Electronic program guide

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Electronic programming guide interface in MythTV. Mythbuntu Program Guide.png
Electronic programming guide interface in MythTV.

Electronic programming guides (EPGs) and interactive programming guides (IPGs) are menu-based systems that provide users of television, radio and other media applications with continuously updated menus that display scheduling information for current and upcoming broadcast programming (most commonly, TV listings). Some guides also feature backward scrolling to promote their catch up content. They are commonly known as guides or TV guides.


Non-interactive electronic programming guides (sometimes known as "navigation software") are typically available for television and radio, and consist of a digitally displayed, non-interactive menu of programming scheduling information shown by a cable or satellite television provider to its viewers on a dedicated channel. EPGs are transmitted by specialized video character generation (CG) equipment housed within each such provider's central headend facility. By tuning into an EPG channel, a menu is displayed that lists current and upcoming television shows on all available channels.

A more modern form of the EPG, associated with both television and radio broadcasting, is the interactive [electronic] programming guide (IPG, though often referred to as EPG). [1] An IPG allows television viewers and radio listeners to navigate scheduling information menus interactively, selecting and discovering programming by time, title, channel or genre using an input device such as a keypad, computer keyboard or television 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. A typical IPG provides information covering a span of seven or 14 days.

Data used to populate an interactive EPG may be distributed over the Internet, either for a charge or free of charge, and implemented on equipment connected directly or through a computer to the Internet. [2] [ dead link ]

Television-based IPGs in conjunction with Programme Delivery Control (PDC) technology can also facilitate the selection of TV shows 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. EPG-TVGuide.png
The EPG Channel , an electronic program guide (EPG) from 1987.

North America

In 1981, United Video Satellite Group launched the first EPG service in North America, a cable channel known simply as The Electronic Program Guide. It allowed cable systems in the United States and Canada to provide on-screen listings to their subscribers 24 hours a day (displaying programming information up to 90 minutes in advance) 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 lineup. 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, the entirety of the 1990s, and – as TV Guide Network or TV Guide Channel – for the first decade of the 21st century.

SuperGuide from 1986 SuperGuide 1 screen 16L.jpg
SuperGuide from 1986

In 1986 at a trade show in Nashville, [3] STV/Onsat, a print programming guide publisher, introduced SuperGuide, an interactive electronic programming guide for home satellite dish viewers. The system was the focus of a 1987 article in STV Magazine. [4] The original system had a black-and-white display, and would locally store programming information for around one week in time. A remote control was used to interact with the unit. When the user found a show they wanted to watch, they would have to turn off the guide and then tune the satellite receiver to the correct service. The system was developed by Chris Schultheiss of STV/OnSat and engineer Peter Hallenbeck. The guide information was distributed by satellite using the home owner's dish as the receiver. The information was stored locally so that the user could use the guide without having to be on a particular satellite or service.

2nd generation SuperGuide screen, 1990. SuperGuide 2 screen 8L.jpg
2nd generation SuperGuide screen, 1990.

In March 1990, a second generation SuperGuide system was introduced that was integrated into the Uniden 4800 receiver. [5] This version had a color display and the hardware was based on a custom chip; it was also able to disseminate up to two weeks of programming information. When the user found the show of interest, they pressed a button on the remote and the receiver tuned to the show they wanted to watch. This unit also had a single button recording function, and controlled VCRs via an infrared output (see US 5293357  ). Available in North America, it was the first commercially available unit for home use that had a locally stored guide integrated with the receiver for single button viewing and taping. A presentation on the system was given at the 1990 IEEE consumer electronics symposium in Chicago. [6]

In June 1988, US 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).

