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From the Labs: What’s Next for Consumer Tech

Social TV

TV that includes your friends? It could become a reality -- a new approach to designing networks could mean better secure communication and adding a social element to TV, according to MIT researchers.

Social TV segues nicely into secure TV, according to the researchers. This is how it works: in a usual network, routers read the destinations of data packets but leave them otherwise undisturbed. With the new system of network coding, however, the contents of different packets are mixed together. Given enough information about how the mixing was done, a computer at the receiving end can separate the data back out again. Because each hybrid packet in some sense represents the contents of more than one regular packet, the method can end up saving bandwidth. In experiments conducted at MIT, network coding was able to consistently increase the data capacity of a wireless network to about three times what it was initially.

The MIT researchers designed a demo network that could decode the packets and send them where they needed to go. The demo was meant to illustrate the application of network coding to what has recently been called social TV. With the proliferation of smart phones and tablet computers with high-resolution screens, people are increasingly streaming television programs over the Internet – and friends are sharing their impressions with each other. Social TV anticipates the convergence of these two trends, as friends coordinate times to watch the same streaming video on different types of devices, in different locations, while exchanging commentary.

Stay tuned! Some of the large media companies are already interested in this work, signaling that a more social experience in front of the tube may be on the way.