Your TV's interface is about to get smarter

Fancy playing Xbox 360 on your main TV while the console itself sits upstairs? Or how about using the BBC's iPlayer or Channel 4's on-demand service without using a computer?

There are moves afoot by broadcasters and consumer electronics manufacturers to expand their Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) into interfaces that include IPTV channels and offer advanced home networking. A new digital platform, it seems, is imminent.

Gary Thompson is Director of the Institute of Advanced Broadcasting (IAB), a body that specialises in research into convergence. He says: "Digital devices such as televisions, mobile telephones and cameras are merging into multi-use communications appliances and driving the broadcasting, telecommunications, IT, film, and gaming industries onto one digital platform."

ABI Research predicts that they will account for a third of the market for media servers by 2010. "Set-top boxes (STBs) and CE devices are the fastest-growing types of home media serving equipment partly because of the tremendous popularity of video game consoles such as the Sony PS3," says senior analyst Jason Blackwell. "The growth in the STB segment is largely due to broadband operators' effort to push deeper into the 'digital home network' by providing additional services and connectivity."

And with many of these new devices already able to connect to broadband, it's the humble but easy to use Electronic Programme Guide (or EPG) that could be the key.

With EPG interfaces that are already familiar to viewers, broadcasters are well placed to capitalise. Freesat's Marketing and Communications Director Will Abbott told us that its set-top boxes have been future-proofed for a very good reason: IPTV.

"All TV platforms are looking at IPTV, there's no question it's coming," he told us.

"We wanted to make sure that Freesat boxes are able to offer viewers services we'll be launching in the future over and above linear TV services," says Abbot, confirming that the BBC's iPlayer will be available on the platform soon. On-demand services from Channel 4 and ITV – currently only available online – could follow.

Sky's new EPG

Changes are also afoot at Sky. After ten years using the same EPG, Sky is in the process of presenting a whole new interface for its Sky+HD customers. Some viewers have already received it, with rollout scheduled to continue for the next couple of months. The key changes include a easy-to-use planner, a lightning-fast search database and the more obvious flagging-up of HD content.

"It's as HD customers expect – it's a superior and premium experience and the graphics are in HD resolution," Michele Swaine, Head of Product Development at Sky, told us. "The EPG is absolutely critical. It's only one part of the overall experience – there's content, reliability and quality to consider – but we do know that the TV guide is the entry point to enjoying it all."

The Sky+HD box has an Ethernet port on its rear that is about to come into its own, it seems, though straight web surfing isn't likely to appear yet. "Is the TV the best place to do that?" asks Swaine. "If searching and downloading is best done on a PC, especially from a storage point of view, then we don't want to squeeze a round peg into a square hole."

But that Ethernet port does open up plenty of other options. Swaine tells us that the broadcaster's plan for a 'pull' version of its Sky Anytime service is in advanced stages, where an enormous library of programmes will be available on-demand. It will replace the present regime whereby 40 hours of random programming are physically downloaded to Sky+HD boxes overnight.

Samsung, Sony and Panasonic have also been embracing the internet with their flagship 2009 ranges, albeit only from within ring-fenced online portals.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),