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Apple's Media Players will One Day be Both Portable TV & DVR

Apple Media Players as TV, DVR 

On January 14, 2010, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals one of the next chapters coming to Apple's Media Players. In Q4 2010, Apple introduced their fifth generation iPod nano that introduced a video camera and a new way to not only listen to the radio, but to pause and tag it as well. While today's patent covers this new iPod nano feature – it also goes to where Apple's media players could venture into next: HDTV. In the very same manner that radio is handled today, the patent carries this concept through to television - Not only for watching it, but for recording it as well, even on the go. To me that sounds a lot like a portable DVR - and that would be very cool. The patent makes it crystal clear that it will handle programming that is found on over-the-air radio or television (TV), satellite radio or TV, cable TV or music services, Internet streaming broadcasts and so forth. With the iPod Classic, you'll use the scroll wheel to turn the channel and the larger media players will have a virtual dial with a more elaborate interface. All in all, Apple is aiming to add cable or satellite TV to their media players and to confirm that, the USPTO just published a push button antenna patent from Apple just after Christmas.  


The Nuts & Bolts


In some embodiments, the media player will be able to receive content or other media assets from a variety of sources, such as over the air radio or television (TV), satellite radio or TV, cable TV or music services, Internet streaming broadcasts, podcasts, satellite broadcasts, fiber optic distribution, or the like.


The patent states that a "content stream may be a serialization or sequence of content. The content stream may be distributed in real time, such as a broadcast, or in non-real time, such as a network stream or podcast."


The Definition of Broadcast in this Patent:  As used herein, a "broadcast" can refer generally to real time distribution of content (e.g., audio and/or visual data, etc.) or other media assets via a wired or wireless medium to an arbitrary number of receivers that may be tuned in to receive it. In general, a receiver does not control when a broadcast begins or ends, although some receivers (e.g., audio or video recorders) may be able to store content streams for later presentation to a user.


Apple Media Players as a TV or Portable DVR 


Possible iPod/iPhone Accessory


Although next generation iPods and iPhones will likely have this integrated accordingly, Apple appears to be at least thinking about adding an accessory to accommodate older media players in the market today.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 is a block diagram of media player 200 configured to receive content streams in one embodiment according to the present invention. Media player 200 can be coupled via accessory 210 to receiver unit 220. Receiver unit 200 may be capable of receiving content streams from one or more sources (not shown) using antenna 230.


The content streams from the one or more sources can include content as well as metadata identifying the content (e.g., track title, album, artist, type, rating, bit-rate, encoding, location, or store/product) and/or the source of the content (e.g., broadcaster, station frequency, station name, or station identification). Receiver unit 220 can capture content and metadata (and/or a portion thereof) and may provide the content and metadata (and/or the portion thereof) to media player 200, either in response to a user command or automatically.


In this example, receiver unit 220 can connect to antenna 230, which can be capable of detecting broadcasts of content from the one or more sources via a wireless medium (e.g., FM or AM radio in standard and/or HD formats, over the air TV, satellite TV or radio, WiFi, cellular communication network, etc.).


Watching TV on Your iPod While you Work at Home


I don't have cable TV hooked up in my office, but there are times that I wish I did just to stay on top of current events on CNN or CNBC. Maybe you'd like to keep one eye on a favorite show while you toil over a project or paper late at night. Well, it looks like that's coming to future iterations of Apple's media players – or as an added service to a next gen dock.


According to the patent, the receiver unit 220 may also connect to a cable (not shown) and thus be capable of receiving broadcasts of content from the one or more sources via a wired medium (e.g., cable TV service, wired Internet connection, or the like). Receiver unit 220 may include any hardware and/or software elements usable to extract content and/or metadata from wired and/or wireless media as desired.


Apple's patent FIG. 3 is a block diagram of media player 300 configured to receive content streams in one embodiment according to the present invention. Media player 300 can be linked to dock 310. Media player 300 may be coupled via wires or wireless using one or more connectors or ports (not shown) to interface with dock 310. Antenna 320 may be integrated into the housing of dock 310 or may protrude therefrom. Antenna 330 may be integrated into the housing of media player 300 or may protrude therefrom. Figure 3 is also noted as an iPhone being that it is noted as having the capability of making and receiving telephone calls, Yada-Yada-Yada.


