This page contains information on the Inhabited Television research that is being carried out within the Communications Research Group at the University of Nottingham. This work involves collaboration with several other partners including BT Laboratories and eRENA project within the Intelligent Information Interfaces (I3) programme and also the EPSRC/BT funded Multimedia Networking for Inhabited Television project.
Inhabited TV involves the public deployment of collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) so that on-line audiences can participate in TV shows within shared virtual worlds. This extends traditional broadcast TV and more recent interactive TV by enabling social interaction among participants and by offering them new forms of control over narrative structure (e.g., navigation within a virtual world) and greater interaction with content (e.g., direct manipulation of props and sets). Inhabited TV also builds on recent research into CVEs as social environments, including experiments with Internet-based virtual worlds and the development of more scaleable research platforms. This involves more explicitly focusing on issues of production, management, format and participation arising from the staging of events within virtual worlds. The potential size of Inhabited TV audiences also challenges the scaleability of CVEs
Inhabited TV can be described in terms of three layers of participation, where each layer defines different possibilities for navigation, interaction, mutual awareness and communication and is supported by a distinct combination of interface and transmission technologies.
The innermost layer describes the performers in the TV show (e.g., hosts, actors and contestants). These typically have the fullest involvement in the show, requiring the support of relatively powerful equipment such as immersive peripherals, high performance workstations and high-speed networks. The next layer describes the inhabitants, the on-line audience who are able to navigate the virtual world, interact with its contents and communicate with one another. Inhabitants typically use commonly available equipment such as PCs, set-top boxes and public networks. The outermost layer describes the viewers who experience the show via broadcast or interactive TV and who consequently have only very limited possibilities for involvement and interaction.
We now present three examples of Inhabited TV, each of which conforms to our model of layered participation. The first is an example of our own work in this area. The second two were the results of collaborations between BT, Illuminations, Sony and The BBC and Channel 4 respectively.
In November 1996 we staged a public poetry performance using the MASSIVE-2 CVE as part of Nottingham’s NOWninety6 arts festival. The performers were a company of hip-hop poets. They appeared one at a time in a virtual world and used Polhemus trackers to control their avatars so that each avatar featured a moving head and hands. Ten members of the public at a time could enter this world as inhabitants, could move about, experience the poetry and could communicate using real-time audio. The inhabitants could also explore four outer worlds which contained text from the poems. A simulated broadcast stream was displayed alongside each physical performer to viewers in a nearby cinema. The event was attended by 200 people of whom 60 experienced the virtual world in cycles of 10 at a time, with the remainder watching the broadcast.
The following figure shows a poet avatar and several audience avatars (angels) near the virtual stage.
The Mirror was an experiment between BT Laboratories, Illuminations Television, the BBC and Sony in the first quarter of 1997 which involved public access to series of six virtual worlds on the Internet.
A detailed description of the Mirror authored, by BT's Graham Walker can be found here.
The experiment ran in parallel to the BBC television series The Net. After each TV program, its viewers were invited to become inhabitants in a virtual world whose design mirrored its theme and where they could engage in various events such as debates between performers (e.g., between the author Douglas Adams and BT’s Peter Cochrane) and playing with interactive objects (e.g., a bouncy castle). Thus, viewing and inhabiting were separated in time. The software used was Sony’s Community Place which provided for text and graphical communication between inhabitants and which supported access using a standard PC and modem. Over 2300 people registered to become inhabitants of The Mirror spending over 4400 hours logged on to the server throughout the series.
The following figure shows a scene from Memory in The Mirror,
Our third example, Heaven and Hell Live, involved a live hour long TV broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4 from inside a CVE.
A more detailed description of Heaven and Hell Live can be found here. In other words, access by inhabitants and broadcast to viewers happened simultaneously with the latter seeing the activities of the former. Heaven and Hell Live was a gameshow in which performers (two celebrity contestants guided by a host) competed in games in which they enlisted the help of the inhabitants (the Lost Souls). These games included a treasure hunt, a quiz and audience avatar stacking. Heaven and Hell Live was also implemented in Community Place. However, an additional audio stream was over-dubbed onto the live broadcast. The program was broadcast in August 1997 in a late-night slot. The on-line audience of inhabitants peaked at 135. The viewing audience was estimated at 200,000. Figure 4 shows a scene from the show.
The following figure shows a scene from Heaven and Hell Live.
The three experiences described above raised several important and common issues.
These challenges are being addressed in a number of on-going research projects, including.