back to article BBC boffins ponder abstruse Ikea-style way of transmitting telly

Future broadcasting could resemble IKEA flat pack furniture - with the bits and pieces of each transmission assembled at home, perhaps in ways not intended by the designer - if boffins at the BBC get their way. The traditional approach is to mix the media before it's transmitted in a linear stream. But brainboxes at BBC R&D …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So we can disable the laugh track.

    Or maybe select how dumbed down we want an episode of Horizon. Though we's probably end up with just the opening and closing credits on that one.

    1. Ian Yates

      Re: So we can disable the laugh track.

      Or, apparently, we'll all form some kind of "conformation bias" and all cut out the same thing...

      I know the Beeb are famous for their birtspeak, but did he actually mean "conformation bias"?

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        He meant "confirmation bias".

        The blog text says "conformation bias", but the words are linked to Wikipedia on "Confirmation bias", so it's a typo - o and i being together on the keyboard.

        It's an interesting idea - but maybe easiest to deliver on a PC or similar powerful media player. I don't know if a Smart TV could do it. Hmm. Maybe with Android appearing in that market...

    2. Kay Burley ate my hamster

      Re: So we can disable the laugh track.

      Yup, or add and remove and component part. Say you want to remove the ticker from BBC News. Mr Orlowski seems to have avoided writing about any benefits and focussed solely on attacking the BBC as usual.

      I read the whole article and thought something wasn't right, when I saw the author I realised it was an Orlowski classic. ;)

      1. JeffyPooh

        Re: So we can disable the laugh track.

        " want to remove the ticker from BBC News..."

        Comic Lewis Black on (I think) CNN. He, as guest, forced them to remove the ticker. I assume it's on YouTube somewhere.

    3. Danny 4

      Re: So we can disable the laugh track.

      I'd like to disable the pointless pre-introductions and post-title-introductions in documentaries and just get on with the programme.

  2. graeme leggett Silver badge


    Considering how many elements you can mix and match

    sound - regular, hd, other language (Welsh, Gaelic, Urdu etc)

    video - reduced resolution for mobile, regular, hd, 3D

    text - subtitles, enhanced subtitles, programme notes, transcript, other language subtitles

    additional video - signed for the deaf

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting

      All of these things are already catered for in various ways and do not need "O-O broadcasting" to make them possible.

      We're talking about separating out unique elements of the picture here, not just putting video, sound and additional data channels in different combinations.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Interesting

        Not necessarily for the video part. In that regard, I think it's being done a bit inefficiently, though correct me if I'm mistaken. I'll admit I'm drifting from the topic at hand, but what I'm discussing seems more realistic AT THIS STAGE. Are TV video transmissions of a single quality or of a progressive quality such that the first bit of a frame produces a low resolution frame and then other parts refine it into a higher resolution over several stages like a progressive JPEG does? I would think for a more mobile world a progressive-quality stream would be more versatile without having to retransmit the same image multiple times, unless the overhead involved with progressive quality outstrips the costs of just transmitting the image multiple times.

    2. Circadian

      Re: Interesting

      Looks like the obvious is missing (even though it's coming under the BBC banner) - adverts. Adverts customised and inserted into the "product" targeted at who the system thinks is viewing, and at what location. (Anyone want to take bets that that is the part of the system that is not user-configurable?)

    3. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Interesting


  3. Chris Cartledge

    Not so good for real time...

    Title says it all really. Already digital cannot get the pips right with satellite being worse than terrestrial...

    1. Mike Pellatt

      Re: Not so good for real time...

      But shurely using audio broadcast entertainment channels for time-setting is a technology that's had its day, wot with ntp being pretty much universal ?? And if you're off-net, there's always MSF.

      1. Paul Slater

        Re: Not so good for real time...

        I still ring the speaking clock twice a year - dial 123

        1. Colin Wilson 2

          Re: Not so good for real time...

          >> I still ring the speaking clock twice a year - dial 123

          By a strange and satisfying coincidence 123 is also the UDP port used by the network time protocol (NTP)

    2. breakfast Silver badge

      Re: Not so good for real time...

      But as empowered users surely we should be able to choose for ourselves when we want to hear the pips. Nobody wants to be told their watch is wrong after all. There would be panic on the streets.

      No, far better that you inform your television/radio/media centre what time you think it is, and it adjusts the pips accordingly.

      We must be forward looking in these matters.

