Introduction To Interactive TV

We've seen on other pages on that there are multiple names in use for the services that the new breeds of Smart TVs deliver for us. These include Interactive TV, Social TV, and Connected or Converged TV.

It starts to get confusing doesn't it?

And that's made worse because there's a certain amount of crossover in the terms. Connected TV for example is really just another term for Smart TV. Converged TV is slightly different in that it's referring to the convergence of mobile devices and the TV itself, but deep down it's still actually Smart TV. And when we get to Interactive TV we start to get heavily tied up with the delights that social TV has to offer us. The two become highly interchangeable, as they all do in different ways..

In fact, it's difficult to write an article about interactive TV without constantly thinking about the social element of it. I don't want to duplicate what I've written already about social TV, so on this page I'm going to try to cover it from the purely interactive angle. You can read more about the social television aspect on my dedicated page.

What Is Interactive TV?

At the most basic level, we interact with our TVs just by the act of watching. Although watching on it's own is a passive activity, it's still a form of interaction.

But of course that's not we really mean by interactive TV. We're really talking about the next step up, where you can perform actions that coincide with the content that you're watching. So for a really simple answer let's just say that interactive TV gives you the options to watch TV and simultaneously either take part in or influence the content on screen.

Examples Of Interactive TV -

The Different Forms Of Interactivity

At a very simple level you might have come across the 'red button'. This is a button on the remote control which you'll press when seeing a command on screen. For example you're watching a game show and the message will appear on screen to ''press the red button now to select an answer''

Other great examples of interaction include the ability to influence the programme you're watching, either by changing the viewpoint that you're seeing the content from, or by 'voting' to change what's being seen in some way.

The first of these has a good example in watching sports. On some TVs you can zoom in on specific areas of a game, or pan out to take in a wider view of the action.

Voting to influence outcomes of a game or reality show is not new, of course, and has been with us for years. But that's been by texting or calling in on a telephone number. The growth of Smart TV technology is now giving us ways to vote via Facebook or Twitter - seemlessly in some cases - and either as standalone activity on the TV screen or by using converged mobile devices. This is where the aspect of social TV comes in to play.

And we could not finish an example section without a look at voice and gesture control. We haven't stepped fully away from using the remote as the interactive control yet, but both voice and gesture control technology are improving with leaps and bounds. 2012 will see the first releases of Smart TV models that can be operated by voice or gesture.

The Kinect is a good example of how this works, and Microsoft are already reportedly working on an Xbox TV that will provide interactivity via the Kinect interface. The forthcoming Apple TV will almost certainly incorporate voice control features too, and major manufacturers such as LG and Samsung will not be far behind.

The Problems In Providing An Interactive Experience For Viewers

There does seem to be no stopping the rise of social interactive TV, but there are a number of potential problems to overcome to ensure its widespread use. That means not only for the younger TV viewing demographic - who have grown up with mobile devices, convergence, and social media - but also for the older TV viewers among us who might be more resistant to change. Let's take a look at some of the issues.

1. Familiarity

Many of us still use our TVs in a passive way. Watching TV has traditionally been a passive experience. The developments in 3D TV challenged that to some extent, by attempting to immerse us in and make us one with the content. It's still passive, but with an interactive twist. Smart TVs start us out on a journey to the next level of interactivity, but it's early days still.

So it's going to be difficult to transform us overnight into an interactive hungry horde who can't get enough of social TV interaction. There will be times when we just want to watch TV. The challenge for the TV industry is to present interactivity as options slowly, to increase familiarity over time, and to help educate us on the best ways to enjoy the new interactivity options that we get. What we get needs to non-intrusive and non-threatening, and under our control.

2. Changing & Adapting

The expectations of any viewing group can change over time. The TV industry will need to take this into account with constant analysis of what works ad what doesn't. And they need to be able to adapt quickly to changes which can happen almost overnight on the internet.

3. Simplicity

Until the familiarity we touched on a few seconds ago becomes second nature, the audience needs to have simple, uncomplicated choices.

4. Usability

How information and options are presented on screen is crucial for success. We've already mentioned the need for simple, uncluttered design. In particular a good interactive TV experience calls for clever distribution screen of programming to watch and the social interactive choices that are open to you.

Specific userability considerations apply as they do to any standard web pages - easy to read font, text and background colours.

Navigation must be easy to follow and intuitive.

More Info & Valuable Resources

Our old friends Wikipedia cover the subject in detail on their Interactive TV page.

There are a handful of good interactive TV videos on in the dedicated Youtube section. Some are a little old, though still cover the subject well with some useful info supplied. is a dedicated site to all things interactive television related, promoting themselves as the ''first, best and most widely read news source on interactive multiplatform televsion''.

There's some interesting historical interactive TV stuff on this article from the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Finally, if this article on Interactive TV has got you interested and itching to get involved, then you're going to need a Smart television set. The best way to get an idea of what to do next is to read through some Smart TV reviews or jump straight to the Smart TV buying guide.

Interactive TV
Smart TV Manufacturers
On This Page........

What Is Interactive TV?

Examples - The Different Types Of Interactivity

Improving The Interactive TV Experience

More Info & Resources
Learn about Smart TV technology with Amazon's comprehensive guide
US Smart TV Reviews
UK Smart TV Reviews