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Publication numberUS20020162120 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 09/843,296
Publication dateOct 31, 2002
Filing dateApr 25, 2001
Priority dateApr 25, 2001
Also published asUS7360232, US20020162121, WO2002089480A1
Publication number09843296, 843296, US 2002/0162120 A1, US 2002/162120 A1, US 20020162120 A1, US 20020162120A1, US 2002162120 A1, US 2002162120A1, US-A1-20020162120, US-A1-2002162120, US2002/0162120A1, US2002/162120A1, US20020162120 A1, US20020162120A1, US2002162120 A1, US2002162120A1
InventorsSlade Mitchell
Original AssigneeSlade Mitchell
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Apparatus and method to provide supplemental content from an interactive television system to a remote device
US 20020162120 A1
Abstract
A remote device is capable to receive network address information that is sent along with an audiovisual television signal. A set top box coupled to a television receives the network address information along with triggers, and transmits the network address information to the remote device. After receiving the network address information, a web browser of the remote device can navigate to the address specified by the network address information to obtain supplemental content. The web browser of the remote device can automatically navigate to the address independently of user action. The web browser may also navigate to the address in response to user action or “keyed navigation.” At least some of the supplemental content may also be pre-loaded into the remote device prior to presentation of the supplemental content to the user, thereby reducing latency in the rendering of the supplemental content by the web browser.
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Claims(45)
What is claimed is:
1. A method, comprising:
receiving address information from an interactive television system;
obtaining an address from the received address information;
accessing the address obtained from the address information to retrieve supplemental content related to a television program transmitted from the interactive television system; and
presenting the obtained supplemental content on a display remote from a television that displays the television program.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein obtaining the address from the received address information includes extracting the address from a trigger embedded in a signal corresponding to the television program.
3. The method of claim 1 wherein obtaining the address from the received address information includes obtaining the address from a stream separate from a signal corresponding to the television program.
4. The method of claim 1 wherein receiving address information from the interactive television system includes receiving the address information at a set top box coupled to the television, the method further comprising:
transmitting the obtained address from the set top box to a remote device having the remote display; and
accessing the address via the remote device to retrieve the supplemental content.
5. The method of claim 4 wherein a browser of the remote device retrieves the supplemental content from a network.
6. The method of claim 5 wherein the network comprises an Internet.
7. The method of claim 4 wherein a browser of the remote device retrieves the supplemental content from a local storage location.
8. The method of claim 4, further comprising transmitting at least a portion of the supplemental content from the set top box to the remote device.
9. The method of claim 1 wherein presenting the obtained supplemental content on the display includes automatically presenting the obtained supplemental content without user action.
10. The method of claim 9 wherein the obtained supplemental content is automatically displayed in a first browser window, the method further comprising automatically displaying additional supplemental content retrieved from another address in a second browser window, concurrently with displaying the supplemental content in the first browser window.
11. The method of claim 9 wherein the obtained supplemental content is automatically displayed in a browser window, the method further comprising automatically displaying additional supplemental content retrieved from another address in the browser window to replace the previously displayed supplemental content.
12. The method of claim 1 wherein presenting the obtained supplemental content on the display includes presenting the obtained supplemental content in response to user action.
13. The method of claim 12, further comprising queuing a plurality of addresses.
14. The method of claim 13, further comprising obtaining supplemental content corresponding to at least one of the queued addresses in response to user selection of that address from among the queued addresses.
15. The method of claim 1, further comprising processing metadata related to the address information to provide a context for the obtained address.
16. The method of claim 15 wherein the metadata is received from the interactive television system in addition to the address information.
17. The method of claim 15 wherein the metadata is added to the received address information.
18. The method of claim 15 wherein the metadata includes at least one of an expiration date of the address, an expiration time of the address, a description of the address, a source of the address, a category of the supplemental information available at address, a type of media available at the address, a keyword related to the address, or an importance of the address.
19. The method of claim 1 wherein retrieving the supplemental content includes pre-loading at least a portion of the supplemental content in a storage location prior to activation of a link corresponding to the address.
20. The method of claim 19, further comprising:
retrieving any remaining portions of the supplemental content subsequent to activation of the link; and
rendering the pre-loaded portion and any of the retrieved remaining portions of the supplemental content in response to selection of the link.
21. The method of claim 19, further comprising:
initially obtaining addresses corresponding to inactive links, including instructions as to when to display the links to indicate activation of the links;
pre-loading at least some of the supplemental content from the addresses corresponding to the inactive links; and
based on the instructions, subsequently displaying the links to indicate their activation and rendering the pre-loaded supplemental content.
22. The method of claim 21 wherein the instructions are obtained from same triggers that include the addresses.
23. The method of claim 21 wherein the instructions are obtained from triggers that are different from triggers that include the addresses.
24. The method of claim 21, further comprising displaying the links to allow a user to preview the links, prior to providing the links during specific times of the television program.
25. An article of manufacture, comprising:
a machine-readable storage medium having stored thereon instructions to:
obtain an address from address information received from an interactive television system;
access the address obtained from the address information to retrieve supplemental content related to a television program transmitted from the interactive television system; and
present the obtained supplemental content on a display remote from a television that displays the television program.
26. The article of manufacture of claim 25 wherein the instructions to present the obtained supplemental content on the display includes instructions to automatically present the obtained supplemental content without user action.
27. The article of manufacture of claim 25 wherein the instructions to present the obtained supplemental content on the display includes instructions to present the obtained supplemental content in response to user action.
28. The article of manufacture of claim 25 wherein the instructions to present the obtained supplemental content on the display includes instructions to pre-load at least a portion of the supplemental content in a storage location prior to activation of a link corresponding to the address.
29. The article of manufacture of claim 25 wherein the machine-readable medium further includes instructions stored thereon to process metadata related to the address information to provide a context for the obtained address.
30. A set top box, comprising:
a network interface to receive address information from an interactive television system;
a converter coupled to the network interface to obtain an address from the received address information; and
a transmitter coupled to the converter to transmit the obtained address to a remote device to allow the remote device to access the address to retrieve supplemental content related to a television program transmitted from the interactive television system to the network interface, and to allow the remote device to present the obtained supplemental content on a display remote from a television that displays the television program.
31. The set top box of claim 30, further comprising a digital storage device coupled to the converter to store at least a portion of the supplemental content available from the address and retrieved by the network interface, the transmitter capable to transmit the stored supplemental content in the digital storage device to the remote device.
32. The set top box of claim 30 wherein the network interface is capable to provide the remote device with access to the address to allow the remote device to obtain the supplemental content via the network interface.
33. The set top box of claim 30 wherein the converter is capable to obtain metadata related to the received address information and that is transmitted by the interactive television system along with the address information, and wherein the transmitter is capable to transmit the obtained metadata to the remote device along with the obtained address.
34. The set top box of claim 30, further comprising a controller to cooperate with software to add metadata to the received address information, wherein the transmitter is capable to transmit the metadata to the remote device along with the obtained address.
35. The set top box of claim 30 wherein the converter is capable to obtain link activation information transmitted from the interactive television system, the transmitter capable to transmit the obtained link activation information to the remote device to cause the remote device to pre-load supplemental content from a link corresponding to the link activation information, the set top box further comprising a controller to cooperate with software to use the link activation information to subsequently activate the link and to provide the activated link to the remote device via the transmitter.
36. An apparatus, comprising:
a receiver to communicate with a set top box to receive an address sent from an interactive television system to the set top box in addition to a television program;
a storage medium coupled to the receiver to store a browser;
a network interface capable to cooperate with the browser to receive supplemental content from the address, the supplemental content related to the television program transmitted from the interactive television system to the set top box; and
a display responsive to the browser to present the supplemental content received from the address independently of a television that displays the television program transmitted from the interactive television system.
37. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the browser is capable to cause automatic presentation of the supplemental content on the display subsequent to reception of the address from the set top box.
38. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein in response to user action, the browser is capable to cause presentation of the supplemental content on the display subsequent to reception of the address from the set top box.
39. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the browser is capable to retrieve the supplemental content from the storage location.
40. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the browser is capable to use metadata received from the set top box and related to the received address to provide context to the received address.
41. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the browser is capable to pre-load at least a portion of the supplemental content into the storage medium prior to activation of a link associated with the address, and in response to activation of the link, the browser being further capable to retrieve from the address any additional portion of the supplemental content and to render the retrieved and pre-loaded portions on the display.
42. The apparatus of claim 36, further comprising:
a transmitter to send signals to the set top box; and
a plurality of control buttons coupled by way of a bus to the transmitter to send the signals, including control signals from the transmitter to the set top box to control program content presented on the television.
43. The apparatus of claim 42 wherein the plurality of control buttons are configured to control additional home media equipment coupled to the interactive television system, the home media equipment including a digital video disc player.
44. The apparatus of claim 43 wherein the receiver further communicates with the digital video disc player to receive supplemental content from a digital video disc in the digital video disc player, and wherein the display presents the supplemental content that relates to primary content on the digital video disc.
45. The apparatus of claim 36 wherein the supplemental content comprises a purchase offer, the apparatus further comprising:
a transmitter to send signals to the set top box; and
at least one input mechanism coupled by way of a bus to the transmitter to send communications from the transmitter to the set top box to indicate acceptance by a user of the purchase offer presented in the supplemental content.
Description
TECHNICAL FIELD

