in seven markets. The trial will last for four episodes, concluding in May.

"It's a standard that really blends television broadcasting with what people enjoy in computer interactions," says Mark Simpson, president of Triveni Digital, of the ATVEF spec. "So, instead of blankly watching a screen, you can see additional information and do some amount of steering of the program."

Triveni Digital is playing a key role in the trial, providing its SkyScraper data-broadcasting systems to PBS and seven of its stations. Tools in SkyScraper DataFab enable a content provider like PBS to schedule, insert and manage enhanced data securely. The interactive content was designed by Chedd-Angier Production Co., producer of the program.The Frontiers' deployment of enhanced TV will be a single-screen experience: When an icon flashes on the screen, the viewer presses a button on the remote, and an L-shaped frame pops up containing content related to the TV program.

Seven local PBS stations are participating in the trial: WETA Washington, D.C.; Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland, Ore.; New Jersey Network, Trenton, N.J.; Maine Public Broadcasting, Lewiston, Maine; Twin Cities Public Television, St. Paul/Minneapolis; WHYY-TV Philadelphia; and KQED San Francisco.

Each station will have a DataHub that will allow it to insert local enhanced programming into the program stream, an important feature to Daron Triff, director of business development for PBS Interactive.

Two viewing experiences will be tested. In one, 100 trial participants will use Zenith ATVEF-enabled digital television set-top boxes. In the other, 50 PC users will use Wavexpress TVTonic TV/Web browser software and a digital tuner card.

"What we're doing is making a one-screen experience of the Internet overlaid over the broadcast," says Stephen Carrol, vice president, broadcast distribution, for Wavexpress.