Remember Intel Intercast? To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy; “If you do, you are probably a nerd”. Intel Intercast was the most notable commercialization of the technology that is for all intents and purposes, dead. Although, I think it could provide some pretty cool stuff today if it weren’t.
Just prior to starting Raindance in 1997, Paul, Jim and I were looking at some business plans that involved the television industry. At this time, I immersed myself in tv broadcast technology and how that painful analog signal gets to its end destination. A little sidecar to the jacked-up signal that you learned to love through your childhood is a sub-domain known as “line 21”, or the Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI). Line 21 within the VBI is an analog scan line contained within your TV signal that is not displayed on the screen but rather contains the Closed Caption (CC) information the TV at the Rec Center scrolls by while you crank away on the elliptical machine.
The CC information was jack-hammered into the signal by ABC as an experiment to insert time-code information into the TV signal in the late 60’s. After the failure of that plan, PBS ran with it to create what we now know as closed captioning. See here for more details.
In the 90’s, as the notion of interactive TV was starting to ramp up, a few people got the idea to use that low speed data stream (about 60 character per second) for text information other then program dialog. WebTV and others built rocket ships that blew up on the pad. Intel waded into the pool with PC based TV tuner cards that would decode the CC data stream and pull URL’s out of the text. The included Intel software would then flip a browser adjacent to the live TV image to various web pages. The demostrative use-case of the day was the baseball game where the stats of the current hitter were shown next to the player approaching the plate as it happened.. Man, that’s nerd cool.
Unfortunately, that’s the last transmission from our dead technologies rover, still driving around the surface of planet 1997. I remember walking through the 1997 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention floor with Jim Lejeal and Paul Berberian and thinking. That’s going to be huge!
Now, as I look at all the large screen flat panel TV’s at the store, begging to turn my 480p signal into web video quality on a 60” plasma, I wish I could just tell my TV to split screen and show me those hitter stats on the right side of the screen. Even better, how about a dongle I hook to my video-out jack that broadcasts the information on my WIFI network, while my listening IP color screen Vonage* phone flips to the Pizza Hut “soft button” perfectly synchronized to the commercial that is showing between Innings.
And finally, maybe the original idea was the best. Send out a program/time code combination that could be fed into an online service that would allow me to ‘tune’ into various web content that I wanted. Then as the baseball player walked up to the plate, I could learn about his hitting percentage <flip> read his blog entries received as an RSS feed in the stream <flip> or his steroid selection..
I guess i'll have to wait another 10 years until the same thing is possible with my digital broadcast..
* to my knowledge Vonage does not provide a phone this cool, although they should.