The IMSATV (Immersive Satellite TV) project implemented and deployed a pre-competitive SATCOM Application pilot service. An enhanced / highly Immersive TV platform, for an extended range of TV programmes, and optimised for satellite bi-directional broadcast was developed and deployed for pilot operations. To achieve its ambitious objectives the IMSATV consortium relies on relevant software and hardware background.
Based on the requirements expressed by the different iTV industry actors, and on a medium term vision of the iTV market, the IMSATV Consortium defined the following set of key objectives to be achieved:
The above objectives materialised in the development of an "advanced MHP immersive platform", in the production of "advanced immersive TV content", in the implementation of a "pre-operational pilot", and in the realisation of a "comprehensive exploitation plan".
Capabilities such as user insertion, via avatar representations, into a quiz show, into a game show or into a TV documentary / magazine were implemented, as well as user exploration of TV virtual spaces and playing in teams.
The possibilities for producers to generate and customise immersive content through the use of simple graphical tools were provided, whilst tools for the Playout of both video content and interactive MHP applications were secured.
Finally the Client / Server facilities for rendering the immersive TV applications on MHP Set-Top Boxes and for processing the viewers results were made available.
In order to support advanced user immersion and content interactivity a set issues and key targets were addressed by the project as follows:
By providing advanced user immersion and interactivity, IMSATV:
By interfacing the SATMODE system, IMSATV will be capable of covering very large geographical areas and able to reach all places not equipped with broadband infrastructure.
By interfacing a recently implemented triple play IP Satmode solution we open a new horizon, enabling satellite solutions to compete with telecom triple play offers and to enter the very fast growing IP TV market.
The IMSATV solution is designed to benefit all the actors of a comprehensive TV chain, such as TV content producers, TV channels and satellite broadcasters whilst giving viewers the features and services they want. It aims to give the TV industry the means to increase its viewer base and to generate additional revenues through a range of new immersive TV applications.
The following actors benefit directly from a fully integrated IMSATV MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) iTV environment:
By having selected such an integrated approach IMSATV intends to secure a market solution capable of providing a truly homogeneous and inter-operational iTV environment.
The IMSATV choice of the open MHP standard was intended to provide the following benefits:
The IMSATV architecture is composed of content authoring and production tools, of satellite broadcast and playout systems, and of run-time facilities. The technology is based on the OPEN standard MHP (Multimedia Home Platform) for interactive TV.
The main IMSATV components are illustrated below:
The work was carried out over a 24 months period:
The software and hardware development of the project was done in WP1, whilst the advanced immersive content applications were developed in WP2. It was followed by the integration of the SW / HW environment with the content in WP3 and its deployment in WP4. The pilot was run over a six month period and lead to a detailed evaluation of its performance and user acceptance in WP5. Finally a detailed exploitation plan of the results was established in WP6.
From August 2006 to February 2007 the IMSATV project carried out its deployment phase with the diffusion by the TW1 / ORF television channel of two main IMSATV immersive applications, namely the IMSATV Tourism Portal / Last Minute Booking application and the IMSATV tourism Magazine / Documentary.
The satellite broadcast was organised using the TW1/ ORF regular service from SES Astra. Users (in groups of 5 persons at a time) were equipped with MHP set-top boxes and received twice a week the IMSATV interactive TV tourism programs. A dedicated broadcast and running of the IMSATV applications using the SATMODE bi-direction satellite connectivity was also successfully tested. The broadcasted "immersive TV applications" enabled viewers to choose either the simple (no animations) Tourism Portal / Last Minute Booking application or the more advanced (with animations) tourism Magazine / Documentary where the viewers were able to "immerse themselves" by "virtually walking" through a geographical area (a country, city, location) they wanted to visit, and by looking at different content such as live views of a place, at meteo information, or at a presentation of a tourism object.
Test questionnaires and interviews were carried out in order to better assess the strength and weaknesses of the IMSATV environment and applications. As a global finding the user feedback showed that the "lighter" content applications were better accepted due to a "smoother" running of such applications on the current market's "very poor hardware configurations" of the Set-Top Boxes, whilst the content "rich applications" showed some well liked features such as content geo-mapping and avatar representations. Such content rich applications would need to wait for the more powerful next generation Set-Top boxes (more processing power and more RAM) expected to reach the market in 2007 and 2008.
From the TV channels vision the deployment phase also illustrated the need to port the existing MHP environment to other market iTV middleware, such as OpenTV, MediaHighway, or MPEG4, in order to reach a much wider end-user base and to secure a wider commercial exploitation. Also very much appreciated by the TV producers was the thematic nature of the IMSATV production tools, enabling very fast prototyping of TV immersive Quiz Shows and of TV immersive Magazines / Documentaries, thus making it a very nice tool to experiment with before actually generating the real immersive TV productions, allowing them to secure very short time production cycles with very fast time to market responses.
A graphical illustration of IMSATV immersive TV applications follows:
An immersive Quiz Show:
An immersive Tourism Documentary / Magazine: