Events like the Olympics usual bring new technology home -- which is a good thing -- but unfortunately these apps really show us how far we are from the interactive TV future we've been promised. There really isn't any realistic way to try out every version of interactive Olympic coverage since so many providers are only offered in certain areas of the country and some providers -- like Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Charter and most Cox areas -- aren't offering any at all. In addition to interactive TV the Winter games have actually taken a step back in regards to online video. While anyone could watch all the live videos and replays online before, the Winter Olympic coverage requires that you to prove you pay for TV before giving you full access. In the case of Verizon's FiOS TV, it allows viewers to access the EBIF interactive information from NBC Universal's channels, which is the first time we've every experienced the use of CableLabs' new interactive platform, as for how we like it or Comcast's mosaic channel, click on through to find out.
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The first indication that we were headed down the right path was when we didn't get the interactive pop-up on the HD channels -- you know the channels we actually watch. So we contacted Verizon, which told us that NBC only provides the EBIF data on the SD channels. So we turned into the SD version and clicked ok when prompted. The information showed up on the bottom of the screen and while it included pretty useful details like medal count and other news, it wasn't easy to navigate or read since there was no full screen option -- we assume this is a limitation of the EBIF platform. The other thing we noticed was that the Olympic app wasn't available from the FiOS Widget Bazaar. We assume this is because it is an EBIF widget instead of a native FiOS TV Widget, which we get, but it would be nice. Ultimately we have to say we appreciate the native FiOS TV widgets more than the EBIF type, but appreciate FiOS passing on the option.
What is not as much of a surprise as it should be though is that more providers don't support EBIF. It seems like a quick and easy way for providers to add interactive features, but who knows. And although we weren't super impressed with the Olympic features, we do think it would be cool if all programming featured a quick and easy way to dig into further details with a simple click of the remote.
Comcast, DISH Network and DirecTV are all serving up mosaic channels that include quick links to both live and on demand videos (on Comcast at least) and in some cases some integrated data like medal count. We did try out Comcast's which is presenting the mosaic channel in SD, but the good news is when you click the video it takes you to the HD channel -- whew.
Overall none of these are overly impressive and other than the usefulness of mosaic channels to find what you want to watch, we wonder once again if interactive TV doesn't belong on the TV at all, and instead it should be on some companion device, like a remote or a mobile phone, that sports its own screen.