    3. JeffyPooh

      Re: Not so good for real time...

      BBC World Service on SiriusXM satellite radio in North America, the Top-of-the-Hour beep is about 15 to 18 seconds late even now. It's a bit pointless (the delayed beep).

      Watching NASA launches via several feed options reveals latency variations of up to 20 seconds! That's just the delta latency from one feed to the other.

      At least they've made some good progress on Lip Sync. It used to be a very common problem, but seems to be rare these days.

      The axis of time folks, the axis of time. Don't forget the axis of time.

  4. Bill Posters


    Wow! Think of all the data you imagine might be useful to someone, so you could transmit it all.... every mic and camera feed from a concert or game.... do your own mixing at home!

    What more reason to we need? Gotta have the NBN now! at the full wack!

    1. Narlaquin

      Re: Justification

      We were supposed to have this with DVDs and the multi-angle feature. All the early players supported it, none of the DVDs contained any multi-angle stuff. 15 years later I own precisely one (1) DVD that has multi-camera shots. (A documentary on Apollo 8, with launch sequences) but I have to open a menu and select change camera angle on my DVD player, since the manufacturers decided (correctly IMHO) that multi-angle didn't need to be on the remote because nothing supported it.

      Does anyone else know of any other mult-angle DVDs?

      1. WraithCadmus

        Re: Justification

        Not strictly camera angles, but an anime DVD I had used them cleverly so depending on your language selection (provided you did it through the menu) the credits would be different to match the JP or EN voice talent you'd just been listening to.

        Icon: Frothy mug of water

      2. Dave Stevenson

        Re: Justification

        Memory says that The Matrix DVD has multi-angle stuff on the behind the scenes bit about the shooting of bullet-time or the like. Also Men In Black had a deconstruction of the tunnel scene (where they drive on the roof of the tunnel), and you could switch between the layers that were composed into the final sequence.

        My memory could be failing me though, and they weren't great uses of the technology at that.

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    One advantage to this proposed system: viewers can mute background music in a programme so as to make dialogue clearer. Complaints to the BBC about background music in programmes are very common, and not just from the hearing impaired.

    1. Richard 81

      Not mute

      I wouldn't want to mute, but being able to adjust the volume of dialogue, music and sound effects would be very useful indeed.

      ...being able to mute laughter tracks is a must though.

  6. Ged T

    Once again Technology over Content...

    "But don't underestimate the appeal of O-O transmission to two groups of people. One is BBC middle management, who will form "a metadata working group" at the drop of hat, and spend years having meetings which typically achieve nothing - but consume a lot of license fee money.

    The other group is TV manufacturers, who are facing a grim future as undifferentiated, commoditised floggers of flat panels. O-O might allow them to sell more expensive sets.

    And with 3D flopping, they need some magic marketing woo from somewhere


    I suggest that, for once, the brains at the BBC would think about the content they broadcast rather than the technical methods that accomplish the that aspect of delivery.

    Technically, HD video and sound is all well and good but it does NOTHING to the diet of food-orientated, the shambling housing-orientated and the hard-hammered auction-orientated rubbish, much of which is badly upscaled SD, repeated Ad Nauseam.

    This time, please, consider new and exciting, challenging and educational content before, once more, going down some technological cul-de-sac.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Once again Technology over Content...

      A smarter, more intelligent viewer/ information consumer/provider is a real and present danger to brainwashing programs and projects.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Once again Technology over Content...

        "Technically, HD video and sound is all well and good but it does NOTHING to the diet of food-orientated, the shambling housing-orientated and the hard-hammered auction-orientated rubbish, much of which is badly upscaled SD, repeated Ad Nauseam."

        You're channelling Patrick Moore. And I agree with you. It was a pity that Patrick choose to blame it on feminism, and thus cause his valid points to lost amongst the inevitable noise.

        1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Re: Once again Technology over Content...

          I think it's a crying shame how adherents of identity politics will happily dismiss valid points purely because they prefer playing the man over playing the ball.

  7. james 68
    Big Brother


    so in other words, your mobile device downloads 1 gigabit of data just so it can get at the 150 megabits of data it actually needs and discards the rest

    good show BBC, way to support the phone companies in their ongoing battle to cap and charge the masses.

    1. Justicesays

      Re: hmm

      Alternatively, it transmits the meta data first, then only the media objects you select from the menu/filter system, potentially saving bandwidth transmitting unnecessary language options, scaled down resolutions etc.

