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back to article Inside the BBC's R&D Labs

Whatever your views on its programming, it is hard to deny that the BBC’s research labs have produced some pretty clever things over the years. Teletext, RDS and Nicam stereo are just some of the more well known ones, but the R&D Lab is also responsible for much of the work on the DVB-T2 standard that makes Freeview HD possible …

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R&D

They are not spending enough and it's a pale shadow of what it used to be.

Some of the stuff of course is worthless and stupid. Without enough resources and budget too much will be trivial.

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They may well not be spending as much as some would like, but they manage to achieve an awful lot, in my view. Stuff like DVB-T2 is pretty clever (regardless of your view of the content distributed with it), and the accessibility work is pretty important too, in my view.

I'd love to know how much Google has spent on GoogleTV; it's very likely far more than the whole of the BBC Labs. And what have they got to show for it?

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Anonymous Coward

Good comparison, but there is a difference. Google can waste as much money as it likes. We don't pay a Poll Tax to Google.

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My late father worked at Kingswood Warren from its opening until 1967, and as a child I remember it as a wonderous place - a spooky anechoic chamber and a mindblowing first encounter with stereo.

One of the inventions at Kingswood was TARIF - kit to rebalance the colours in old movies where deterioration of the dyes had distorted the colour balance. The story was that its working moniker was originally TARRIF - "Tony and Ron's Remedy For Inferior Film", and that it was only when it won a Royal Television Society award that a more respectable name had to be developed. Dropping one "R" it became TARIF - "Television Apparatus for the Rectification of Indifferent Film".

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TARRIF

Should've kept the first name, I rather like that!

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Anonymous Coward

Excellent use of licence fee

More of this sort of thing

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Anonymous Coward

5.1 sound

Are we meant to be impressed by "5.1 sound"? It's not even half of 11.

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Anonymous Coward

Auntie Beeb makes some lemons too....

Teletext : brilliant

RDS : brilliant

Nicam : brilliant

BBC Beta Home Page ( http://beta.bbc.co.uk/ ): utter shite

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Re : BBC Beta Home Page

..and of course I had to follow the link...

"utter shite"

Ugh - blimey, see what you mean. That's like being Rick-rolled, but worse....

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yuk

Is that inspired by W8, do you think?

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Not to mention.....

The abysmal Flash based Android iPlayer.

What do you mean you want to listen to the radio with the screen *off*!!? You actually want people's mouths to be synchronised with their voices? You really want the play/pause controls to actually be hidden while you are watching (and not cover 1/3 of the screen)??? You want to actually use a *mobile* app while you are away from a fast broadband connection??? You want to be able to continue watching where you left off after taking a call on your *phone*????

Why would anyone want those things????

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To be fair, I think things like that are more the province of the web team than of R&D. Much of what goes on in the Lab is at a much earlier stage.

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22.2 Surround sound?

How the hell I am going to persuade "She who must be Obeyed" that I need an additional 17.1 speakers in the living room ????

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That's one of the great things about ambisonics / 3D sound. You don't necessarily have to have a specific number of speakers. The reproduction system will try to recreate the effect based on what you do have.

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Anonymous Coward

simple

"If you let me have it then I'll stop whinging about not having it." :-)

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22.2. But I've only got two ears!

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Ru
Stop

"The reproduction system will try to recreate the effect"

Your reproduction system is exactly what you are risking by purchasing this kit without approval.

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Unhappy

DVB-T2

Lets you cram even more useless shopping channels into precious bandwidth.

It still annoys me that millions of "HD Ready", Freeview TVs have been forced into early obselescence while inferior DAB is still being pushed despite low take up. It's cheaper to upgrade a radio than a telly.

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I think it would be more accurate to say that DVB-T2 increases the bandwidth of a given slice of spectrum, and in that sense it's a very good bit of engineering. It's the decision of the bean counters to fill that extra bandwidth with content that's less than sparkling.

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"Lets you cram even more useless shopping channels into precious bandwidth."

And why blame the BBC R&D crew for that? DVB-T2/Freeview HD works fine thanks.

