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Electronic program guides and interactive program guides provide users of television, radio, and other media applications with continuously updated menus displaying scheduling information for current and upcoming programming.

An electronic program guide (EPG) is typically associated only with television and consists of a digitally-displayed, non-interactive menu of program scheduling information shown by a cable or satellite TV provider to its subscribers on a dedicated channel. EPGs are broadcast by specialized video generation equipment housed within each such provider's central television distribution facility. By tuning into an EPG channel, viewers may see a menu that lists, for all available channels, programs both currently airing as well as scheduled to begin airing in the near future.

A more modern form of the EPG, associated with both television and radio broadcasting, is the interactive program guide (IPG). An IPG allows television viewers and radio listeners to navigate scheduling information menus interactively, selecting and discovering programming by time, title, station, or genre using an input device such as a keypad, computer keyboard, or TV remote control. Its interactive menus are generated entirely within local receiving or display equipment using raw scheduling data sent by individual broadcast stations or centralized scheduling information providers.

Television-based IPGs in conjunction with Programme Delivery Control (PDC) technology can also facilitate the selection of programs for recording with digital video recorders (DVRs), also known as personal video recorders (PVRs).




Key events

The EPG Channel, an electronic program guide (EPG) from 1987.

North America

In 1985, the Trakker, Inc. unit of United Video Holdings launched the first North American EPG service, known simply as The Electronic Program Guide channel. It allowed United States and Canadian cable systems to provide on-screen listings to their subscribers 24 hours a day on a dedicated cable channel. Raw listings data for the service was supplied via satellite to participating cable systems, each of which installed a computer within its headend facility to present that data to subscribers in a format customized to the system's unique channel line-up. The EPG Channel would later be renamed Prevue Guide and go on to serve as the de facto EPG service for North American cable systems throughout the remainder of the 1980s, all of the 1990s, and – as TV Guide Network – for the first decade of the 21st century.

In June 1988, US patent 4751578 was awarded to Eli Reiter, Michael H. Zemering, and Frank Shannon. This patent concerned the implementation of a searchable electronic program guide – an interactive program guide (IPG).

In 1996, Prevue Networks introduced the first IPG service in the United States, Prevue Interactive, designed for the General Instruments DCT 1000 series of set-top digital cable boxes. Prevue Interactive would later become TV Guide Interactive, and then i-Guide.

Current applications

i-Guide, a TV Guide branded interactive program guide (IPG) for North American digital cable TV boxes from 2007.

Interactive program guides (IPGs) are nearly ubiquitous in most broadcast mediums today. For television, IPGs are built into almost all modern receivers for digital cable, digital satellite, and over-the-air digital broadcasting. They are also commonly featured in digital video recorders such as TiVo and MythTV. Higher end receivers for digital broadcast radio and digital satellite radio commonly feature built-in IPGs as well.

Demand for TV electronic program guides (EPGs) – non-interactive television channels displaying listings for currently-airing and upcoming programming – has been nearly obviated by the widespread availability of interactive program guides for television. Television-based IPGs provide the same information as EPGs, but in a speedier manner and often in much more detail. When television IPGs are connected to PVRs, or personal video recorders, they additionally enable a viewer to plan his or her viewing by scheduling broadcasts to be recorded to hard disk for later viewing.

The most predominant element of an IPG is its graphical user interface. Typically taking the form of a grid or table listing channel names, program titles, and start times, television-based IPG interfaces allow the user to highlight any given listing and call up additional information about it, such as program synopses, years of production, actors, directors, genres, and other descriptive metadata. IPGs for radio broadcasting alternatively offer additional information about artist and album names, track titles, and series titles. Programs on offer from subchannels may also be listed.

Typical IPGs also allow users the option of searching by genre, as well as immediate one-touch access to, or recording of, a selected program. Reminders and parental control functions are also often included. The IPGs within some DirecTV IRDs can control VCRs using an attached infrared emitter that emulates its remote control.

The latest revolution in IPGs is personalization, where semantics are used to permit interest-based suggestions to one or multiple viewers on what to watch. One such IPG, iFanzy, is entirely customizable and allows users to use or create custom skins similar to a personal computer's desktop image while being aware of the types of programs they like to view. It also records these programs so users may watch them later at times of their choosing, rather than according to any given broadcaster's own schedule.

Standards for delivery of scheduling information to television-based IPGs vary from application to application, and by country. Older television IPGs like Guide Plus+ relied on analog technology (such as the vertical blanking interval of analog television video signals) to distribute listings data to IPG-enabled consumer receiving equipment. In Europe, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) published the standard ETS 300 707 to facilitate the delivery of IPG data over analog terrestrial television broadcast signals. Listings data for IPGs integrated into today's digital terrestrial TV and radio receivers is typically sent within each station's MPEG transport stream, or alongside it in a special data stream. The ATSC standard for terrestrial digital TV, for instance, uses tables sent in each station's PSIP. These tables are meant to contain program start times and titles along with additional program descriptive metadata. Current time signals are also included for on-screen display purposes, and they are also used by recording devices so they may start themselves on time.

Devices embedded within modern digital cable and satellite TV receivers, on the other hand, customarilly rely upon third-party listings metadata aggregators to provide them with their on-screen listings data. Such companies include Tribune TV Data, Gemstar-TV Guide, and FYI Television, Inc. in the United States and Europe, TV Media in the United States and Canada, Broadcasting Dataservices in Europe and Dayscript in Latin America.

A growing trend is for manufacturers like Elgato and Topfield and software developers like Windows Media Center to use an internet connection to acquire data for their built-in IPGs. This enables greater interactivity with the IPG such as media downloads, series recording and programming of the recordings for the IPG remotely. IceTV in Australia, is a good example of this, enabling Tivo-like services to competing DVR/PVR manufaturers and software companies.

In developing IPG software, manufacturers must include functions to address the growing volumes of increasingly complex data associated with programming. This data includes program descriptions, schedules, ratings, user configuration information such as favorite channel lists, and multimedia content. To meet this need, some set-top box software designs incorporate a "database layer" that utilizes either proprietary functions or a commercial, off-the-shelf embedded database for sorting, storing and retrieving programming data.[1][2]

See also


  1. ^ Gorine, Andrei. "Programming Guide Manages Networked Digital TV", EE Times, December, 2002. Retrieved on August 15, 2008.
  2. ^ Graves, Steve. "Hybrid Data Management Gets Traction In Set-Top Boxes",, July, 2008. Retrieved on August 15, 2008.

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