      If the selection changes mid-transmission, just start streaming the new objects and stop streaming the old ones.

  8. The Mole

    Nothing new

    This is exactly how digital TV already works. A multicast mpeg transport stream is broadcast containing separate elementary streams for each video, audio, subtitle and interactive track. There is also some metadata (PAT and PMT tables) which associate which streams go together. It's not unusual for a programme to be broadcast with multiple audio streams (english, welsh + english audiodescriptive for instance) and being able to select different video streams is also regularly used for wimbledon and similar.

    There probably is scope for better metadata and user interfaces to identify what each of the streams are/package combinations together, but mostly we just seem to be in a timewarp back to when people sprinkled 'object oriented' because it is new and exciting.

    1. JeffyPooh

      Re: Nothing new

      @ The Mole

      Exactly. Thanks for saving me the typing.

      Being that it's really just an extension of the present system, I suppose it'll make implementation pretty straightforward.

      I think it's a mostly-harmless good concept.

  9. This Side Up

    The first thing I'd want ..

    .. would be to be able to turn off gratuitous background music, all pre-recorded trails and interference on the tv screen like "coming next", "press red", silly little logos and continuity announcers crashing credits.

    1. TheProf

      Re: The first thing I'd want ..

      Will I be able to stabilise the wobbly camera and crash zooms?

      1. Richard Gadsden

        Re: The first thing I'd want ..

        Turn off the bloody lens flare too.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: The first thing I'd want ..

          And the eye-wateringly distracting dark "vignette" around 75% of Top Gear's articles.

    2. Evan Essence

      Re: The first thing I'd want ..

      @This Side Up - My thoughs exactly. I already get rid of most of the crap by only watching iPlayer, not live or recorded off-air programmes.

    3. cyborg

      Re: The first thing I'd want ..

      ".. would be to be able to turn off gratuitous background music, all pre-recorded trails and interference on the tv screen like "coming next", "press red", silly little logos and continuity announcers crashing credits."

      This comes up on Points of View basically every week and the response is always the same,

      "yeah, we know you don't want that shit but damn it you are going to know what is coming next, you have to know what the damn channel is without pressing your info button and you will use those damn red button services - or not, but fuck if we're going to listen to the mere people who watch TV on this".

  10. xeroks

    browser compatiblity

    Vaguely interesting idea, but we've seen from the world of web development the difficulties involved in getting of content to work across multiple browser - especially where high quality presentation is expected.

  11. Pete 2 Silver badge

    > allow "a viewer to have the programme content tailored to their taste or mood"

    Surely the way to do this would be a combination of features inside the telly?

    It would start with image and voice recognition and end up with real-time video editing / substitution. That would allow users (or viewers, in old-fashioned parlance) to choose what attributes the individuals on their TV programmes had. So if they didn't like the voice of a particular "star" they could access a menu and change the pitch, gender or accent (maybe even language, too) of the speech that issues forth from their gob. It wouldn't be a huge step to do the same with the video, so actors clothes could be changed (or removed, or covered up - the "fig-leaf" filter) and themes added. Likewise with their faces and physical attributes.

    From the broadcasters' side, this would make complaints a thing of the past. If you didn't like a programme - they it's your own fault for not tailoring it to something more palatable. Offended by the language - why didn't you use a *beep* filter?

    For the users, the possibilities are endless. Not only could you substitute Her Maj. in to do the weather forecast, but you could buy add-ons and customisations and maybe even third party mashups and reworkings.

    However, the best feature would be that there would never be the need to make an original programme ever again. Gone would be repeats in the orthodox sense. Yes, it would still be Dad's Army (special centenary anniversary edition) but Captain Mainwaring could be replaced with Arnie, Corporal Jones with Catherine Tate's Lauren and so on ...

    Of course, you'd never be able to trust a news broadcast - or any other factual programme, ever again. But the downfall of democracy is a small price to pay for a limitless supply of crappy TV.

    1. Captain Hogwash

      @Pete 2

      An upvote isn't enough. Have a beer.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    I don't agree

    "But don't underestimate the appeal of O-O transmission to two groups of people. One is BBC middle management, who will form "a metadata working group" at the drop of hat, and spend years having meetings which typically achieve nothing - but consume a lot of license fee money."