What doesn't work is the financial model of Freeview broadcasting, or specifically how the channels are sold.

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TRT
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Ah, these are the real British Boffins still going at it. Excellent.

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Don't forget the egg-heads

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DVB-T2 standard makes Freeview HD possible?

Where I live no one that has a Freeview HD box can actually watch any of the channels. If you actually get a picture at all it will become distorted and then the dreaded 'no signal' will pop up within 5 minutes of watching.

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I don't even have an HD telly and I really can't see the point, but the neighbours have Freeview HD and they don't have any problems at all.

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Aerial?

Just checking - the folks with a Freeview HD box are using a good aerial?

Just replaced my fairly knackered old aerial with a nice high-gain Yagi (I pick up Mendip, with a few problems with local hills) and good quality downleads (CT100 satellite cable). Only a few quid more expensive than the bacofoil crud you get at B&Q etc and it'll last a damn sight longer. Net result, more channels and better signal - much less break up. Oh, and make sure you get some decent independent advice, experience suggests an awful lot of satellite / aerial installers are clueless cowboys...

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Optional soundtracks

PLEASE! Then we won't have to put up with documentaries filled with tootling and parping incidental music for 50 minutes.

And if they can somehow redub Robert Peston into English that will be worth the licence fee alone. But I suspect even the Beeb's boffins won't be able to stop Peston having a good rummage in his trousers every time he stands up and speaks (sorry it's one of those things that once seen can't be unseen - much the same way that Peter Sissons jiggles when reading the news)

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Peston

Trouble with over dubbing Peston, is that once you have got across all the pertinent information, you still have two minutes to fill up as he speaks so annoyingly slowly.

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How about redubbing Peston to give us actual news rather than one of his rambling, threorizing, opinion piece waffles?

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Is that Eddie Mair in disguise?

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FAIL

Shame they didn't do more on DAB

Then we wouldn't have been stuck with something that doesn't even do the equivalent of their own RDS service!

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DAB works fine - its the fcuking accountants who messed it up

DAB works fine if the broadcasters used it the way it was designed to be used. Its the bean counters who want more channels squeezed into each multiplex to create more revenue, which then results in the bitrate being reduced. Also DAB was not designed for local services.

P.S. I worked at KW when DAB was first demo'ed

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Coat

"...compared to 3.19 for Bath."

You're right, obvious west country bias at work.

Only the other day I saw a bit of "Escape to the Country". They were in Lancashire and even there, in one of the houses they mentioned Bath three times!

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Anonymous Coward

Bath

It was a barth dearie!

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"a live dalek toy bursts into life when one of his fellows appears on screen."

We already have the technology for that. It's a six year old boy with a remote control, every home should have one. And there's the sonic that comes out whenever the Doctor uses his and so on.

It's sort of like the six year old's version of the Withnail and I drinking game.

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This is what I so love and admire about the Beeb - not content to accept the status quo, but pushing development on some funky fronts. I am so pleased to hear that the licensing and patent pool actually provides money to the corp, surely that means the department should be expanded ;-)

I remember in 1990 seeing that a bunch of engineers had recorded the Wimbledon final in HD - this is back before digital, mind, this was 4 Beta (SP? SR? Certainly waaaay before digibeta, and massively before HDCam...) decks ganged each recording 1/4 of the signal.

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actually not beta

Actually it was not beta but four Sony digital video recorders using HUGE cassettes. Long before jpeg compressed video formats.

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Anonymous Coward

Scrap metal

And in the last days at Kingswood Warren I saw scrap metal merchants taking club hammers to these trusty old washing machine-sized D1 recorders. Such is the march of technology in 20 years or so. If nothing else, the closure of the site forced a major clear-out.

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Pint

Good work

When you think of the amount of money squandered on rubbish "prime time" shows and overpaid star presenters to compete with commercial TV on a Saturday evening, it's only things like this that restore my confidence in the Beeb. Up the funding I say!

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IOW DAB works fine if you spend an absolute fortune on infrastructure. And why would DAB not work well for local services?

