Gadgets Galore in our Comfortable Living Room Lab
Someone once said, “Seeing is Believing.” At CableLabs, we believe that “Doing is Knowing.” With this in mind, we crafted a space in our Sunnyvale, CA facility that we call the Moveable Experience Lab (aka “MEL”).
The MEL simulates a consumer living room. The space has been intentionally designed as a “safe place” to frame your own ideas and opinions about experiences influencing consumers habits today.
Everything in the lab is meant to be touched, used and experimented with – similar to a Discovery Museum for adults. Haven’t tried Oculus Rift, VR or 360 Content? We’ve got it. How about the Amazon Echo? We’ve got it. HBO GO, Xfinity1, Google Glass and smart watches and UHD TV’s…check, check, check and check. The good news? Unlike crowded conference floors or company demos, visitors are not rushed to take their turn or see a limited aspect of the experience. Visitors are encouraged to take as much time with any technology they are interested in so that they can get a full sense of what might be the big “wow” associated with any one of these consumer tech experiences. Further, CableLabs personnel are frequently on hand to offer their own insights – or just to converse about the technology – without the pressure of press or others waiting for you to form an “official” opinion. Sometimes, just talking about what you’ve observed helps to ensure that the learning sticks or could inspire you to have new ideas about new possibilities.
Right now, MEL contains several experience exhibits:
Battle for the Living Room
Experiences for the Sony 65” UHD Display
- Comcast: Xfinity 1 with Voice Remote - demonstrating personalization (guide preference), recommendations, and voice navigation via Comcast Voice Remote.
- AppleTV: Demonstrating uber aggregation and an ultra simplified remote.
- Amazon KindleFire TV: Features an elegant voice remote and categorized discovery guide (with recommendations based on viewing habits).
- Playstation 4 (with 2 gaming controls) featuring Playstation Now: An ecosystem for games, movies, music, etc.
The Evolution of 3D Experiences in Head Mounted Displays/Mobile Devices
This exhibit shows the progression of virtual reality in the head mounted display form factor. This is probably one of the fastest growing areas of technology and, by all counts, is staged to become a significant consumer trend.
- Google Cardboard (used with any smartphone): Google Cardboard was handed out free last year at Google I/O as an example of a low-cost system to encourage interest and development in VR and VR applications.
- Google Glass: 2nd Generation: The last beta generation of Google Glass. Google Glass was a large-scale experiment meant to “free people from looking down at their cell phones — and look up.”
- Oculus Rift (version 2) (non functional): Representation of the state of development in 2012.
- Samsung Gear VR Headset Low Cost Headset (run on Android Phone): Demonstrates growing number of 3D-interactive titles and games as well as 360 Degree content. As a $99 accessory to a smartphone, this product is expected to cause the tipping point that will be instrumental in bringing Virtual Reality experiences to the masses.
Evolution of the Smart Watch
Like the mobile OS battles, Apple and Google are set to compete for the wrists of consumers — and life-style brand status. Visitors to the MEL lab can gain a sense of how quickly the wearable market has been populated and is evolving.
- 2012 - MetaWatch: First smartwatch of the latest wave of Smartwatches
- 2013-14 – AndroidWear Watches (built from same SDK, different Brand UX): Requires android phone to work. Smart watches with apps, tracking, and mobile notifications and a market place of 4K+ apps.
- Motorola 360 – Round Watch: First round interface (note the UX)
- Samsung Gear: Samsung’s interpretation of the Android Smartwatch SDK
- 2015 - AppleWatch (requires iPhone to work): A watch experience aimed at the luxury experience featuring a high-end display, materials, ApplePay and a 8.5K+ apps.
Tablet Experiences (Apps)
- Watchable: Comcast’s new, cross-platform video service that curates a selection of the best content from popular online video networks and shows in an easy-to-use experience — no need for a cable subscription. Specifically curating content from digital content that will appeal to younger generations than standard cable.
- HBONow : OTT viewing experience – available to anyone who wants to run HBO on a mobile device.
- HBOGo: OTT Viewing experience – available to HBO’s premium cable subscribers.
- Xfinity TV Remote: If you don’t want to use the remote control and your tablet is more handy — there’s an app for that!
- Unstaged: American Express – 360 experiences
We believe that having access to a space like MEL helps CableLabs employees establish opinions on consumer technology that are based on facts as well as experience with the real products. These insights enable us to ground our insights and set the stage for innovation beyond what already is on market.
The next time you are in Sunnyvale, make some time to stop by and experience MEL. No appointment is necessary, but be forewarned…sudden attacks of binge-watching have been known to afflict visitors and you might just be inspired to create a product on your own!
Mickie Calkins is the Director of Co-Innovation & Prototyping in the Strategy & Innovation Group at CableLabs.
Interactive TV Ads – Is There a Demand?
Recently, Coke aired an interactive advertisement during the NCAA Final Four basketball games. I thought I would try it out. When the ad starts, it declares “This is a drinkable commercial,” then prompts the user to “Shazam now to drink it.” I launched Shazam on my smartphone, it picked up the audio, and launched a Coke Zero ad on my phone.
The ad depicted a Coke glass full of ice with Coke Zero being poured into it.
Pressing that button took me to another page that prompted for my birthdate and phone number. About 20 minutes later, I received a text message with a URL to a barcode to redeem for one free 20-oz. Coke Zero. Pretty Cool! You can try it out using the ad on this Youtube link.
But it wasn’t quite as easy as I made it sound. By the time I had dug through the screens on my smartphone to launch Shazam, the commercial was over. Luckily, I was using my Xfinity X1G set-top box which includes a time-shift buffer feature, so I could just rewind 30 seconds and re-run the commercial. It would have been MUCH EASIER if I could have just picked up the remote and clicked the “OK” button to have Target send me the coupon!
The Quest for Interactive Ads
For years, advertisers, cable operators, and television manufacturers have sought the best way to engage viewing audiences with interactive ads. The cable industry went down the path of EBIF and tru2way, and for a while there was a flurry of second screen apps. Although there were over 25 million EBIF-enabled set-top boxes deployed in the US at one time, the promise of interactive ads never really materialized.
Another platform for interactivity is the smart TV. Since 2011, some smart TV manufacturers have been embedding Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) in various television models to enable HTML5-based applications to launch on the TV. LG has their “Live Plus” feature based on Cognitive Networks engine, several other manufacturers use Cognitive or Samba ACR engines. Showtime has “enhanced” their original content with interactive applications (SHO Sync) based on this platform on LG TVs. Ensequence has enhanced advertisements with the Samsung platform.
Smart TVs with embedded ACR can support synchronized interactive applications, but it can also cause some problems. What happens when the set-top box displays a graphical overlay, such as a menu or even an interactive application, and the Smart TV does the same? This is known as “app collision,” and is a problem recognized by the industry.
Interactivity in the Future?
The fact that advertisers are still seeking ways to engage audiences through interactivity makes me optimistic that the issues discussed can be resolved and consumers will have simple ways to interact with advertisements. With 4K and 8K televisions coming out with much higher resolution, the real-estate for interactive applications is even more compelling. I am looking forward to the ability to pick up my remote (or better yet, respond with voice control or other simple interface) to get my free Coke Zero.
Debbie Fitzgerald is the Director of Client Application Technologies at CableLabs.