On March 27, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals an Apple TV feature that we'll all like. In a nutshell, if you're watching a movie on Apple TV and want to get some more popcorn and drinks, you may not have to stop the movie. You'll just sync the movie stream from Apple TV to an iDevice and it'll allow you to watch your movie while grabbing snacks or doing other duties. Come to think of it, that could have come in handy while watching this year's iTunes music festival. In the future, we may even be able to sync our Apple TV content to a future computer band so while you're grabbing your snacks you don't have to hold your iPhone. While only time will tell if that scenario ever plays out, for now we just may be looking at a new Apple TV feature that's coming our way (hopefully soon).
Apple's Overview of a Future Apple TV Feature
Apple states that the described embodiments perform operations for displaying, on a portable electronic device, a synchronized instance of the content that is being displayed on a fixed display system.
In described embodiments, the portable electronic device can include any portable electronic device that can receive and display a content stream, including but not limited to a smartphone, a tablet computer, a laptop computer or a netbook computer.
A fixed display system may be a device such as a set-top box, network-enabled DVD player, an Apple TV, a Google TV, a Roku Streaming Player, a digital video recorder (DVR), a video game console (such as an Xbox 360), a network-enabled digital video disk (DVD) player, and/or any other device that is capable of receiving streaming content and communicating the streaming content to a separate display device (such as a television set or monitor) for display.
In such an instance, the fixed display system may be connected (via a wired or wireless connection) to the separate display device. As another example, a fixed display system may be a device such as a network-enabled television that itself includes both (a) a display screen (such as an LCD screen) and (b) components for receiving streaming content and displaying the content on the display screen. Note that in each case the fixed display system is generally not meant to be picked-up and moved (e.g., other than to adjust the display for viewing) while streaming content is actively displayed.
During operation, a group of people may sit in a room with the fixed display system and begin watching a movie or other content. Then, during the viewing when someone decides to leave the room (e.g., to prepare a snack), the other viewers must either pause the viewing while they all wait for the departed viewer to return, or let the presentation continue and the returning viewer may miss some of the presentation.
In described embodiments, when a viewer decides to leave the viewing area, the viewer uses a portable electronic device (e.g., a smartphone or tablet computer) to find the content stream currently being viewed. Note that in some embodiments, the portable electronic device may be configured so that it searches for and finds available content streams in the background and has them ready for presentation to a user when prompted, without having to begin a search only when the user prompts it. For example, the portable electronic device may determine which content streams are currently being displayed and accessible to the portable electronic device using a service discovery protocol.
The viewer then selects the content stream and the portable electronic device requests information about the content stream from the fixed display system. The fixed display system then responds with information about the content stream. The information may include, but is not limited to, the source of the content stream (e.g., Netflix), the name of the content (e.g., a unique identifier for the movie being played), and a timestamp related to the current position in the content stream. Note that in some embodiments, the portable electronic device may use a service discovery protocol to obtain some or all of the information about the content stream prior to the selection of the content stream by the user.
The portable electronic device receives the selection of the content stream from the user and determines if it can access a synchronized version of the content stream directly from the source (e.g., Netflix). This process may involve steps such as determining if the portable device has (or has access to) any applications or other software that may be required to play the content, checking connectivity to the Internet, and determining if the portable electronic device has access to a valid user account to access the content. Then, if the portable electronic device determines that it can play the content stream, it requests a synchronized content stream from the content source.
If the portable electronic device determines that it cannot request and receive the synchronized content stream from the content source (e.g., Netflix), for example, because the user does not have a Netflix account or the portable electronic device does not have the necessary application(s), then the portable electronic device may request a synchronized instance of the content stream from the fixed display system based on mirroring. When requesting the synchronized mirrored instance of content stream from the fixed display system, the portable electronic device may also notify the fixed display system of the resolution of the display on the portable electronic device. The fixed display system then generates a mirror image of the content stream being displayed on the fixed display and begins streaming the mirrored content stream to the portable electronic device.
Displaying Synchronized Instance of Content
In Apple's patent FIG. 5 we're able to see a flowchart illustrating a process displaying a synchronized instance of content on a portable electronic device. The operations shown in patent FIG. 5 are performed by a portable electronic device such as an iPhone, iPad, Notebook or perhaps a wearable device and a fixed display system like a TV.
In Apple's patent FIG. 6 we're able to see a network environment. For example, a user may be watching a movie that is streaming from Netflix (content stream source 408) through the Internet (WAN 406) to a wireless residential gateway that includes a modem, router and wireless access point (gateway 404) to a wireless home network (LAN 402) to an Apple TV device connected to a flat screen TV (fixed display system 200 including fixed display subsystem 208).
A portable electronic device requests a synchronized instance of content stream #602 based on mirroring fixed display system as depicted in FIG. 8.
In Apple's patent FIG. 8 we're able to see a block diagram illustrating a network environment. Apple TV or other fixed display system then generates a synchronized content stream, mirrored content stream (#802) based on mirroring content stream (#602).
The content stream may be mirrored based on replicating the display information being used to display the content stream on a fixed display subsystem. The mirrored content stream may also be scaled by Apple TV based on information (e.g., display size, display resolution, etc.) about the display (i.e., in display subsystem 108) on a portable electronic device which may be sent as part of the request for the mirrored content stream. The mirrored content stream is then transmitted by your Apple TV through LAN 402 to your iDevice. At that point, the synchronized mirrored instance of content stream is displayed on your iDevice.
Apple credits Devrim Varoglu and Swapnil Dave as the inventors of patent application 20140089992 which was originally filed in Q3 2012. There are other configurations and scenarios presented in Apple's patent. To review them, click here. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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