Interactive program guides (IPGs, also called EPGs) are nearly ubiquitous in most broadcast media today. EPGs can be made available through television (on set-top boxes), mobile phones, and on the web. Online TV Guides are becoming more ubiquitous, with over 7 million Google searches for "TV Guide" each month.
For television, IPG support is built into almost all modern receivers for digital cable, digital satellite, and over-the-air digital broadcasting. They are also commonly featured in digital video recorders such as TiVo and MythTV. Higher-end receivers for digital broadcast radio and digital satellite radio commonly feature built-in IPGs as well.
Demand for non-interactive TV electronic program guides—television channels displaying listings for currently airing and upcoming programming—has been nearly eliminated by the widespread availability of interactive program guides for television. Television-based IPGs provide the same information as EPGs, but faster and often in much more detail. When television IPGs are supported by PVRs they enable viewers to plan viewing and recording by selecting broadcasts directly from the EPG, rather than programming timers.
The aspect of an IPG most noticed by users is its graphical user interface (GUI), typically a grid or table listing channel names and program titles and times: Web and Television-based IPG interfaces allow the user to highlight any given listing and call up additional information about it supplied by the EPG provider. Programs on offer from subchannels may also be listed.
Typical IPGs also allow users the option of searching by genre, as well as immediate one-touch access to, or recording of, a selected program. Reminders and parental control functions are also often included. The IPGs within some DirecTV IRDs can control a VCRs using an attached infrared emitter that emulates its remote control.
The latest development in IPGs is personalization through a recommendation engine or semantics. Semantics are used to permit interest-based suggestions to one or several viewers on what to watch or record based on past patterns. One such IPG, iFanzy, allows users to customize its appearance.
Standards for delivery of scheduling information to television-based IPGs vary from application to application, and by country. Older television IPGs like Guide Plus+ relied on analog technology (such as the vertical blanking interval of analog television video signals) to distribute listings data to IPG-enabled consumer receiving equipment. In Europe, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) published standard ETS 300 707 to standardize the delivery of IPG data over digital television broadcast signals. Listings data for IPGs integrated into today's digital terrestrial TV and radio receivers is typically sent within each station's MPEG transport stream, or alongside it in a special data stream. The ATSC standard for terrestrial digital TV, for instance, uses tables sent in each station's PSIP. These tables are meant to contain program start times and titles along with additional program descriptive metadata. Current time signals are also included for on-screen display purposes, and they are also used to set timers on recording devices.
Devices embedded within modern digital cable and satellite TV receivers, on the other hand, customarily rely upon third-party listings metadata aggregators to provide them with their on-screen listings data. Such companies include Tribune TV Data, Gemstar-TV Guide, and FYI Television, Inc. in the United States and Europe, TV Media in the United States and Canada, Broadcasting Dataservices in Europe and Dayscript in Latin America.
A growing trend is for manufacturers such as Elgato and Topfield and software developers such as Microsoft in their Windows Media Center to use an Internet connection to acquire data for their built-in IPGs. This enables greater interactivity with the IPG such as media downloads, series recording and programming of the recordings for the IPG remotely; for example, IceTV in Australia enables TiVo-like services to competing DVR/PVR manufacturers and software companies.
In developing IPG software, manufacturers must include functions to address the growing volumes of increasingly complex data associated with programming. This data includes program descriptions, schedules, ratings, user configuration information such as favorite channel lists, and multimedia content. To meet this need, some set-top box software designs incorporate a "database layer" that utilizes either proprietary functions or a commercial off-the-shelf embedded database system for sorting, storing and retrieving programming data.
Most technical details are invisible to users, who simply have a program guide on their equipment which "just works".
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