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The Future of Television: Games, Media and TVersity
interview
game: TVersity
posted by: Shawn Rider
publisher: TVersity
developer: TVersity
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date posted: 10:31 AM Thu Jul 27th, 2006
last revision: 10:35 AM Thu Jul 27th, 2006



Click to read.For awhile now, games and music/tv/film have been connected. Not only do other forms of media provide inspiration and soundtracks for many videogames, but game consoles have increasingly supported more diverse media playback functions. First Sony and the other CD pioneers (no pun intended) included audio playback. Then Sony and Microsoft upped the ante with DVD support in PS2 and Xbox. Now, Microsoft offers HD quality video downloads and connectivity with Windows Media Connect (WMC) and Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE) PCs. Sony has made Blu-Ray a cornerstone of the PlayStation 3 design, and promises to deliver on previous promises of downloadable media content. The Wii promises to use standard-sized DVD discs, so can media downloads and playback be far behind?

In previous articles, we've covered some of the new multimedia functions of the Xbox 360, even considering the core system among its media hub competitors. In that article, I mentioned a program called TVersity, a media server that specializes in transcoding media content to fit the target device. So far TVersity has not had much to do with gaming systems, but all of that is changing fast.

In the latest release, TVersity has added support for PlayStation Portable. TVersity includes a lightweight web server that can be configured to be accessible by virtually any computer, mobile phone, PDA or PSP. Directories and playlists from TVersity can be saved into the RSS reader on the PSP, and accessed via any WiFi network. And in addition to serving your personal media, TVersity can provide access to a whole menu of international radio stations and podcasts in a variety of streaming or downloadable formats-far more formats than natively supported by the PSP.

With the Nintendo DS release of the Opera Web browser, as well as developing news about networked media support for both Wii and PlayStation 3, TVersity has the potential to service all of these devices, and allow users to more easily enjoy their media using whatever device they prefer. This is a hot topic at the moment, and TVersity is at the forefront of networked media development.

I had the chance to ask Ronen Mizrahi, creator of TVersity, a few questions about the project and its plans to expand support for gaming devices. Judging by Mizrahi's posts on the TVersity Forums and his blog, Mediaholic, we anticipated that support for gaming platforms would be significant, but we couldn't have guessed the level of enthusiasm Mizrahi expressed for game consoles. With planned support for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, TVersity is poised to become much more popular among gamers.

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Q: Can you start out by telling us a little about how TVersity came to be? What inspired you to begin the project?

A: The realization that Internet multimedia content is about to explode and yet solutions to enable simple access to this content from the living room do not really exist. TVersity officially started in the summer of 2004, but already two years earlier I was into turning the PS2 into a media player that can stream content from my PC. At that time home networks were rare and content on the PC or on the Net was scarce and so I decided that it is premature. Two years later, after completing my work with my previous start-up (http://invoke.com) I revisited the idea and decided that the time is right.

Q: How many people work on TVersity?

A: A handful.

Q: And how many people use TVersity?

A: We do not have information about the actual number of users since we do not monitor actual usage. We do have some idea with regard to number of downloads but even this information is inaccurate since TVersity is being distributed through third party web sites which we do not track. I am comfortable saying that our number of downloads so far is in the hundreds of thousands.

Q: TVersity originally worked with media hubs made by companies like D-Link and Philips. When did the PSP become a platform of interest to you?

A: It always was. TVersity was perceived as a universal media server from day one. Our philosophy is to add support for any connected device that becomes sufficiently popular. We started with media hubs that were based on the UPnP standard simply because it was a good way to show the capabilities of our software and since making Internet content easily accessible from the living room was one of our primary targets. We then looked around us and felt that connected mobile devices with multimedia capabilities were gaining in popularity and it was time to support them.

The Sony PSP was a natural target for us since it was intended for digital entertainment and it had built in support for wireless networking, it also developed a large community of users very quickly and out of the box it lacked the kind of functionality that TVersity provided.

Of-course our work with mobile devices is just starting, we also added support for some PDAs and cellular phones. We are now engaged in a large effort to bring TVersity to a wide range of users of connected mobile devices.

As a side note, I think that adding wireless connectivity to mobile media players is the next big thing for that market and I will not be surprised if a connected iPod will be introduced on time for the holiday season. I also blogged about it back in Januray on Mediaholic. Interestingly the Zune player (the rumored media player Microsoft is building to compete with Apple) is supposed to support WiFi from day one, this will be a very interesting development and will make applications like TVersity even more important. (Editor's note: The Zune player has been confirmed by Microsoft, although details about the device are still emerging.)

Q: Currently the PSP does not support video playback through TVersity (correct me if I'm wrong here). Is there any way to allow playback of our video libraries and take fuller advantage of TVersity's transcoding capabilities?

