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A Taste of IPTV Future

AT&T tried to flash its playful side last week, showing off several Internet Protocol TV concept applications at a media briefing here.

The telco’s executives had trotted out many of the demos before, including one that used an Apple iPhone as a remote control for U-verse TV. But some were new or updated, such as a speech-recognition feature that lets you talk to your TV through the remote to find what you want to watch and 3D video that doesn’t require any glasses.

“Historically, as an industry, what we have been focused on is productivity — getting more things done in the same amount of time,” AT&T chief technology officer John Donovan said at the event. “We have not spent enough time making sure devices are easy to use.”

To that end, AT&T’s prototype of “multimodal voice search for IPTV” is intended to make it much easier to find programming. The concept combines speech recognition, natural-language queries and an interactive program guide.

In a nutshell, it lets you tell your TV what you want to watch: “Show me recent episodes of Mad Men” or “What baseball games are on now?”

A user talks into a microphone built into the remote control, and the set-top passes the digitized voice up to a server in the network, which analyzes the request and returns the search results. The system uses AT&T’s Watson speech-recognition algorithms.

The system worked — at least, the demo version did — and was faster than keying through a series of IPG menus (or, needless to say, typing text using an on-screen keyboard). And it doesn’t require any speaker-dependent training, according to AT&T.

As with the rest of the demonstrations, AT&T representatives said the company has no specific plans to launch the voice-search feature commercially. The telco does, however, anticipate conducting focus-group testing of the voice-activated IPG soon.

Peter Hill, vice president of video and converged services at AT&T Labs, walked through about a dozen other applications.

One was a mosaic showing live video from Webcams stationed at key points in a user’s commute, which Hill said could be customized beforehand on a PC. At another point, he “sideloaded” programs from the U-verse digital video recorder onto an iPhone — a DVR to go.

Hill also showed Internet video, streamed live from a broadcast station in Germany to a big-screen TV. “The beauty of IPTV is that it’s the connection of TV to any IP video source,” he said.

Among a group of “media-throwing” applications, Hill demonstrated the ability click on an image on a PC and “throw” it to the U-verse set-top where it showed up in an on-screen menu.

He played a Pokemon card game on the TV against an assistant who was using an iPhone, and demo’d “Splat,” an app that lets viewers throw virtual tomatoes at the TV screen — or shoot holes in it using a virtual gun.