TV Guide Magazine and Liberty Media established a joint venture in 1992 known as TV Guide On Screen to develop an EPG. The JV was led by video game veteran, Bruce Davis. [7] Leading competitors to TV Guide On Screen included Prevue Guide and Starsight Telecast. The joint venture introduced the first ever interactive program guide to the market in late 1995 in the General Instrument CFT2200 set top cable box. [8] Telecommunications Inc, owner of Liberty Media, acquired United Video Satellite Group, owner of Prevue Guide, in 1995. TV Guide On Screen and Prevue Guide were later merged. TV Guide On Screen for digital cable set top boxes premiered in the DigiCable series of set top boxes from General Instrument shortly thereafter. See wiki on TV Guide for subsequent developments. [9] [ circular reference ]

Western Europe

In Western Europe, 59 million television households were equipped with EPGs at the end of 2008, a penetration of 36% of all television households. The situation varies from country to country, depending on the status of digitization and the role of pay television and IPTV in each market. With Sky as an early mover and the BBC iPlayer and Virgin Media as ambitious followers, the United Kingdom is the most developed and innovative EPG market to date, with 96% of viewers having frequently used an EPG in 2010. [10] Inview Technology is one of the UK's largest and oldest EPG producers, dating back to 1996 and currently in partnership with Humax and Skyworth.

Scandinavia also is a highly innovative EPG market. Even in Italy, the EPG penetration is relatively high with 38%. In France, IPTV is the main driver of EPG developments. In contrast to many other European countries, Germany lags behind, due to a relatively slow digitization process and the minor role of pay television in that country. [11]

Current applications

Interactive program guides are nearly ubiquitous in most broadcast media today. EPGs can be made available through television (on set-top boxes and all current digital TV receivers), mobile phones (particularly through smartphone apps), and on the Internet. Online TV Guides are becoming more ubiquitous, with over 7 million searches for "TV Guide" being logged each month on Google. [12]

For television, IPG support is 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 non-interactive electronic television program guides – television channels displaying listings for currently airing and upcoming programming – has been nearly eliminated by the widespread availability of interactive program guides for television; TV Guide Network, the largest of these services, eventually abandoned its original purpose as a non-interactive EPG service and became a traditional general entertainment cable channel, eventually rebranding as Pop in January 2015. Television-based IPGs provide the same information as EPGs, but faster and often in much more detail. When television IPGs are supported by PVRs, they enable viewers to plan viewing and recording by selecting broadcasts directly from the EPG, rather than programming timers.

The aspect of an IPG most noticed by users is its graphical user interface (GUI), typically a grid or table listing channel names and program titles and times: web and television-based IPG interfaces allow the user to highlight any given listing and call up additional information about it supplied by the EPG provider. 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 a VCR using an attached infrared emitter that emulates its remote control.

The latest development in IPGs is personalization through a recommendation engine or semantics. Semantics are used to permit interest-based suggestions to one or several viewers on what to watch or record based on past patterns. One such IPG, iFanzy, allows users to customize its appearance.

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 standard ETS 300 707 to standardize the delivery of IPG data over digital television broadcast signals. Listings data for IPGs integrated into digital terrestrial television and radio receivers of the present day is typically sent within each station's MPEG transport stream, or alongside it in a special data stream. The ATSC standard for digital terrestrial television, 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 to set timers on recording devices.

Devices embedded within modern digital cable and satellite television receivers, on the other hand, customarily 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 (now TiVo Corporation), 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; and What's On India Media Pvt. Ltd in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Middle East and Asia.

Some IPG systems built into older set-top boxes designed to receive terrestrial digital signals and television sets with built-in digital tuners may have a lesser degree of interactive features compared to those included in cable, satellite and IPTV converters; technical limitations in these models may prevent users from accessing program listings beyond (at maximum) 16 hours in advance and complete program synopses, and the inability for the IPG to parse synopses for certain programs from the MPEG stream or displaying next-day listings until at or after 12:00 a.m. local time. IPGs built into newer television (including Smart TV), digital terrestrial set-top box and antenna-ready DVR models feature on-screen displays and interactive guide features more comparable to their pay television set-top counterparts, including the ability to display grids and, in the case of DVRs intended for terrestrial use, the ability – with an Internet connection – to access listings and content from over-the-top services.