A: You are correct. TVersity is currently transcoding video content to MPEG1 or MPEG2 and the PSP requires MPEG4. Even if we did support MPEG4 encoding (we will soon!) it would only be possible to download content to the memory card for later playback but not to stream it since video streaming is not yet supported by Sony. According to Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, RSS video support is coming this summer, and if it will be like audio, then that means streaming and not just downloading. We are currently working on adding video support for the PSP so that once Sony releases the firmware with RSS video, TVersity will be able to let you do on your PSP all the things you can currently do with a media hub.

Q: There have been a lot of requests in the TVersity forums for TVersity to work with the Xbox 360, but Microsoft will not allow the 360 to connect to any non-MS media servers (either Windows Media Connect or Windows Media Center Edition 2005). Have there been any movements to lobby Microsoft to allow this functionality? What would Xbox 360 compatibility with TVersity mean for users? What would it mean for your project?

A: Originally when we heard that the XBOX 360 will support the UPnP A/V standard we were very excited and planned to test it with TVersity as soon as we could get our hands on a unit. Later on when we learned that Microsoft decided to add to the 360 provisions to prevent it from working with any server other than their own Windows Media Connect, we were very disappointed but decided to honor their decision and avoid circumventing it. Recently we have reversed our decision and we are now adding support for the XBOX 360. The reason for it has to do with the fact that Microsoft itself has added support for the iPod in the XBOX 360 by reverse engineering Apple's products and by doing that, they made it 100% legit for other companies to do the same with their products. In fact it is very likely that at the time this interview is published, TVersity will already support the XBOX 360.


Q: What are your thoughts about the relationship between games and other media?

A: When people refer to Digital Entertainment they typically mean audio, video, photos and games. These are the four pillars of entertainment and for us they are really different aspects of the same fundamental need we are serving with TVersity.

In five or ten years from now it is very likely that most of us will have a single set top box that allows access to all the entertainment we care about (this includes games) whether it is played locally or received over the air, over the Internet or via a closed cable/ satellite/ telco network. It is also obvious that on the go we will be able to access our entertainment from our device of choice. In the center of all this, a media server is needed to manage the content and the devices, and eliminate incompatibility issues between them, this is where TVersity can help.

You can expect TVersity to develop in the next 2-3 years the ability to serve games in addition to the audio, photos and video it can serve now. Imagine playing your PC or Internet games from your set top box or from your cell phone.

The really interesting part, however, is the none obvious elements in the future of entertainment, the kind of things we cannot yet see coming. I personally think that games will play a more significant role than ever and that social networking in games and in entertainment in general is the next big thing. While MMORPG are taking the first step into massive interactivity I think this is just the beginning and we are headed into a future where the collective actions of individuals will add up to a new kind of experience for the masses in ways similar to what we are seeing today with social networking and sites like Flickr. This will happen in games as well as in TV shows blurring the lines between the two mediums and giving birth to a new type of entertainment that was not possible before the Internet.


Q: Are there other gaming platforms on the TVersity development radar?Has any experimentation been done with the new version of Opera for Nintendo DS?

A: Once multimedia capabilities are integrated into the Nintendo DS and are made accessible via the browser or via some other application (like the RSS Reader on the PSP) we will be sure to support it. We are also very interested in seeing what kind of multimedia capabilities Sony will put in the PS3 and how open will these be for interoperability with third party software and services.In an era where devices like the XBOX 360 and the PS3 have more computing power than an average PC, one cannot avoid thinking that Microsoft designed the 360 to require a Media Center PC, not because it lacks resources, but rather because they wish to sell one more operating system license. This approach will not be tolerated by the market in the long run, and represents a real opportunity for Sony with its PS3. The only question is whether Sony will leverage this opportunity or will miss it just like all the opportunities they missed with respect to digital media so far.

I really think Sony has a chance here to turn the PS3 into the ultimate gateway of entertainment by opening up the platform (to a degree) for third parties. Assuming the PS3 will feature full support for UPnP A/V that, unlike the 360, will not be limited to audio and photos, it will allow TVersity to fully support it. Moreover, supporting advanced application such as the ability to record shows on the PS3 and store them on the PC via a media server (this is some of the new features of UPnP 2.0), or such as adding a web browser to the PS3 (or some other way for third parties to bring Internet content and entertainment to the PS3 without creating a PS3 game) will allow it to eclipse the 360 and even the whole Media Center Concept. Of-course a solid media sever is a must, and since Sony does not have alternatives to Media Center (MCE) or to Windows Media Connect (WMC), we hope TVersity, with its innovative features that go above and beyond WMC and even in some way beyond MCE, can play a significant role here.


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You can learn more about TVersity at http://www.tversity.com

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