[0001] This disclosure relates generally to transmission and reception of information, and in particular but not exclusively, relates to the transmission and reception of information related to content available from the Internet via interactive television.

BACKGROUND

[0002] Television and Internet technologies are beginning to converge. With the increasing use of interactive television, viewers can now access Internet content via use of their television. Indeed, with the convergence of these two types of technologies, viewers with widely varied interests can now have access to the virtually limitless amount of information available on the Internet.

[0003] Many interactive television systems utilize a set top box to receive television signals and to provide the television signals to a television. As its name implies, a set top box is typically placed in close proximity to a television, and provides the viewer with control over the selection of television programs to view. Set top boxes that are compatible with the particular interactive television system can also operate to allow the viewer to access the Internet via their television. Thus, when a television program is transmitted to the set top box along with an Internet uniform resource locator (URL) address, the set top box can display some sort of visual indicator to the viewer to allow the viewer to navigate to that URL address, and then displays content available from that URL address.

[0004] There are some drawbacks, however, with use of a set top box in this manner to “surf” the Internet while viewing the television program. For instance, the Internet content retrieved from the URL address is rendered on the same television screen as the television program. This can be very distracting to the viewer, particularly if the television program is completely obscured by the Internet content rendered on the television screen. Even if the television has “picture-in-picture” capability that allows multiple images to be displayed, the overall image from the television screen can still be very distracting. Furthermore, text or graphics of the Internet content, especially if rendered in a picture-in-picture arrangement may be difficult to read by the viewer if the viewer is sitting some distance away from the television screen.

[0005] As an alternative to displaying Internet content on the television screen, the viewer may choose to access the URL address via a remote personal computer (PC) or laptop. However, this can often be clumsy and inconvenient to the viewer. In a typical case, the viewer has to “watch for” a URL address once it is displayed by the television program to indicate the availability of Internet content or other supplementary information/content, and then quickly write down the URL address on a piece of paper before the URL address disappears from the television screen. Next, the viewer has to launch a web browser at the PC or laptop, and then manually key in the URL address from the piece of paper. By the time that the web browser renders the Internet content from the URL address, additional URL addresses may have been displayed by the television program or the original URL address may no longer be relevant or of interest.

[0006] Therefore, improvements are needed in the accessing of Internet content for interactive television.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0007] Non-limiting and non-exhaustive embodiments of the present invention are described with reference to the following figures, wherein like reference numerals refer to like parts throughout the various views unless otherwise specified.