A growing trend is for manufacturers such as Elgato and Topfield and software developers such as Microsoft in their 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; for example, IceTV in Australia enables TiVo-like services to competing DVR/PVR manufacturers 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 and parental television ratings, along with flags for technical and access features such as display formats, closed captioning and Descriptive Video Service. They must also include 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 system for sorting, storing and retrieving programming data. [13] [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

Set-top box Cable boxes and similar devices

A set-top box (STB), also colloquially known as a cable box or a television decoder, is an information appliance device that generally contains a TV-tuner input and displays output to a television set and an external source of signal, turning the source signal into content in a form that can then be displayed on the television screen or other display device. They are used in cable television, satellite television, and over-the-air television systems as well as other uses. A computer that connects to your television allows you to use a telephone line or cable connection for you to browse the Internet and exchange electronic mail on your television.

The Digibox is a device marketed by Sky UK in the UK and Ireland to enable home users to receive digital satellite television broadcasts from the Astra satellites at 28.2° east. An Internet service was also available through the device, similar in some ways to the American MSN TV, before being discontinued in 2015. The first Digiboxes shipped to consumers in October 1998 when Sky Digital was launched, and the hardware reference design has been relatively unchanged since then. Compared to other satellite receivers, they are severely restricted. As of 2020, Sky Digiboxes have become largely outmoded, superseded by Sky's latest-generation Sky Q boxes; the previous generation Sky+HD boxes are still in use, however.

A digital video recorder (DVR) is an electronic device that records video in a digital format to a disk drive, USB flash drive, SD memory card, SSD or other local or networked mass storage device. The term includes set-top boxes with direct to disk recording, portable media players and TV gateways with recording capability, and digital camcorders. Personal computers are often connected to video capture devices and used as DVRs; in such cases the application software used to record video is an integral part of the DVR. Many DVRs are classified as consumer electronic devices; such devices may alternatively be referred to as personal video recorders (PVRs), particularly in Canada. Similar small devices with built-in displays and SSD support may be used for professional film or video production, as these recorders often do not have the limitations that built-in recorders in cameras have, offering wider codec support, the removal of recording time limitations and higher bitrates.

TV listings Printed or electronic guide of scheduled television programs

TV listings are a printed or electronic timetable of television programs. Often intended for consumer use, these provide information concerning programming scheduled to be broadcast on various television channels available to the reader – either via terrestrial, free-to-air, cable, satellite or over-the-top MVPD – indicating at what time and on what channel they are due to be broadcast over a period usually encompassing about seven- to 14-days in advance.

Windows Media Center

Windows Media Center (WMC) is a discontinued digital video recorder and media player created by Microsoft. Media Center was first introduced to Windows in 2002 on Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). It was included in Home Premium and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista, as well as all editions of Windows 7 except Starter and Home Basic. It was also available on Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8.1 Pro as a paid add-on, before being discontinued in Windows 10, although it can reportedly be unofficially reinstalled using a series of Command Prompt commands.

Guide Plus+, TV Guide On Screen, TV Guide Daily, TV Guide Plus+ and Guide Plus+ Gold or G-Guide are brand names for an interactive electronic program guide (EPG) system that is used in consumer electronics products, such as television sets, DVD recorders, personal video recorders, and other digital television devices. It offers interactive on-screen program listings that enable viewers to navigate, sort, select and schedule television programming for viewing and recording. The differing names are only used for marketing purposes – the entire system is owned by Rovi Corporation, the successor to Gemstar-TV Guide International. In 2016, Rovi acquired digital video recorder maker TiVo Inc., and renamed itself TiVo Corporation.

Freesat from Sky was a British satellite television service from Sky UK. It offered over 240 free-to-air (FTA) channels in its EPG. This is a greater number than its competitors, Freesat, which has 200+, and Freeview, which has 70+. It also had up to six HD channels and used to have Sky Active interactive data service. The service was less-promoted than the subscription-based Sky satellite service.

ATSC tuner

An ATSCtuner, often called an ATSC receiver or HDTV tuner, is a type of television tuner that allows reception of digital television (DTV) television channels that use ATSC standards, as transmitted by television stations in North America, parts of Central America, and South Korea. Such tuners are usually integrated into a television set, VCR, digital video recorder (DVR), or set-top box which provides audio/video output connectors of various types.

