Cable television has been the essential medium for receiving broadcasts throughout the world up until late 1990.s when phone based television broadcast and Direct to Home satellite based television broadcast services emerged as competitors to cable companies in the field of television broadcast distribution. The technologies that enabled transmission through phone lines and satellite based receivers also had the potential to carry back signals from the user to the service provider something which the traditional cable lacked.
The traditional cable that uses coaxial wires is a simplex system which means that it can carry signals unidirectionally, so the cable did not allow the user to choose the channels that were aired into his living room this meant that the user paid for all the channels even the ones that he did not watch. A significant advantage of interactive television is that it allows the user to select those channels that are watched by him, this feature helps in reducing monthly costs as the user only pays for the selected channels.
In most developed countries the traditional cable has had a major overhauling so it is now capable of providing a two way interface via a set top box, the modern cable network also facilitates ADSL signal transmission so cable companies have doubled up as internet service providers and the cable which carries television broadcast also serve as an internet connection.
Interactive TV companies launch new services each day in order to win more customers presently the interactive TV technology is used to determine the nature of content that is beamed to a users television set. One of the most important form of interaction which has been described earlier is the ability to chose the channels that are frequently watched by the user so that the user only pays for the selected channels, the user has the freedom to subscribe and unsubscribe a particular channel at will.
This feature provide cost effectiveness and the instant subscribe/unsubscribe option provides flexibility of choice. Some TV shows make use of the interactive TV technology to allow users to participate in the show, this feature has been implemented in the US reality show Big Brother 8. The show allowed users of interactive technology to participate in competition which allows the users to predict the outcome of the show. (Wikipedia)
This form of interaction is also employed for collecting user inputs and can be implemented for instant polling. Some interactive TV companies provide video on demand services s which enables a user to select a movie or a programme that they wish to watch, the system also allows them to fast forward, pause or rewind the video at will. (Wikipedia) Some serviceproviders also allow viewers to select the camera angle of a live sporting event. This allows greater flexibility since the user gets to manipulate the displayed content according to his desires.
Interactive TV may provide more enhanced services in the future, it is expected that the user may be able to determine the climax of TV shows by responding to some questions related to the show. Advertisers would undoubtedly make optimum use of interactive TV, a user would have the power to gain more information about an advertisement by clicking on it and they would also be able to order these products. In future Interactive TV would also become capable of displaying web content.
An analysis of pros and cons of various implications of the interactive TV technology is needed in order to predict future trends of interactive TV technology. In an article titled The Parents, the kids and the INTERACTIVE TV!!!! Keval Pindoria and GC Wong Ping Hung suggest numerous ways in which Interactive TV technology can be used to provide enhanced services, their analysis of the benefits and disadvantages of implementing these implications help in forecasting future trends where interactive TV us concerned.
Distance learning is lucrative a option for providers of interactive TV services, experts believe that distance learning on interactive TV may be available on large scale within next 10 years. While there are many advantages of using interactive TV as tool for imparting distance learning there are some issues which call for concern. A significant advantage of distance learning is that it solves issues of time and place so people of all ages can educate themselves any time irrespective of their current location.
Distance learning on interactive TV could be made so advanced that learners could interact with their teachers real time and also communicate with their fellow students. However there are some concerns with regards to development of reading skills, people believe that if kids are educated using only multimedia content then their reading and research skills may not develop. However distance learning on interactive TV may prove to be of great advantage for people trying to acquire DIY skills, the multimedia DIY courses may help people acquire skills in a short time. (Pindoria, Hung)
Home shopping on television has been around for a while but it has been in the form of a half hour show which tries to sell a new product each day by means of a detailed demonstration, Interactive TV promises to take Home shopping to new levels. An American interactive TV service provider has already launched a service which enables users to shop for groceries from the comfort of their living room; the groceries are delivered to the customers doorstep the following day.
Some people find this experience better then actually having to visit super markets because they believe that sales representatives at supermarkets possess insufficient knowledge of the items on shelves. The interactive TV helps customers to get detailed description of a product before they proceed to buy it. One drawback of this system is that if customers receive something that does not match their specification then they have to return that item at their own cost. (Pindoria, Hung)
A set top box is an essential hardware component which is needed to experience Interactive TV, set top boxes are provided by the service provider. Most set top boxes have computer like hardware. A typical set top box may include an operating system, web browser, video and audio conversion chip, RAM and some set top boxes also contain a hard disk that enables programme recording. (searchnetwork.com).
The hardware used in a set top box shares remarkable similarity to that of a computer so it is evident that television and computer will converge at some point in the future. At present computers fitted with a TV tuner card are capable of doubling up as a television. At present the computers are capable of doing what interactive TVs may do in the future; they can receive and transmit information to service providers via internet, distance learning can easily be implemented on a computer, computers have been used for ecommerce for a very long time and broadcasters have been interacting with viewers using their websites for quite a while now.
One reason behind the fact that people still use their televisions for watching TV shows and not their TV tuner enabled computer is that they do not want to fiddle around with the unfriendly software that is used for running the TV tuner. In order to control their computers they have to be close enough to the monitor so that they can surf channels or adjust the volume.
A conventional TV allows the user to interact with the TV while he comfortably leans back on a couch and manipulates the TV using a remote control; this ease of control is referred to as lean back interaction since interaction takes place without the user having to assume an uncomfortable posture. (Wikipedia) The computer however does not allow lean back interaction since a computer user has to lean forward towards the screen while trying to fiddle around with the operating system and the software.
A recent book titled Spy TV by David Burke has sparked fears concerning breach of privacy. The book suggests a possibility that the two way communication capability of interactive TV network may be exploited by service providers to gain an insight into peoples private life. The system may be used by market research firms to study people form a distance and build a database of their psychological profile all this without the subject knowing that he/she has been observed. (Burke)
While using interactive TV every click of the remote control button gets recorded into a database, the record of clicks is referred to as a click stream and this information can be used to make a psychological profile of the individual using the service.
The psychological profile may be used to display the kind of advertisement displayed on a persons TV, each user will see a different advertisement depending on his psychological profile. Since the set top box is provided by the service provider the user can have no control over the software it runs or the information that it passes on. (Burke)
Despite the concerns over breach of privacy, the interactive TV is gaining popularity every day. It can be predicted that in future interactive TV will become the main device in homes, it will perform the task of a computer and provide interface using remote or wireless keyboard depending on the purpose the user wishes to use it for.
Keval Pindoria, G.C Wong Ping Hung The Parents, the kids and THE INTERACTIVE TV!!!! < http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~nd/surprise_96/journal/vol4/khp1/report.html#Distance>
David Burke Spy TV < http://www.whitedot.org/issue/iss_story.asp?slug=shortSpyTV>