[0008]FIG. 1 is a diagram of an interactive television system according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0009]FIG. 2 is a schematic block showing a client-side portion of the interactive television system of FIG. 1 according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0010]FIG. 3 is a schematic block diagram of a set top box according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0011]FIG. 4 is a schematic block diagram of a remote device according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0012]FIG. 5 is a flowchart of a method for providing supplemental content from the interactive television system of FIG. 1 to the remote device of FIG. 4 according to an embodiment of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE ILLUSTRATED EMBODIMENTS

[0013] Embodiments of an apparatus and method to provide supplemental content from an interactive television system to a remote device are described herein. In the following description, numerous specific details are given to provide a thorough understanding of embodiments of the invention. One skilled in the relevant art will recognize, however, that the invention can be practiced without one or more of the specific details, or with other methods, components, materials, etc. In other instances, well-known structures, materials, or operations are not shown or described in detail to avoid obscuring aspects of the invention.

[0014] Reference throughout this specification to “one embodiment” or “an embodiment” means that a particular feature, structure, or characteristic described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment of the present invention. Thus, the appearances of the phrases “in one embodiment” or “in an embodiment” in various places throughout this specification are not necessarily all referring to the same embodiment. Furthermore, the particular features, structures, or characteristics may be combined in any suitable manner in one or more embodiments.

[0015] As an overview, when network address information (such as URL addresses) is provided along with television programming, an embodiment of the invention integrates the supplemental content (e.g., Internet content) associated with the network address information with the television program viewing experience. In an embodiment, a remote device is capable to receive the network address information as the information is transmitted to the remote device from a set top box coupled to a television. After receiving the network address information, a browser, such as a web browser, of the remote device can navigate to the URL address or other address specified by the network address information. In this manner, a user of the remote device can be presented with supplemental content associated with the network address information, alternatively or in addition to having the supplemental content presented on a display screen of the television.

[0016] In one embodiment, the web browser of the remote device automatically navigates to the URL address independently of user action. In another embodiment, user action or “keyed navigation,” such as clicking on the URL address by the user, initiates navigation to the URL address. In yet another embodiment at least some of the supplemental content may be pre-loaded into the remote device prior to explicit navigation to the specific URL address, thereby reducing latency in the rendering of the supplemental content by the web browser. For these various embodiments, metadata or other data related to the URL address or to the supplemental content can be transmitted to the remote device by the set top box.

[0017] Referring now to FIG. 1, there is shown an interactive television system 100, including a cable television (CATV) network, according to an embodiment of the invention. In one implementation, the system 100 includes a plurality of set top boxes 102 or other customer premises equipment (CPE) located, for instance, at customer homes.

[0018] A set top box 102 (hereinafter “STB 102”) comprises a consumer electronics device that serves as a gateway between a customer's television and a broadband communication network, such as a cable network. As its name implies, an STB 102 is typically located on top of, or in close proximity to, the customer's television. In general, an embodiment of the STB 102 operates in conjunction with data streams encoded using the MPEG standard, although it is to be appreciated that other standards may be used as well. STBs 102 are also capable of two-way data streams, allowing consumers to access services such as electronic shopping and video-on-demand.

[0019] In one embodiment, an STB 102 receives encoded television signals from the system 100 and decodes the same for display on the television. Additionally, an STB 102 receives commands from a user (via a remote control in one embodiment) and transmits such commands back to the system 100.

[0020] In various embodiments, each STB 102 is connected to a headend 104. In the context of a cable network, a headend 104 is a centrally located facility where CATV transmissions are received from a local CATV satellite downlink and packaged together for transmission to customer homes.

[0021] Headends 104 may be coupled directly to one another or through a network center 106. In some cases, headends 104 may be connected via a separate network, one particular example of which is an Internet 108. Of course, the illustrated network topology is provided for example purposes only, and other networks and network configurations may be used within the scope of the invention.

[0022] In one embodiment of the invention, supplemental content (such as Internet content, streaming media, GIF files, JPEGs, audio files, or other information or resources available from the Internet 108) can be made accessible or available along with the television program signal via use of triggering techniques. A suitable type of triggering technique that can be used by an embodiment of the invention is based on the Advanced Television Enhancement Forum (ATVEF) triggers. Similar alternative techniques include the triggering mechanism available from Wink Communications of Alameda, Calif.

[0023] With ATVEF's Transport Type A implementation, trigger information is inserted in the vertical blanking interval (VBI) of the television program signal. The trigger information (or “triggers”) includes URL addresses, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, file transfer protocol (FTP) locations, local or remote cache locations or other address information of the Internet 108 (or other address locations) where supplemental content associated with the television program can be obtained. For the sake of simplicity of explanation, URL addresses will be used herein when describing embodiments of the invention, and it is understood that other types of addresses may also be processed.

[0024] If the viewer desires to view such supplemental content, the corresponding URL address can be accessed by a web browser to retrieve the supplemental content for rendering. Transport Type A implementations have an advantage in that the triggers can be synchronized with a particular subject-matter segment of the television program by being inserted into the appropriate VBI locations.

[0025] With ATVEF's Transport Type B implementations, a trigger steam is sent separately form the audiovisual stream (e.g., the television program signal). There may also be separate resources and announcement streams. Other triggering mechanisms that can be used by embodiments of the invention include the Wink and WorldGate triggering mechanisms. It is to be appreciated that embodiments of the invention can operate based on any of these triggering techniques, their variations or combinations, or other triggering techniques that make addresses of supplemental content available.

[0026] Referring now to FIG. 2, there is shown a client-side portion 200 of the interactive television system 100 according to an embodiment of the invention. The portion 200 includes, in one implementation, a television 202, an STB 102, and a remote device 204. In various embodiments, the portion 200 may also include a videocassette recorder (VCR) 205 or other recording device.

[0027] The television 202 may be configured to display television signals in a variety of formats, including standard analog or digital television formats or high-definition television (HDTV) formats. The television 202 may utilize various technologies to display the television signals, such as standard cathode ray tube (CRT) technology, liquid crystal display (LCD) technology, liquid plasma technology, or projection techniques.