    A lot of good tech has come from BBC - look at iPlayer for example - yes I know it has/had it's faults but for me it always seems to work and dishes up whatever programme I want to see.

  13. Rufus McDufus

    Object-oriented programming failed 20 years ago? Goddamit I must be imagining all those objects I've coded for the last 20 years!

    1. FunkyEric

      Clearly you are a figment of your own imagination

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Some people never liked the change

      Please don't shoot the messenger, but OOP never really persuaded everyone, LOL (how did one geocities site survive?)

      Can't please all the people all the time, etc :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Some people never liked the change

        I wonder what inferences should be made respect to which way the scale has swung from the fact that you're quoting a Geocities (!) page? :)

    3. TRT Silver badge

      There's madness in the method.

  14. Mystic Megabyte

    Another £100 million down the drain

    It would be better to spend the money on content instead of this flat packed crap.

    I suppose that all the luvvies have iGadgets and are feeling somehow inadequate.

  15. Otto von Humpenstumpf

    Am I the only one...

    ...who thinks that the bandwidth requirements for this sort of thing are likely to be silly?

    In particular for mobile devices, the thing looks like a non-starter to me... downloading all languages/commentary tracks, subtitles, camera angles, whether they will be used or not strikes me as not particularly clever, really.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Am I the only one...

      > downloading all languages/commentary tracks, subtitles, camera angles, whether they will be used or not strikes me as not particularly clever, really.

      I would imagine that it would only download what it required, on the fly. This would bring some latency to to the user interaction, but no more than skipping through an iPlayer programme.

      1. Gideon 1

        Re: Am I the only one...

        It would be even better if they ditched DCT based compression for one that seamlessly supports decode to lower resolution, e.g. wavelet, for then the tv/mobile would only need to download enough resolution to fill its screen/bandwidth limit.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    you had me at replacing Ed Balls...

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fix for the hacks mistake

    "No doubt some would wish to replace an objectionable interviewee - Dave Chameleon and every perverted Tory and Nigel Farage indeed"

  18. RonWheeler

    The red button

    planning and implementation development committee for interactive user interface enhancement must be getting a boost to their exciting remit.

  19. Nifty

    Fix DAB first

    Could we not fix DAB first, so I can pick up some digital stations without warbling and we could hear all music station in stereo as opposed to the increasingly ubiquitous 80 kbps mono streams on DAB?

  20. DannyRyan

    I thought tv transmissions where already broadcast in seperate pieces and assembled together. Makes a lot of sense.

    For example if the channel dog(logo) was seperate - then we could turn it off!!

  21. Frankee Llonnygog

    Green screen

    Instead of compositing in backgrounds, they could be sent separately so the viewer can choose their own. That way, I could (for example) superimpose Jeremy Clarkson over a background picture of a huge arse.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Green screen

      I was picturing Stephen Fry as a sort of clippy.

      "i see you are trying to make a comedy program" just drop a Stephen Fry in

    2. cyborg

      Re: Green screen

      "That way, I could (for example) superimpose Jeremy Clarkson over a background picture of a huge arse."

      I believe that would be redundant.

  22. xeroks

    audio mixing

    Really like the idea of being able to set levels of music, fx and dialogue. The standard mix is not suitable for all circumstances. For instance turning the volume down so neighbours are not awoken by explosions can mean that dialog is inaudible.

    But having seen how surprisingly complicated it is to mix surround sound properly, it may not be as easy as turning the fx down a bit.

  23. Dave 15

    I assume

    This is part of a process where the BBC will eventually claim that you can watch broadcast tv if you have anything at all in your house, therefore you can't escape the licence fee by not having a recording or tv type device.

    So we will all have to pay the increasing amount of money for the talentless tat and propaganda they broadcast

  24. Cliff

    Macromedia Shockwave Flash!

    All the elements and their directions squirted down the pipe, reassembled at the client, like a Flash animation.

    The Beeb's engineers are a damn clever lot, and always testing the edges of what's possible to improve the viewer experience down the road. NICAM, for instance, adding stereo sound to an analogue signal without breaking anything. Hey, in the late 80's they recorded the Wimbledon finals in HD to see if it could be done with first-generation Beta (not digibeta mind - predating digi by years and years!) decks - 4 ganged each recording a quarter of the signal. Impressive.

    I would imagine this is similar testing out ideas for the future. It may not even end up using conventional cameras but strip out individual elements to send. It could actually be quite revolutionary - imagine the bigger picture.

