Translation Please

EBIF and iPad, Sittin' in a Tree ...

11/29/2010 9:54 AM

Back in May when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts first demonstrated the use of an iPad - which had only hit the market a month prior - he thanked “the magic of EBIF” for making it possible.

Huh? How on earth does something as clunky-sounding as EBIF (Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format) make magic with the rock-star gadget that is the iPad?

Perhaps the best way to translate this is to learn from my mistake. At home last week, I loaded the app onto Doug’s iPad. He couldn’t remember his Xfinity login and password, which is a critical part of the process. No problem, we can use my work login, I offered.

Bingo. The guide was on the iPad. Changing channels involves tapping a network’s logo icon, or tapping the show title and “watch now.” An animated antenna appears at the top of the iPad, implying that it’s spraying signal at your set-top to tune the channel.

I fiddled around with it, picking networks, picking shows, tap tap, watch now. The little antenna icon did its signal-squirting animation.

Nothing. I made extra sure I was pointing it right at the set-top, yet the TV stayed stubbornly parked on the channel.

It took a few minutes before I realized that I was sitting at home, changing the channels on the set-top at the office.

OK, OK. Stop laughing.

What happened? Let’s look at the signaling of it. You pick a channel from the iPad. That selection is not sprayed out the front of the iPad to the set-top, but instead through the iPad’s Internet connection to Comcast’s servers. From your login, it knows you’re you, and that, at your billing address, you have X number of qualified set-tops.

So, it sends back an EBIF trigger instructing your box to change channels. Inside the box, the EBIF user agent sees and executes the command.

Pretty snappy, really, despite my botched login workaround.

Note to Comcast: About that security feature that asks you to enter the two squiggly words, to prove you’re a human, not a machine? It would probably work better, and aggravate fewer customers, if you didn’t use gibberish words expressed in Klingon …

September