[0028] As illustrated, the television 202 can be coupled to the STB 102 in order to receive and display television signals received from the system 100, and more specifically, from a headend 104. In one embodiment, the STB 102 includes a converter 206 for converting digitally encoded (e.g., MPEG) television signals from the system 100 into signals of a form suitable for use by the television 202. Additionally, the converter 206 may decode network address information or other data received from the system 100. For example, the converter 206 can extract trigger information, including URL addresses, from the VBI of the received television signals. The converter 206 can also otherwise process or sort URL addresses that are received via a stream separate from the television signals or received via some other connection to the Internet 108 or head-ends 104 (e.g., via cable modem). In addition to URL addresses, the converter 206 can also process supplemental content that may be received by the STB 102.

[0029] In the illustrated embodiment, the STB 102 is equipped with a receiver 210, such as an infrared (IR) or radio frequency (RF) receiver 210. In alternative embodiments, the receiver 210 may be configured to receive other frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as UHF, VHF, microwave, or the like. The receiver 210 can receive control signals from the remote device 204 for operating the STB 102 and the television 202. The receiver 210 may also receive other types of data, such as information requests, e-mail, and the like, for transmission to the system 100.

[0030] In one implementation, the STB 102 also includes a transmitter 212, such as an IR or RF transmitter 212. The transmitter 212 is configured, in one embodiment, to broadcast various types of information to the remote device 204, such as trigger information including URL addresses, Internet content, hypertext markup language (HTML) files, e-mail, other supplementary content, and the like.

[0031] As noted, the remote device 204 provides convenient remote operation of the STB 102 and the television 202. Unlike conventional television remote controls, however, an embodiment of the remote device 204 includes a remote display 220 for displaying supplemental content 246 and/or 248, such as web page content, as described in greater detail below.

[0032] In an embodiment, the remote device 204 is of a size and weight convenient to be conveniently held in a viewer's hands or lap. For instance, the remote device 204 may be approximately 8 inches wide and 11 inches tall, or about the size of a conventional paper notebook. In an embodiment, the remote device 204 is comparatively lightweight, for example, under three pounds.

[0033] In the illustrated embodiment, the remote device 204 includes a receiver 226, such as an RF or IR receiver 226, for receiving signals sent by the transmitter 212 of the STB 102. As mentioned above, these signals may include the trigger information retrieved by the STB 102 from the system 100. Additionally, the remote device 204 may include a transmitter 228, such as an RF, IR, or other transmitter 228, that transmits control signals and other data to the receiver 210 of the STB 102, as well as to the television 202 (e.g., to adjust the television's 202 volume).

[0034] In one embodiment, the transmitters 212, 228 modulate signals with a carrier frequency to enable transmission of information, such as URL addresses, between the STB 102 and the remote device 204. For example, the transmitters 212, 228 may operate according to the IEEE 802.11a or 802.11b Wireless Networking standards. Alternatively, the transmitters 212, 228 may utilize DECT or “Bluetooth” or other standard or proprietary protocols. In an embodiment, the transmitters 212, 228 may be configured to transmit other frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as UHF, VHF, microwave, or the like.

[0035] To perform modulation and transmission, the transmitters 212, 228 may include various additional components not specifically illustrated. For example, the transmitters 212, 228 may include source encoders to reduce the amount of bandwidth required, channel encoders to modulate the transmitted information with a carrier wave, and transmission antennas to broadcast the information. The antennas may be substantially two-dimensional structures formed as part of a printed circuit board within the remote device 204 and STB 102 in one embodiment. Such integrated antennas are advantageously compact and efficient to manufacture. The transmitters 212, 228 may further include amplifiers to increase the transmission signal strength to an appropriate power level.

[0036] The receivers 210, 226 may further include components not specifically illustrated but well known in the art. For example, the receivers 210, 226 may include antennas for receiving the transmission, amplifiers for increasing the strength of the received signal, and decoders for separating and demodulating information from the carrier signal. These antennas may also be integrated into printed circuit boards of the remote device 204 and STB 102.

[0037] As previously noted, the remote device 204 includes, in one embodiment, a remote display 220, which is compact yet large enough to be easily readable in one embodiment. For example, the remote display 220 may comprise a screen having a 10.4-inch diagonal measure with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio. The remote display 220 may be embodied as a monochrome or color liquid crystal display (LCD) screen. To implement a color remote display 220, a number of technologies may be utilized, including passive matrix, dual scan, HPA, TFT, or liquid plasma LCD technology. The remote display 220 may advantageously utilize TFT LCD technology to achieve high brightness, clear motion, and a comparatively large viewing angle.

[0038] Display buttons 232 may be provided and conveniently located on the remote device 204 to control various aspects of the remote display device 220. The display buttons 232 may include buttons to vertically or horizontally scroll material on the remote display 220, to adjust the brightness, contrast, and coloration of the remote display 220, or to place the remote display device 220 in an “on,” “off,” or “standby” setting. For instance, one of the display buttons 232 may be used to set the remote device 204 in a “receive” mode to receive URL addresses transmitted from the STB 102. Another one or more of the display buttons 232 may be used for web browsing activities, such as clicking on hypertext links, launching web browsers, selecting URL addresses from a list or menu, sorting favorite URLs, navigating to a web site, entering URL addresses (for example if the display buttons 232 comprise part of an alphanumeric keyboard), or other activities associated with accessing and viewing supplemental content. The remote device 204 may also include a Sony “Vaio”®-style mechanical wheel to select items from a menu. As used herein, the term “button” contemplates other types of controls, such as switches and the like. In addition, multiple buttons or controls may be provided for performing a particular function. Thus, the term “button” means one or more controls for performing the stated function.

[0039] Additionally, control buttons 234 may also be provided on the remote control 204 to control the operation of the STB 102 and/or the television 202. The control buttons 234 may include channel selection, volume adjustment, power on/off, brightness, contrast, and coloration, and the like. The control buttons 234 may also be configured to control other devices, such as the VCR 205, a digital video disc (DVD) player, a compact disc (CD) player, a tuner, an amplifier, or a receiver. One of the control buttons 234 may also be used to set the remote device 204 to the receive mode.