Freeview (New Zealand)

Freeview is New Zealand's free-to-air television platform. It is operated by a joint venture between the country's major free-to-air broadcasters – government-owned Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand, government-subsidised Māori Television, and the American-owned Discovery New Zealand. It consists of a HD-capable digital terrestrial television service, to around 86% of the population in the major urban and provincial centres of New Zealand, and a standard-definition satellite television service, called Freeview Satellite, covering the whole of mainland New Zealand and the major offshore islands. Freeview uses the DVB-S and DVB-T standards on government-provided spectrum.

tvtv Services, trading as tvtv, is a consumer oriented pan-European Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) service provider, owned by the arvato AG subsidiary rtv media group GmbH since January 2013. It was formerly broadcast on Freeview channel 304 until 30 October 2008.

Gemstar–TV Guide International Defunct American media company

Gemstar–TV Guide International, Inc. was a media company that licensed interactive program guide technology to multichannel video programming distributors such as cable and satellite television providers, and consumer electronics manufacturers; video recorder scheduling codes under brands such as VCR Plus; as well as serving as publishers of TV Guide magazine as well as operators of tvguide.com, owners of TV Guide Network and TVG Network, and provided various related services. On May 2, 2008, Gemstar–TV Guide International, Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Macrovision Solutions Corporation, which later changed its name to Rovi Corporation on July 16, 2009.

FTA receiver

A free-to-air or FTA Receiver is a satellite television receiver designed to receive unencrypted broadcasts. Modern decoders are typically compliant with the MPEG-2/DVB-S and more recently the MPEG-4/DVB-S2 standard for digital television, while older FTA receivers relied on analog satellite transmissions which have declined rapidly in recent years.

Sneak Prevue

Sneak Prevue was an American pay television network that served as a barker channel to provide previews of pay-per-view films and events to cable television providers. The channel launched in 1991 and existed until 2002.

Digifusion was the brand name of Fusion Digital Technology Limited, a British consumer electronics company that began trading in 2002, producing a range of digital terrestrial televisions and receivers. Fusion was part owned by Beko, the Turkish electronics giant, who were responsible for all product manufacture.

Teletext was introduced in the analogue television in the 80's, and allowed for limited interaction with television sets to obtain easily transferable information like schedules and weather data. Today the technology has developed to a point that allows for more complex and sizeable communication. The early private broadcasters, such as Canal+, were the pioneers in adopting this new form and have continued to develop it over its lifetime.

Freeview is the brand name of the digital terrestrial television platform in Australia intended to bring all of free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters onto a consistent marketing platform, to compete against subscription television, in particular Foxtel. The strategy coincided with the expansion to 3 digital channels for each FTA network and the planned phasing out of analog television in Australia. Important services from Freeview include its free-to-air channels with an enhanced EPG across all channels. Freeview also certifies televisions, set-top boxes and personal video recorders (PVR) which meet its standards.

MYtv provides satellite pay-TV services throughout Ukraine.

Text to speech in digital television refers to digital television products that use speech synthesis to enable access by blind or partially sighted people. By combining a digital television solution with a speech synthesis engine, blind and partially sighted people are able to access information that is displayed to other users visually on the screen and therefore can operate the menus and electronic program guides of the receiver.

TV gateway

A TV gateway is a television headend to a network UPnP router that receives live digital video broadcast (DVB) MPEG transport streams (channels) from terrestrial aerials, satellite dishes, or cable feeds and converts them into IP streams for distribution over an IP network.

The American cable and satellite television network Pop was originally launched in 1981 as a barker channel service providing a display of localized channel and program listings for cable television providers. Later on, the service, branded Prevue Channel or Prevue Guide and later as Prevue, began to broadcast interstitial segments alongside the on-screen guide, which included entertainment news and promotions for upcoming programs. After Prevue's parent company, United Video Satellite Group, acquired the entertainment magazine TV Guide in 1998, the service was relaunched as TV Guide Channel, which now featured full-length programs dealing with the entertainment industry, including news magazines and reality shows, along with red carpet coverage from major award shows.


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