Thursday May 17th

TV and film stars now to become Internet stars via technology

Interactive Avatars as on-screen characters, which are virtually undetectable from the real thing?

That's the claim from Televirtual MediaLab the UK technology company which combines award-winning TV and Computing activities.

The technique they're calling Videogrammetry merges conventional TV recorded behaviour patterns, speeches and gestures, with interactive versions of the same human subject that may be controlled automatically by a computer. Unlike simpler representational avatars that appear in games and Internet communities like SecondLife, the result is an on-screen automaton which accurately reflects the original. Studio acquisition is at HDTV fidelity.

An early example - Karena - may already be found, delivering regional news headlines and weather forecasts on the Internet.

'I wouldn't call them all-singing, all-dancing, at this stage,' said Televirtual's Creative Director, Tim Child, 'but they're certainly all-talking, all-emoting and progressively gesturing.'

Televirtual believe one emergent market for their work will be the creation of Internet Surrogates - web-based versions of major film, TV and public personalities whose value as 'brands' are such that hi-tech stand-ins could meet fan base demand for thousands of personal contacts.

To perform as surrogates, the video-based doppelgangers will be coupled to an advanced linguistic-based artificial-intelligence system, from Icogno Ltd. 'Machine learning, plus scripted purposefulness,' says Founder, Rollo Carpenter, 'allow our AI Creator package to bring artificial personalities to life.'

In such fashion the combined result of Televirtual and Icogno technologies is an on-screen/online character, which looks like the real thing, responds like the real thing and will conduct thousands of unique, concurrent conversations with its admirers.

'The weakest remaining link is speech,' says Child. 'Currently, the performance of synthetic speech, or text-to-speech engines, lags behind the reality values that can be brought to appearance and behaviour.'

But that's changing also. Custom speech engines - meticulously sampled from a real personality - are proving ever more convincing; a recent example being the Doctor Who (Tom Baker) voice commissioned from speech technologists, Nuance.

Televirtual and Nuance have been working closely to address the issues, and Child believes high fidelity cost-effective solutions are moving ever closer.

But in any case, the ambition is not to deceive, but to produce an interactive experience with unique informational and entertainment values.

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Wednesday March 14th - updated

Televirtual MediaLab unveils NewsFast a rapid information delivery system which offers people their own personal newscaster - in their home and on their phone.

In the eastern part of the UK, three regional-based companies and one national sports information organisation have combined to trial a next-generation News, Weather and Sport information delivery service.

NewsFast is so-called because it purports to be the fastest-ever way to deliver the latest information to many people on an individual basis.

Using either Broadband links or 3g-phone bandwidth, NewsFast delivers News, Weather and Sports news updates via Karena, a virtual Newscaster designed to deliver the latest information to individual Homes and Phones.

Unlike conventional BBC and ITV newsmen, Karena can access the latest changing, or breaking news, and his client/customers don't have to wait for scheduled news, weather and sport bulletins.

That's because Karena automatically connects to News, Weather and Sport RSS sites on the Internet. Then he announces the information there to your Home or Phone.

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary. It's where news is increasingly stored first, often well before it airs in TV and Radio Bulletins or in the latest editions of newspapers.

Joining the NewsFast trial consortium is regional news publisher, Archant, whose Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News journalists will be updating the RSS sites for Karena to read.

WeatherQuest, the UEA-based Press and Broadcasting weather bureau, founded by TV weatherman Jim Bacon, will provide latest area weather forecasts.

Tim Child, director of Televirtual MediaLab comments: 'in future, people are not prepared to wait for urgent information, and with systems like this, they won't have to.
This pipeline, and the ultra low-footprint announcers we've developed for it, should work equally well for any sort of urgent information service, from travel news to a Flu Pandemic. A regional trial makes good sense, because a lot of urgent information relates significantly to where the consumer is situated.'

Jim Bacon, founder of WeatherQuest said: 'with climate change likely to be a major factor in the 21st century, early and accurate weather warning systems will be a general priority. We look to learn a lot from this trial as to how they should best be delivered.'

Check out Karena here.


The Televirtual MediaLab  has moved location to EPIC - the East of England Production Innovation Centre in Norwich. EPIC is the 2m redevelopment of the former Anglia Television Light entertainment and news studio complex, funded by the East of England Development Agency and operated by Norfolk County Council as a regional creative industries hub and training centre.

The move to EPIC gives the MediaLab and its clients, access to over 9000 square feet of TV studio space, including a state-of-the-art real-time 'Blue Screen compositing studio. There are also  video editing and voice synthesis production facilities.