[0040] Optionally, the remote display device 220 may provide touch sensitivity, which may be implemented using technologies well known or available to those skilled in the art. Thus, a user may press against a particular portion of the screen with a finger or other object, such as a stylus, to select “virtual” buttons or controls displayed upon the remote display device 220. If the remote display device 220 is configured as a touch screen, many, or possibly even all, of the buttons 232, 234 may not be needed. For instance, touch sensitivity techniques may be used to provide mouse cursor functionality.

[0041] In one embodiment, a viewer selects a URL address to navigate to by touching a corresponding indication displayed on the remote display 220. In one embodiment, navigation to a URL address may be performed automatically by a browser of the remote device 204, as will be described below. Optionally, a user may activate an on-screen keyboard, by which a user may input letters, numbers, or other symbols. Such a configuration is useful if a user wishes to use the remote device 204 to send e-mail or for other text-based applications.

[0042] The remote device 204 need not be limited to reception of URL addresses, but may also be used for more varied, higher-bandwidth applications. For example, the STB 102 may be configured to send to the remote control 204 background information for television programs, such as pictures of actors and actresses, video previews, and audio/video interviews with people associated with the program. In one embodiment, the STB 102 may send supplemental content itself, alternatively or in addition to URL addresses, to the remote device 204.

[0043] In such an embodiment, the transmitters 212, 228 and receivers 210, 226 may be configured for high-bandwidth transmission and reception, which may use, for example, frequency division multiplexing (FDM) or other techniques. Transmission of video and audio between the STB 102 and the remote device 204 may operate according to various standard protocols, such as MPEG and video over IP.

[0044] Referring to FIG. 3, there is shown an expanded block diagram of one possible embodiment of the STB 102. As shown in FIG. 3, the STB 102 may include a number of additional components beyond those depicted in FIG. 2. For example, the STB 102 may include a storage interface 302, which provides an interface with a digital storage device 304, such as a hard disk drive or other memory device. In one embodiment, the storage interface 302 receives triggers including network address information and/or supplemental content, from the converter 206 and delivers the same to the digital storage device 304 for storage thereof. When a user desires to review the stored information in the digital storage device 304, the information may be transmitted by the transmitter 212 of the STB 102 to the receiver 226 of the remote device 204 for display on the remote display 220. It is to be appreciated, however, that in another embodiment, information may be directly transmitted to the remote device 204 by the STB 102 without being previously stored in the digital storage device 304.

[0045] In one embodiment, the STB 102 further includes a controller 306 that is in communication with the storage interface 302 and the converter 206. The controller 306 may be embodied as a microcontroller, microprocessor, digital signal processor (DSP) or other device known in the art. The controller 306 may manage the operation of the STB 102, including, for example, reception of trigger information from the system 100, transmission of the trigger information to the remote device 204, the storage and retrieval of supplemental content, and the like. As noted above, the controller 306 may perform these and other operations based upon control signals generated by the remote device 204 and transmitted to the receiver 210.

[0046] In one embodiment, the STB 102 includes a separate network interface 308 for providing access to the system 100. The type of network interface 308 can vary depending on the underlying system 100. In a cable network, for instance, the network interface 308 may comprise a cable modem or the like. In alternative embodiments, the functionality of the network interface 308 may be provided by the converter 206.

[0047]FIG. 4 provides a more detailed schematic representation of the remote device 204, including the receiver 226, transmitter 228, and the remote display 220. As shown in FIG. 4, addition components may be included. For example, the remote device 204 may include a bus 402 to enable data transfers between the various components of the remote device 204.

[0048] The bus 402 may be electrically connected to random access memory (RAM) 404, configured to store data for temporary use, such as URL addresses and supplemental content retrieved from the URL addresses. Similarly, a read-only memory (ROM) 406, may be provided to store more permanent data, such as fixed code and configuration data. In one embodiment, the ROM 406 may be configured to store an operating system for the remote device 204.

[0049] The remote device 204 may also include a processor 408 for performing high-level processing functions, such as preparing and formatting URL addresses and supplemental content for display on the remote display 220. The processor 408 may also sense a user's operation of the control buttons 234 or the “virtual” buttons displayed on the remote display 220, and generate appropriate command signals for transmission to the STB 102 and/or television 202. The processor 408 may be embodied as a microprocessor, microcontroller, digital signal processor (DSP), field programmable gate array (FPGA), application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), or other suitable device.

[0050] Additionally, the remote device 204 may include a machine-readable storage medium, such as a digital storage device 410 for storage of network address information, supplemental content, video/audio information, and the like.

[0051] Like the digital storage device 304 of the STB 102, the digital storage device 410 may comprise a hard disk drive or other memory storage device, such as “flash” memory.

[0052] The digital storage device 410 may also store an operating system for the remote device 204, such as Windows®, Mac O/S®, or UNIX®. In one embodiment, the operating system comprises a comparatively compact and customizable platform such as Windows CE® or Linux®. The operating system may be configured to use the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) to access information remotely from the STB 102 and/or the network 100. The digital storage device 410 can also store a web browser to retrieve supplemental content from the Internet 108 (or from some other location) and to render the supplemental content on the remote display 220. The digital storage device 410, the RAM 404, or other machine-readable storage medium of the remote device 204 may be used to cache or load supplemental content.

[0053] Additionally, the remote device 204 may have a battery 412 to provide power for the remote device 204. In one embodiment, the battery 412 is a rechargeable battery having a comparatively long life, such as 4 or more hours. The battery 412 may utilize various advanced storage technologies, such as Lithium Ion technology, to provide enhanced power output, durability, and recharge times.

[0054] The battery 412 may be recharged through the use of a power source 414. The power source 414 may be embodied in number of different configurations. For example, the power source 414 may comprise a power cord designed to be plugged into a conventional, household power outlet. Alternatively, the power source 414 may be part of a charging unit (not shown), in which the remote control 204 may be stored and recharged. The power source 414 may then comprise contacts configured to mate with corresponding contacts of the charging unit. Alternatively, a magnetic coupling, such as a transformer, may be used to energize the remote device 204 without the use of exposed electrical contacts on the remote device 204 or the charging unit. The charging unit may hold the remote control 204 at an orientation convenient for viewing so that the remote device 204 can be used while in the charging unit.

