Alternate realities at ACM TVX 2017

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I am fortunate to be involved in both communication networks and multimedia community. Following my visit to IEEE IM, I ventured to Hilversum, the Netherlands for ACM TVX, a flagship conference on interactive online TV and immersive experiences. I am a regular attendee of TVX and there are simply too many reasons for me not to miss this year’s iteration: 1. It’s at our doorstep. 45 minutes flight to Amsterdam (although my driver did pick me up 4 HOURS before the flight, because “You never know what will happen on M1 southbound to London airports at that time in the morning”…). 2. My MSc student Hussein presents his short paper. 3. Felix and Jing from TU-Berlin did a great job getting our full paper accepted. and 4. I look after the WiP track this year along with Elena and I am asked to chair the “Madness Session” in the conference programme.

We arrived at Hilversum, a small town ~20 miles east of the capital city, at lunch time. Hilversum is at the heart of Dutch multimedia research and industrial community and centre of media-related innovation in the Netherlands. It’s Media Park is home to Dutch public broadcaster NPO, as well as commercial broadcasters and audio-visual production companies. The decor at the railway station gives away the themes of the Hilversum Media Park.

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Situated in Media Park, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (NISV) is the host of ACM TVX 2017. NISV collects, preserves and provides access to Dutch audio-visual heritage for media professionals, education, science and the general public. Its collection contains more than a million hours of television, radio, music, film and other media from the beginning in 1898 until today.

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In the photo below, you can see the workshop where movie reels are digitised (upper floors) and stored in a data centre (lower floors).

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The conference was packed with exciting keynotes, presentations, posters and demos. Felix did extremely well with his presentation in the main track, considering it’s his first conference as an MSc student at TU-Berlin.

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Felix’s presentation

My Madness session was also a success. It might have been one of the most challenging session to chair, as we need to fit 20 talks in a 30-minute slot. The aim is to provide a very quick overview of all poster and demo work, so people can be more selective when they attend poster/demo sessions (it’s like going through 20 movie trailers and decide which ones to watch). I have to say a big thank you to all presenters who all executed the 1-slide 1-minute rule beautifully! Our MSc student Hussein did a good job introducing his work on an IoT middleware to enable immersive TV experience.

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Hussein delivers a lightning talk in the madness session with other presenters standing by.

I particularly liked the Social VR and multisensory demo from TNO and University of Sussex SCHI LAB. The Social VR work superimposes live audio-visual feed of other gamers in a VR game, hence fostering the social interactions between gamers for better gaming experience. I did give it a go and lost the game because my opponent kept talking and waving at me and distracted me from the game (That’s my excuse and I’ll stick to it…).  The multisensory work shows how we can use a matrix of ultrasonic speakers as a contactless haptic tool to enhance the movie experience. Despite being at a very early stage, both demos showed a promising start of some great research with substantial impact. Different parts of the BBC R&D also brought quite a few exciting work including 360 VR subtitle (best WiP paper), CAKE (object-based media production), and Tellybox (9 demos of future TV), etc.

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TVX Demos https://www.facebook.com/acmtvx/

My main takeaway from TVX is that games design, especially interactive narratives, is becoming a key element in VR innovation. VR designers often complain about people not turning their heads or moving their bodies enough to appreciate the immersive environment. But how often do we look around curiously in the real world? I am sitting in an open-plan office and I won’t voluntarily check what’s behind or above me every few seconds unless there is something attracts my attention. So we can’t expect people to behave like a searchlight when they have a VR goggle on. There is a lot to learn from the games design field, and I am taking free BSc Games Design/Arts/Development courses from my colleagues.

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