Immersive TV is one of the most important trends in television and will provide a compelling reason for people to stay in front of the widescreen living room set. And before we turn to virtual reality or 360-degree TV, there is another – albeit potentially quite expensive – innovation that can take home television to cinematic levels. SoftAtHome and Orange have been demonstrating it, in the shape of TVlights: the proof-of-concept surround-light system that projects the lighting seen in TV programmes and films across a room, using Philips HUE smart lighting.
With Philips HUE colour ambiance wireless bulbs retailing at around £50 in the UK*, you need to spend as much on the lighting as on your new television if you want this experience today – unless you are fitting out your living room for smart ambient lighting anyway. But in its favour, this technology would work tomorrow; it does not rely on the formation of an entire new TV ecosystem (like VR does) with improved codecs and higher bandwidth networks. It may be expensive but it is a realistic, near-term advance.
If the cost of the bulbs fall, and a service provider decides to bundle some smart lighting into an expanded multi-play that includes TV and smart home services, this would be a great addition to the television experience.
This is the best example yet of how the integration of TV and the smart home/IoT improves the user experience (one of the reasons it won Silver at the 2017 Connies awards in the ‘Contribution to User Experience – TV & Video’ category). Watching your entry-door security camera images through the EPG is useful, as are on-screen smoke alerts for the hard-of-hearing (potentially invaluable). But neither of these worthy integrations is entertaining, whereas TVlights definitely is.
TVlights is based on the Ambilight concept originally developed by Philips (and which is still included in some of its televisions). Ambilight uses LED bulbs around the edge of the TV set to project light onto the wall behind it, with the light matching the on-screen action. With the cooperation of Philips, Orange adapted this idea for its Livebox platform, as a proof-of-concept, last year.
SoftAtHome acted as software partner in the project, which relied on new set-top box algorithms to analyse video frames and tell the HUE lightbulbs the colours and light intensity they need to display, in real-time, in order to complement what a viewer sees on the TV screen.
SoftAtHome (SAH) has been demonstrating the TVlights concept this year, including with Dolby Atmos, the ‘3D’ sound-sound system that means sound can move around you, including overhead to depict objects moving in the sky. David Souhami, Director of Innovation & Product Marketing at SAH, hails the combined force of surround-light and surround-sound.
He points out that the process introduced by Orange and SoftAtHome is independent of the television set. That means it can be used with any make of television. “All the processing happens in the set-top box, which analyses the picture frames. We take the scene, analyse the average colour on the left, right, top and bottom of the image, then configure the lights.”
This process takes around 200 milliseconds, so the lighting is in perfect synchronisation with the television. Because the set-top box is analysing video frames, even the user interface will create a light ‘projection’ – so if you opened a YouTube app, the room would be transformed red, momentarily.
As Souhami points out – and as made clear in demonstrations – the real magic is when you are watching video. “If you are watching a character who is in daylight and they move into darkness, you ‘jump’ into the darkness as well because the room becomes dark. And if there is an explosion in a movie, it goes everywhere. It is these extreme situations that completely transform the way you behave when you are watching.”
As with Dolby Atmos surround-sound, ‘surround-light’ helps to convey movement. In one demonstration, representing an ambitious but realistic home set-up, SoftAtHome was using eight Philips HUE bulbs.
Patrick Chataignier, Head of Cloud & Box Innovation at Orange, described TVlights as ‘light-surround system’ when his company unveiled the technology last year. He noted: “If you are watching a sunset on TV, you will see the lights at the top [e.g. the ceiling, at the front of the room] go orange and other lights at the back will be a different colour, depending on what else is happing on the TV screen.”
* £49/50 for one ‘white plus colour’ ambience bulb in standard E27/B22 fitting or E14 candle fitting. White-only bulbs are cheaper.
Photo: Philips promotes is own Ambilight television sets