[0055] In one embodiment, the remote device 204 can be provided with access to the Internet 108 or to another location where supplemental content can be obtained based on the address information received from the STB 102. In the embodiment of the remote device 204 shown in FIG. 4, the remote device 204 can be provided with a network interface 416 (which can include a modem) that communicatively couples the remote device 204 to the Internet 108. Such a communicative coupling may be a hardwired connection (e.g., xDSL, ISDN, twisted pair, and the like) or a wireless connection to the Internet 108, including conventional communication techniques. Thus in this embodiment, the remote device 204 has a connection to the Internet 108 that is distinct/separate from the STB's 102 connection to the Internet 108. Those skilled in the art will recognize that the various components of the remote device 204 may be embodied in a number of different configurations for ergonomics and ease-of-use.

[0056] In another embodiment, the remote device 204 may connect to the Internet 108 via the cable modem in the network interface 308 of the STB 102. Thus in this embodiment, the connection to the Internet by the remote device 204 is “tied to” the STB 102, with Internet information (e.g., URL addresses and supplemental content) being exchanged between the STB 102 and the remote device 204 via the transmitters 212, 228 and the receivers 210, 226. In an embodiment, it is also possible for a web browser in the STB 102 to retrieve the supplemental content from the Internet 108 and store at least a portion of the supplemental content in the digital storage device 304. The stored supplemental content can then be subsequently transmitted to the remote device 204 for display on the remote display 220.

[0057] An embodiment of the invention provides more automated methods of navigation to the supplemental content than existing techniques described in the background section above where the user has to manually enter URL addresses. According to first embodiment, the web browser in the remote device 204 automatically navigates to the web site associated with the URL address that was received from the STB 102. Once the web browser has navigated to that URL address via a connection to the Internet 108 established by the network interface 416, the supplemental content from the corresponding web site can be retrieved and rendered on the remote display 220 by the web browser.

[0058] In operation, the remote device 204 can be placed in a “standby” or “receive” mode, such that any time a URL address is received by the receiver 226 from the transmitter 212 of the STB 102, the web browser automatically navigates to the corresponding web site. As described above, the STB 102 receives URL addresses as part of triggers embedded in the television signals or as a separate stream. Once obtained by the converter 206, the URL addresses can be transmitted to the remote device 204 via the transmitter 212.

[0059] For this automated navigation embodiment, the current web browser instance (or browser window) can be re-used each time a new URL address is received from the STB 102. That is, the same web browser window renders new supplemental content, replacing the currently rendered supplemental content, as new URL addresses are received. In another implementation, a new web browser instance can be created each time a new URL address is received. This implementation allows the viewer to continue viewing the original supplemental content in one window, while the new supplemental content is rendered in another window. This multiple-window implementation is represented symbolically in FIG. 2, where the supplemental content 246 and 248 are both rendered concurrently on the remote display 220.

[0060] According to a second embodiment, keyed navigation features can be provided to the remote device 204. The keyed navigation feature provides the viewer with more control over the selection of the supplemental content that may be rendered on the remote display 220. Additionally, the keyed navigation feature can help prevent potential viewer confusion, which may occur if the web browser automatically navigates from one URL address to another. In short, the keyed navigation feature gives the viewer the option to ignore some of the URL addresses received by the remote device 204.

[0061] One embodiment of the keyed navigation implementation can be responsive to user action, such as a “click” or activation of a dedicated button (or other interface) to cause navigation to the supplementary content when an icon or prompt is presented to the viewer on the remote display 220 to announce the availability of the supplemental content. For instance, one or more of the display buttons 232 can be used to “accept” a displayed URL address once it is received by the remote device 204, resulting in navigation to that URL address. One or more of the display buttons 232 can also be used to scroll through a list of displayed URL addresses, and then select one of the URL addresses by clicking.

[0062] One embodiment of the keyed navigation implementation can further provide a queuing feature to store or record past URL addresses received from the STB 102. This queuing feature can be embodied in software or other machine-readable instructions stored on a machine-readable medium, such that the software stores the received URL addresses in the digital storage device 410 or other storage location of the remove device 204. The stored URL addresses can be indexed, placed in a directory, or otherwise organized so that the URL addresses can be presented to the viewer.

[0063] For instance, the URL addresses can be placed in a list and displayed to the user via a drop-down menu or in a window, and then selected via “point and click” techniques or with the use of a Vaio®-style wheel. Alternatively or in addition, identifiers or descriptions can be provided for the displayed URL addresses so as to give the viewer some kind of context for the URL address. As an example, instead of displaying the URL address itself on the drop-down menu, the remote display 220 can display a hypertext link labeled as “Additional information about salmon as seen on the Nature Program on Channel 5.” This descriptive labeling provides the viewer with some context or other information to assist the viewer in remembering URL addresses and/or supplemental content that may be of interest. This may be particularly useful, for instance, if the viewer is “channel surfing,” and all the while, the remote device 204 is receiving URL addresses associated with the different television channels being surfed. The queuing feature conveniently provides the viewer with the opportunity to track and view supplemental content from previous television channels, or to otherwise view the supplemental content after having viewed the original television program.

[0064] To further assist the viewer in placing the received URL addresses in context, metadata can be extracted from or added to the URL addresses. For instance, the original triggers received by the STB 102 from the system 100 may include metadata that identifies the URL addresses to the particular television channel, the particular program, and the time of broadcast. The controller 306 of the STB 102 (or other component of the STB 102) can extract this metadata and provide it to the remote device 204. Alternatively or in addition, the web browser of the remote device 204 can extract this metadata itself from the address information transmitted from the STB 102.

