At the Eurovision TV Summit last week in Luzern, experts from EBU Member broadcasters met to share the latest developments on access services, such as subtitling and signing. Several technical developments are changing the way these services may be produced and delivered.
Signing with avatars
For born-deaf people signing can help a lot to enjoy television programmes. Several projects have researched how computer-generated animation characters - nowadays better known as avatars - may be used to make television programmes more accessible. In Italy the RAI's research centre has developed avatars in the so-called 'ATLAS' project (see box on the right for more information). In Austria the SiMAX project is worth mentioning. The idea in the latter project is to create avatars using a semi-automated workflow: automatic rough text-to-script conversion, manual correcting and enhancing, completed by computer-rendering of the avatar. Main emphasis in SiMAX is on creating very high-quality, but clearly 'cartoonesk' avatars, to increase acceptance. If the automated avatar technologies prove themselves in operational environments, they promise to reduce (production) costs too.
Subtitle file formats
An important development is taking place at the production side of subtitles. Currently a plethora of formats is used to support subtilting production, but changes in production systems (moving from streaming video to file-based production), the introduction of HDTV and more and more web-based outlets are asking for a review of the subtitle formats used. The EBU DFXP Group is addressing this demand by specifying a new exchange format based on the W3C TTML standard. The EBU DFXP Group will meet on 25 May at the IRT in Munich to progress the specification. If you are using subtitling formats, you may wish to join the meeting. More details via Frans de Jong (EBU).
The EBU's MXF Group is addressing the carriage of subtitling information in MXF. The issue here is that there are (too) many ways to carry subtitle information in MXF. Some methods are clearly outdated, whilst others can be seen as a transitionary approach. The EBU MXF Group hopes to soon publish a Recommendation (EBU R 113) with guidance on what carriage option(s) to choose.
Finally 3D subtitling is now supported too. The DVB organisation has specified an elegant way to extend the current DVB Subtitling specification (v1.3.1) with 3D support. Simply put the new options allow subtitle regions to be partioneted into subregions, which each can be positioned at different 'depths' in the image. See the DVB Blue Book A156 for more details.