OCAP on Screen: Looking Good

Trade magazine reports stemming from Sunday’s OCAP Developer’s Conference focused, predictably, on the business models and deployment hurdles tied to an interactive TV technology that’s only beginning to get its legs. It was probably the right take from a skeptical-reporter standpoint, but I think it ignores the signature takeaway of the day: This stuff looks freakishly good on the screen. Having gotten a sneak preview of some of the design work going on with OCAP-fed TV navigation screens yesterday, I’m afraid it’s all over between me and my clunky DirecTV guide. (Sorry, cable people, but in the apartment complex where I live, it’s DirecTV or nothing.) Today’s generations of staid, workmanlike, immobile grids depicting what’s on TV are going to pale badly in comparison to some of the stuff that we saw yesterday from the OCAP people.

Screen designs showed off by Dale Herigstad of Schematic (an interactive TV design firm) blended rich, layered constellations of animated graphics that moved in and off screen with a grace and confidence rarely seen in today’s prevailing generations of TV on-screen navigation platforms. It was sort of like watching Star Wars for the first time (without any enhancements) and realizing a whole new array of possibility was emerging in the way stuff was going to look on the screen from here on out.

OCAP gives creative people a new palette of colors, graphic arrangements and visual possibilities to work with. Herigstad, who helped design screens for Time Warner’s early-era Full Service Network in Orlando, calls his firm’s approach a “fluid interface,” and that seemed right on. Stuff moves, twists and responds to user commands in smart ways.

Knowing the TV world is morphing into a place where there are thousands of program choices available at any moment, early OCAP developers are conquering by division: They’re reducing the deep maw of television into manageable chunks organized by different strata: networks, genres, times, whatever. The point is, it responds quickly, looks great (at least in the canned demos that appeared on screen at yesterday’s presentations) and elevates the world of navigation display to something modern, nuanced and cool. “Think layered,” was Herigstad’s advice to aspiring OCAP designers, and it seems as if he’s onto something. Taking the new-age TV guide from flat to multi-dimensional – with some typographical animation tossed in to keep things lively and always available at a click – is a smart idea that looks great. May it visit a TV set near you soon.

– Stewart Schley

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