[0065] If such metadata is not otherwise present in the triggers received from the system 100, the controller 306 (or other component of the STB 102) can add such metadata to the URL address information (separately or concatenated). For instance, by monitoring the television channel that a tuner of the STB 102 is tuned to, the controller 306 can correlate a URL address associated with the received trigger to a specific television program, to the television channel, to the time of broadcast, or to some other usable characteristic. An electronic program guide (EPG) may be accessed to obtain some of the television program information for correlation purposes. Then, this metadata can be sent to the remote device 204 along with the corresponding URL address. The web browser of the remote device 204 can use the metadata to place the URL in an appropriate list, folder, or directory organized based on characteristics such as time, date, television channel, television program, subject matter, and the like. With the URL addresses being organized or otherwise identified according to these characteristics, the web browser can display the URL addresses to the viewer in a context that the viewer can understand. As such, the viewer need not access the various URL addresses in the sequence that they are received, but instead can randomly pick and choose from among the available URL addresses.

[0066] With the automatic navigation and the keyed navigation embodiments described above, the remote device 204 first receives a URL address and then automatically or in response to user action, the web browser retrieves the supplemental content from the URL address. In a typical case, this retrieval involves retrieval of an HTML file by the web browser, which is then followed by the web browser's parsing through the HTML file to find tags, locations of other resources to be retrieved, and other embedded information. The web browser then generates one or more hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) “gets” to obtain these resources in order to complete the rendering of the supplemental content.

[0067] The reception of the URL address by the remote device 204, the retrieval of the HTML file, the parsing through the HTML file to locate resources, and the HTTP “gets” can all add latency to the ultimate rendering of the supplementary content on the remote display 220. Therefore, to improve performance, a third embodiment uses pre-loading or pre-caching of supplementary content. With this embodiment, the supplementary content at the destination URL address begins pre-loading into the web browser's local cache (e.g., the digital storage device 410) when the URL address is received by the remote device 204 from the STB 102, even though the user has not yet explicitly activated the link (e.g., has not yet clicked on the URL address) or even though the link has not yet been activated by a component of the STB 102 or the remote device 204. This embodiment can thus help provide a very high performance response for the viewer, if or when the viewer chooses to view the supplemental content, since at least some of the supplemental content can be quickly retrieved from the local cache instead of having to be retrieved from the Internet 108.

[0068] In one embodiment of the pre-loading technique, the remote device 204 receives URL addresses from the STB 102, and software of the remote device 204 predicts that the viewer will wish to view the supplemental content associated with the received URL addresses. This prediction can involve simply receiving the URL address, and then causing the web browser to pre-fetch the supplemental content from the URL addresses. Later, when the user selects the URL address (or when the web browser automatically navigates to the URL address), the web browser first checks the local cache to determine if any of the supplemental content is present there. If the supplemental content or a portion thereof is not present in the local cache, then the web browser retrieves the supplemental content from the Internet 108. Accordingly, the latency to render the supplemental content can be dramatically improved if at least a portion of the supplemental content is found in the local cache, and if the supplemental content is not there (such as if the supplemental content was not pre-loaded, or if it was pre-loaded but then subsequently removed from the local cache) and needs to be retrieved from the Internet 108, the latency is no worse than normal. Additional portions of the supplemental content that are not in the local cache may be retrieved from the Internet 108 by the web browser as needed.

[0069] Various caching techniques may be used by an embodiment of the invention. One example is to cache as much supplemental content as possible, with the possible exception of resources that may be tagged as non-cacheable. First-in-first-out (FIFO) caching techniques may also be used. As variations to FIFO caching techniques, “most recently used” or “least recently used” caching techniques may be implemented as well. In one example implementation, a first caching can be performed when the HTML file is retrieved from the URL address, and a second caching can be preformed when retrieving the resources embedded in the HTML file.

[0070] In an embodiment of the pre-loading technique, software of the remote device 204 can instruct the web browser to begin pre-loading the supplementary content at some time before the actual URL address or link becomes active. This helps to ensure that at least some of the supplemental content is cached before the viewer sees the URL address or before the remote device 204 receives an active URL address. One technique to accomplish this is to first transmit trigger information that includes inactive URL address. These inactive URL addresses can be used to initiate the web browser to perform pre-loading, and can be sent in advance of their corresponding segment in the television program. Later, active versions of the previously transmitted URL addresses (or instructions to activate the previously sent URL addresses) can be sent via triggers to actually announce the availability of the supplemental content at the appropriate time during the television program.

[0071] As an extension to this embodiment, all or at least a plurality of the URL addresses that are to be used or displayed by the television program can be provided “up front” for caching purposes, instead of having the remote device 204 receive the URL addresses at the exact particular time that they are displayed by the television program. The URL address provided up front can be accompanied by instructions (which may also be provided via triggers or which may be concatenated with the URL addresses) not to display the URL address (or other visual indication to inform the user of the active URL address) until later in the television program.

[0072] Providing the URL addresses up front with instructions as to when they can be later displayed/activated gives a wider range of time in which URL addresses or links can be activated, and thereby increases the likelihood that the corresponding supplemental content will be cached. This provides an improvement over implementations where triggers having URL addresses are present in the VBI of the television signal only at the times when the URL addresses are appropriate. In addition to allowing pre-loading to occur, providing URL addresses up front helps to ensure that the viewer does not miss links while channel surfing, and also allows the viewer to preview the links (from a list, for example), instead of having to wait for the portion of the television program where the links would have been otherwise provided.

[0073] As previously described above, metadata can be provided along with the URL addresses to assist the viewer in placing the supplemental content in context, or to otherwise enhance the integration of the supplemental content with the viewing experience. Examples of metadata include, but are not limited to, expiration date/time of the URL address, description of the link, copyright/source information, category or class of information at the URL address, type of media at the URL address, keywords, importance (e.g., a “high priority” URL address), or other metadata of interest. The metadata indicative of the expiration date of the URL address can be used, for instance, to delete the URL address from a menu or to delete its corresponding supplemental content from the local cache, if the URL address is no longer relevant or has exceeded an active time frame.