  25. Brennan Young


    I thought this was exactly the point of mpeg4 (based on the multitrack 'elemental' architecture innovations of Apple's QuickTime, which has become much less interesting since): Keep the media in different streams rather than interleaving them or multiplexing them, so those streams can be selected for different audiences, devices and bandwidths at reception. The classic case is the scrolling text news ticker visible under so many talking heads. Or even movie credits. It's plain stupidity to compress text with a video codec, and yet it's standard practice today to do exactly that. Insanity! Transmitting text along with video is a solved problem! But that's not enough when the engineering and marketing agendas outweigh that of the designers and content innovators, not to mention the content industry (more correctly called the back catalogue industry) who just want to rerelease the same old cash cows in new formats, rather than let creative people do something like (say) Peter Gabriel's Xplora1 on bluray (bluray specifies that the player has a JVM, no?)

    But mpeg4's non video profiles never really took off. Largely because the content creators didn't think in terms other than the existing paradigms for what video could be. One track each of audio and video. maybe a subtitle track if you're lucky? its pretty poor for so-called 'multi'media. Others have pointed out the dearth of multi angle content. (Ideal for porn, but even those tricks fell away). Just as Marshall McLuhan observed: we first use the new media to do the work of the old. (q.v. artficial horse heads on early cars). Only later do we find out that the new media are good for something different than the old, and the old media were actually better at some things. (Books are still good).

    Most people are unaware that mpeg4 specifies a profile for 3d models and textures, or for interactivity for example (these was never implemented). Adobe (or whoever else might have made an authoring tool) had other priorities. Same with the browser guys, caught in the XHTML 2.0 quagmire. So content creators and software firms need to be on board. Therefore it's significant that the BBC is pushing this. I remain skeptical, however.

  26. JeffyPooh

    Other details that the boffins never seem to think about until Rev G

    How much power does it consume when it's on?

    How much power does it consume when it's in Stand By ('Off') mode?

    How long does it take to boot up from the totally-powered-off state (e.g. power failure)?

    How long does it take to switch channels?

    How inconvenient, intrusive and fragile can you make the inevitably-required software update process?

    Perhaps, one day, in the far and distance future, then boffins will think about such things from the outset.

  27. Christian Berger

    Seems like the original idea behind HTML

    The website transmits the pieces of content along with a bit of semantic information on what they mean, and the browser formats it according to the wishes of the user. That's why early Netscape had a font selection menu and such.

    But then came "web designers".

  28. User McUser

    Exciting New Product Placement Opportunities

    Yes, now you can cram more adverts into every minute of broadcast TV and change them all again and again without having to re-record anything.

    We'll swap the generic "cola" can in the first scene for a brand-name, replace the main character's sedan for the new sportier model (complete with glamor shots), and why not also change the location where the characters went on vacation to somewhere that needs a tourism boost?

  29. Old Handle

    It's a nice idea, but I'm skeptical that the system will be able to automatically arrange elements in real time and come up with anything that makes sense to a human being. If the broadcaster actually provided multiple assembly plans for different size screens etc., then it might work

  30. streaky

    "In the early 1990s, every software powerhouse in the industry was touting O-O as the future of software. Many predicted that users would pick and mix components, rather than use monolithic software packages"

    And this is what happened, so.. point?

    Not for nothing but this was possible (and frankly was done) 20 years ago. Ever seen how many audio languages and subtitle languages and different audio encodings are packed into the average video file? It's that but more, but talking about it like it's an idea worth patenting.

    Also seriously conformation bias. It's "Englaned need 360 to level the series" all over again. Somebody at the Beeb needs to buy a spell checker, stat.

  31. Mookster

    Digital Teletext already uses this

    Digital Teletext already uses MPEG2-DSMCC where the pages, pictures etc are transmitted on an "Object Carousel" so, this article is only 15 years late..


  32. John 62

    So basically, TV becomes a glorified web page? That could be useful for two things. i) Getting local content irrespective of location. ii) just like a web browser, get your tv to disable animation*, like those stupid 'snipes': TV News graphics are getting closer and closer to the The Day Today and those things advertising the next program where the hotel inspector walks across a coloured stripe are incredibly annoying.

    * this is probably the thing I miss most when using Chrome. Opera had a wonderful feature to disable animation on a per domain basis.

This topic is closed for new posts.