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This article was published on April 22, 2012

These hackers want to get into your TV and make it awesome

These hackers want to get into your TV and make it awesome
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

A group of sleepless, caffeine-crazed hackers gathered at the Google Campus in London this weekend for the Google TV hackathon. This apparent act of self-torture was all in the interests of making television amazing and creating new ways for us to engage rather than passively watch programmes.

Google TV is not expected to be unleashed in the UK until Autumn, but this didn’t stop enthusiastic coders and developers bringing their imaginations to the format. If you’re not familiar with Google TV, here’s a primer.

The event was organised by Kevin McDonagh, known for his work on Droidcon and Android Meetup London. He said that the event showed that the UK is ready to blow the top off Google TV. “We’re taking it,” he says enthusiastically. “The development in the United States was too slow. So we’re ready to step in and innovate.“

He’s not wrong when it comes to innovation. Some of the ideas presented included ways to bring user generated art to the TV screen and how to make drawings in a musical environment with friends. Physical music selection and libraries were approached, indie horror movies were listed and played back on their own channel and dynamic translation was also explored.

There was also a very amusing presentation of a drinking game where the creators attempted to participate by having a sip of their beverage when keywords or events appeared in a video (they were drinking water, probably for the best).

For many of us, the TV has become a dusty piece of furniture, this movement really highlights the idea that television might be something we could start to use again all the time. So long as it is wired with the things that we need rather than a passive viewing experience, the options for possible use cases are endless.

The winners at the event showed great strength in areas of technological innovation, polished presentation and initial concept. The Pongan and ‘I don’t know’ teams made it into the top five and Remoter, MyTV, Feed Me won overall. Here’s MyTV celebrating their victory for creating the ‘Get Ready’ morning dashboard for TV:

Interestingly Pongan recreated an event that happened many years ago. If you remember Loren Carpenter’s crowd experiment with Pong, you’ll note that Pongan, allows a group to play in teams in the same way. Naturally it has been updated, paddles to join in were downloaded onto smartphones from Google Play and we were shown a QR code to find it in the store.

MyTV proved that television is likely to become a big part of our daily lives in future. The application used assorted modules in a “breakfast time” scenario that would tell about the weather, play back YouTube videos you didn’t have time for, calculate how late you might be for work and display your schedule. Having a big display of all of this information might make mornings less painful for all of us.

The idea sparked further thought in Ralph Becker of Sony who pointed out that the SmartWatch he was wearing (an item I immediately lusted after) also runs on Android and would be a useful part of the MyTV set up for people in a hurry. The information on the app, could be translated to the unit on your wrist. Handy for when you’re brushing your teeth or rushing around.

Remoter found ways to make television a hub for family communications. If you don’t have your phone handy, the team hacked a way for notifications to arrive on the TV screen to let you know about incoming calls and text messages.

Better still, for anyone who has misplaced their phone and knows that it is somewhere in their home, Remoter can send a message to a handset with a “find me” command that will set off an alarm loud enough for you to locate it.

Remoter team member Robert Slama says, “Remoter makes your Google TV a central point of communication between connected devices. You can geolocate and message your family that dinner’s ready, straight from your TV. The devices we use are connected over the internet with a GTalk account. Using this technology means that an internet connection is the only technical requirement for connected devices to use Remoter.”

Technical Hack

This event was far more technically challenging than some of the hack days we have been to recently. The talent was certainly equal but working with an unfamiliar platform and making something work in a presentation can be daunting.

Eze Vidra, head of Campus noted that the space seemed to suit the coders who attended. “We’ve only had a few hackdays so far, but they are really popular. We might end up having them every two weeks at this rate. The participants seemed to like the space, especially the cave (a dark soft seating area with cushions and a low ceiling, tucked away on the lower floor of Campus). One developer told me it was his ideal workspace: soft, dark and he could only see his screen.”

There have been rumblings that Google TV was off to a shaky start. Getting the content and usability right for early adopters is one thing, but for a general television audience, the kinks really need to be knocked out of the format.

The event this weekend seemed to show that applications for individuals, sourced from Google Play might mean that everyone can customise their viewing and interaction activities. If this is the case, then TV just got a lot more exciting and I might even consider dusting mine off to see what it can do later in the year.