[0074] Various techniques can be used to provide this metadata as part of the information sent to the STB 102 from the system 100, or to add this metadata (by the STB 102, for instance) to the received trigger information. The metadata may be concatenated with the URL address in one embodiment. The metadata can be sent along with the same trigger as the URL address, but occupy a different block of data in the trigger in another embodiment. It is also possible to send the metadata in triggers that are separate from the triggers that have the URL addresses. In such an implementation, trigger IDs or other type of correlation technique can be used to synchronize the metadata triggers with the URL address triggers. Components of the STB 102, such as the controller 306 working in cooperation with software, can process the metadata.

[0075] Referring now to FIG. 5, there is shown a flowchart of one possible embodiment of a method 500 for providing supplemental content from the system 100 to the remote device 204. At least some of the elements of the method 500 can be embodied in software or other instructions stored on a machine-readable medium of the STB 102, the remote device 204, or both. The method 500 begins, in one embodiment, when a user activates 502 the remote device 204. As described above, the remote control 204 may be activated by pressing a designated button 232, 234 to place the remote device 204 in the receive mode to receive URL addresses from the STB 102.

[0076] In one embodiment, the remote device 204 transmits 504 a request signal to the STB 102 to request URL addresses. In an alternative embodiment, the STB 102 may transmit URL addresses to the remote device 204 at specific times when the URL addresses become available, obviating the need to make a specific request to the STB 102. In certain embodiments, the STB 102 may be in a “standby” mode until the request signal is received, in which case the STB 102 is placed in a “ready” or fully-functional mode in response to the request signal.

[0077] The STB 102 may receive 506 trigger information including URL addresses from the system 100 (e.g., from headends 104, the network center 106, or the Internet 108) along with an audiovisual television signal. In one embodiment, the STB 102 extracts 508 the URL addresses from the audiovisual television signal, or otherwise obtains the URL addresses (such as from a separate trigger stream). The STB 102 then transmits the URL addresses or other address information, including metadata, to the remote device 204 using a wireless method, as described above. The remote device 204 receives and processes 512 the address information in the processor 408 in order to access the Internet 108 to obtain the corresponding supplemental content. The remote device 204 then renders or displays 514 the supplemental content on the remote display 220.

[0078] As described above, the accessing of the Internet 108 at 512 and the rendering of the supplementary content at 514 can involve automatic navigation, keyed navigation, or pre-loading. In one implementation, the user may select 516 a URL address from a list in order to change the supplemental content displayed on the remote display 220, or perform other navigation, sorting of URL addresses, previewing URL addresses, and the like. In an embodiment in which the remote display 220 is a touch screen, a user may simply touch an indication on the remote display 220 in order to display the corresponding supplemental content.

[0079] In conclusion, supplemental content related to a television program can be provided from an interactive television system to the remote device 204. The STB 102 can obtain URL addresses associated with the supplemental content from triggers that are sent in addition to an audiovisual television signal. The STB 102 transmits the URL addresses to the remote device 204, and the web browser of the remote device 204 can perform automatic navigation or respond to keyed navigation to the URL address to obtain the corresponding supplemental content. Pre-loading and processing of metadata can also be implemented to enhance performance.

[0080] The above description of illustrated embodiments of the invention, including what is described in the Abstract, is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise forms disclosed. While specific embodiments of, and examples for, the invention are described herein for illustrative purposes, various equivalent modifications are possible within the scope of the invention, as those skilled in the relevant art will recognize.

[0081] For instance, while the remote device 204 has been described in various embodiments above as being a device about the size of a notebook, it is to be appreciated that other types of remote devices may be implemented in other embodiments. For example, a laptop, PC, or wireless handheld device capable of communicating with the STB 102 can be used in other embodiments. Other types of suitable devices, which are not necessarily PC-grade devices with a full operating system, can be used as the remote device 204 if they can render Internet-hosted content or other supplemental content. In an embodiment, even the STB 102 can be used to perform at least some of the operations described above, including obtaining the supplemental content (including pre-loading) and transmitting the supplemental content to the remote device 204 along with or instead of the URL addresses.

[0082] As described, the remote device 204 includes the transmitter 228 to send signals to the STB 102. The control buttons 234 are coupled by way of the bus 402 to the transmitter 228 to send signals from the transmitter 228 to the STB 102 (such as control signals to control program content presented on the television 202). The control buttons 234 may be configured, in an embodiment, to control additional home media equipment coupled to the client-side portion 200 of the interactive television system 100, such as a digital video disc player.

[0083] The receiver 226 of the remote device 204 may further communicate with the digital video disc player to receive supplemental content from a digital video disc in the digital video disc player. The remote display 220 presents the supplemental content, which may relate to primary content on the digital video disc.

[0084] In yet another embodiment, the supplemental content described throughout this disclosure may comprise a purchase offer (e.g., for “e-commerce”). The transmitter 228 of the remote device 204 sends signals to the STB 102. At least one input mechanism (such as the control buttons 234 or the display buttons 232) is coupled by way of the bus 402 to the transmitter 228 to send communications from the transmitter 228 to the STB 102 to indicate acceptance by the user of the purchase offer presented in the supplemental content.

[0085] These modifications can be made to the invention in light of the above detailed description. The terms used in the following claims should not be construed to limit the invention to the specific embodiments disclosed in the specification and the claims. Rather, the scope of the invention is to be determined entirely by the following claims, which are to be construed in accordance with established doctrines of claim interpretation.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification725/135, 725/43, 348/461, 348/E07.07, 725/32, 348/487, 348/E07.063, 348/473
International ClassificationH04N7/16, H04N7/173, H04N21/433, H04N21/41, H04N21/462, H04N21/4782, H04N21/858
Cooperative ClassificationH04N21/4126, H04N7/17309, H04N7/165, H04N21/4622, H04N21/4331, H04N21/4782, H04N21/8586
European ClassificationH04N21/433C, H04N21/41P5, H04N21/858U, H04N21/462S, H04N21/4782, H04N7/16E3, H04N7/173B
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Jul 24, 2001ASAssignment
Owner name: DIGEO, INC., WASHINGTON
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:MITCHELL, SLADE;REEL/FRAME:012010/0223
Effective date: 20010524