Hmm, you have to wonder if that will be included in Apple's revolutionary next gen dock as was revealed in early December.


Portable DVR: Auto-Station Tuning


Apple's patent states that "in various embodiments, a media player or portable media device can analyze information associated with multiple content streams to determine currently playing and/or forthcoming content. The media player may selectively switch between sources of the multiple content streams based on what is currently playing or in response to the occurrence of an event.


Accordingly, the media player may automatically identify on which source and automatically tune to the source of music, television programs, and other content or media assets in which a user may be implicitly or expressly interested.


The user may define preferences or other criteria that instruct the media player to create an on-the-fly playlist of content in which the user is interested that comes from the multiple content streams." In terms of television, think of this feature as nothing short of being a portable DVR.



The patent goes on to state that the "media player may automatically switch between the sources of the multiple content streams to output the content according to the playlist."


In Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted above, we see a block diagram of media player 500 for selectively switching between sources of various content streams.


Media player 500 may receive broadcast content streams 520 from various sources (such as AM, FM, TV, HD, or satellite sources), including any of the sources and/or formats mentioned above.


Media player 500 may receive local content streams 530 from various sources (such as low-power AM, FM, or TV sources), including any of the sources and/or formats mentioned above. Local content streams 530 may be created or generated by media player 500 or accessories or devices coupled via a wired or wireless connector or port to media player 500.


Media player 500 may receive stored content streams 550 in any of the formats mentioned above. The media player can be adapted to create or generate a content stream from content or other media assets stored on the media player to receive content and/or metadata associated with a content stream. The media player may generate a content stream from one or more songs, TV programs, videos, audio books, images, photos, or the like.


Content selection engine 560 can include hardware and/or software elements usable to determine whether content within a content stream satisfies or otherwise matches one or more criteria. Content procurement engine 560 may select content for playback from content streams 620, 630, 640, and/or 650 in response to content selection criteria 570. Content selection criteria 570 can include any set of criteria, rules, conditions, attributes, preferences, or the like. Content selection criteria 510 may specify or define metadata, tags, or attributes associated with content.


In one example of operation, media player 500 may switch between content streams or sources of content streams, such as content streams 620, 630, 640, and 650 to output content that satisfies one or more of content selection criteria 570. For example, media player 500 may instruct or otherwise operate an NTSC or ATSC tuner to tune to a frequency or station associated with one or more of broadcast content streams 620 determined by content procurement engine 560 to be playing or otherwise containing content that satisfies content selection criteria 570.


According to Wikipedia - An ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) tuner, often called an ATSC receiver or HDTV tuner - allows reception of ATSC digital television (DTV) signals broadcast over-the-air by TV stations in North America, South Korea, and Taiwan. Such tuners may be integrated into the television, VCR, digital video recorder, and set-top box which provides audio/video output-connectors of various types.


Media player 500 may selectively switch between one or more of FM radio stations, satellite radio stations, TV stations, analog or digital cable feeds, HD radio and television, and local and network content streams.


Radio Style Tuning


In various embodiments, a user can interact with a media player or portable media device to browse or otherwise initiate playback of content or other media assets as if the user were "tuning" a radio or television dial.


Apple's patent FIG. 10 illustrates other mechanisms for navigating stations within navigation streams using media player 1000 in one embodiment according to the present invention. In this example, media player 1000 may include a housing 1010 with a touch screen 1020. Touch screen 1020 can provide a user with a display combined with a user interface for interacting by touch with the display. In one example, in response to scrolling or linear motions along a first line (as indicated by horizontal arrow 1030) and/or a second line (as indicated by vertical arrow 1040), media player 1000 may determine to switch between stations associated with one or more content streams.


Apple credits William Bull and Ben Rottler as the inventors of patent application 20100010648, originally filed for in Q3 2008.


Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number noted above into this search engine.


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