The local BBC station for our county is not available on DAB where I live, but ten miles down the road it comes through loud and clear. The conclusion I have to draw from this, therefore, is that DAB transmissions are very localised. As such it would seem to me to be eminently suited to local services.

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I just love the fact that Uncle Reg and Auntie Beeb were playing nicely!

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Sorry

But is this supposed to be impressive ?

Inventing searching the text of subtitles - just as real image search "find an image with green tree on rainy landscape" is starting to work.

Adding RDS to a digital radio standard that everybody except the BBC has abandoned.

And a sound activated toy that was on Tomorrows world 20 years ago. 10 years ago I worked on modifying it so that the hidden audio codes could survive MP3 - and it was old boring tech even then.

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Anonymous Coward

He's right

The Dalek is not a great advert for the TV tax

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Actually you can read a lot of their history

That digital HDTV recording experiment was done with 4 D2 or D5 recorders, those were early popular digital recording formats. I think you could already buy one analogue HDTV VTR the BCH-1000.

They did some amazing things in the past. For example they made a framestore, which is a solid state device which could store a whole video frame. It was about as large as a wardrobe and only consumed 5 kW of power. It stores a whole video frame in shift registers, because apparently RAM isn't available yet in the UK.(!?)

They also designed a machine called Anchor which was meant to be a replacement for Letraset sheets. It created letters and numbers purely electronically. Unlike digital systems, it uses analogue circuits to make wonderfully round shapes. From what I've seen it looks so much better than the blocky 5x7 pixel fonts of digital systems.

Ohh and they made a device which could transfer a video signal into a video. It worked by hooking up a high speed papertype puncher to a A/D converter. For every frame it did sample one pixel and punched it out. The papertype could then be read with just about any computer.

They did make some pretty nifty stuff there.

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Anonymous Coward

D1 recorders

The system used D1 recorders : http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/reports/1989-13.pdf ("A digital HDTV recorder using a cluster of four D1 DVTRs"). One aspect of the design was that a sub-sampled version of the entire image was recorded on each VTR, as opposed to the image being simply cut into quarters. This allowed editing of HD recordings to be done using one playback VTR in a standard-definition environment and then the edit decisions to be applied to the other three to produce the final HD programme.

Going back even further (1958) was the Video Electronic Recording Apparatus - one of the first VTRs, which didn't record in stripes as is done today and so used enormous reels of tape moving at very high speed for a very short recording time. Pretty impractical but I gather that an innovation which was carried through to every subsequent analogue format was to use frequency modulation to allow the bandwidth of a video signal to be accommodated on tape.

http://www.terramedia.co.uk/media/television/bbc_vera.htm

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Pint

KWW - A Great Place

Having visited Kingswood Warren many times in the 70's and 80's you felt the history there. The country house setting always impressed. I remember a comms room in the basement, it had a dark recess in the corner where someone had fitted a cell door. Quess what, they had also strung up a skeleton behind it. Great fun taking new people around the place.

You just don't get the same sort of atmosphere in a concrete block.

A beer for the people who worked there in the old days......

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Anonymous Coward

BBC Impartial - HA, what a JOKE

When this 'clips' tracking software comes into being, we can prove with their own data the sheer craven bias when talking about "our" wars, the lies about Iran, Libya, Syria, acting as the propaganda arm of the Israeli government that they are and demolish their lies about being "impartial".

When did you hear they say ANYTHING about the illegality of Obamas drone murders? Or the illegal wars the country has carried out? Or that Major/Blair/Brown/Cameron should be on trial for crimes against humanity?

Never, and you never will. The BBC is the propaganda arm of the establishment.

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Anonymous Coward

Erm...

...what has this got to do with BBC R&D? Can you take your foaming mouth somewhere else please?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sorry

The article doesn't seem to say that the Dalek was triggered by audio. If anything, it implies there was some kind of internet connectivity involved.

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Digital production

"production system that allows ‘rushes’ to be taken from a camera and synced to multiple devices, so all the members of a team can make notes or comments about a shot within a short time of it being loaded into the system"

Why not make notes as it's being ingested, and in multiple qualities simultaneously? It is possible, but I have been installing systems that do for years, @ the BBC and ITV

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