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Gemstar Unveils Guide For DTVs

Now under new leadership, Gemstar-TV Guide gave key video manufacturers and the press attending CES a preview of its newest interactive program guide (IPG) for digital television products, called TV Guide Onscreen.

The new guide is the next evolution of the subscription-free GuidePlus+ service, which it has provided to TV and video recorder manufacturers as a step-up product feature for a number of years.

The new guide is “primarily targeted at digital television and digital products,” stated Doug Macrae, TV Guide On Screen division president. “We started working this fall at aggressively approaching all of the manufacturers and working on getting 100 percent incorporation of this guide in televisions and digital products, rather than having it used as a step-feature in televisions.”

Gemstar is currently negotiating with eight of the top 12 TV manufacturers to include the guide throughout its DTV lines. Zenith, which showed TV Guide On Screen products in its booth at CES, is the only one to formally announce the service to date.

The new IPG will use the familiar red “TV Guide” logo as part of the new brand. Programming data will be supplied by the News Corp.-controlled Gemstar-TV Guide company, instead of using information from the Tribune Company as it did in the past.

In addition to providing programming data, the new service will now add up-to-the-minute news, sports and weather on-screen text information. All data is delivered over the vertical blanking interval portion of PBS analog broadcasts and/or the Program and Serial Interface Protocol (PSIP) segment of PBS Digital TV signals. Data and graphics in the service “were designed expressly for digital TV,” noted Macrae.

Unlike earlier Gemstar guides, TV Guide On Screen will not require special microprocessors to run the interactive applications, thus reducing cost to manufacturers and increasing the potential for achieving the goal of 100 percent placement in manufacturers’ digital television lines, starting in 2004, said Macrae.

“There is enough horsepower inside [digital] televisions today that they can now run the guide as a software application as opposed to requiring us to add hardware into the television set,” he said.

Where the cost to a manufacturer of incorporating Guide Plus in a TV was originally as high as $40 for hardware and licensing in 1997, TV Guide On Screen can be added for a “single-figure” cost, Macrae said.

The guide is designed to work in either 8-bit or 24-bit modes, depending on the hardware in the television.

The old GuidePlus+ service has been given “a total facelift” in look and feel in the new system. TV Guide On Screen uses full-color network logos and color-coded programming to aid in the search and sort processes.

One-button recording works as it did in earlier iterations, while the old “Watch” feature has been modified into a more user friendly “Favorites” function that enables users to tag a number of different programs in a given timeslot so they can quickly cycle between them while watching TV.

The old program “Info” box, which calls up a program descriptor, can now be viewed in one of three different size boxes selected by the viewer.

MSNBC, FOX Sports and the National Weather Service will supply data for the new NewsGuide, SportsGuide and WeatherGuide services.

Each news service will add multiple filters and sorting tools to help viewers quickly access the information they want.

In the SportsGuide, story headings are color coded, so for example, a viewer can quickly distinguish between games in progress, games completed and future games. Additionally, users can program the guide to seek out stories on their favorite teams to automatically deliver news tickers with game updates while the viewer watches another television program.

Information can be relayed as quickly as 15 to 20 seconds from an event.

The WeatherGuide offers seven-day forecasts from the National Weather Service. Forecasts can be localized by ZIP code, and travelers’ forecasts are supplied for major cities across the country.

Gemstar expects that half of its TV Guide On Screen distribution will be through recordable devices such as DVD recorders and PVRs, Macrae said.