Will Google TV owe Crestron Royalties for Universal Search?
Invention includes searching, prioritizing and playing video, audio and other content stored locally and in the cloud. Look out Google TV, Dish, TiVo and others?
The trouble with all this great content – movies, music, TV shows and more – is that you never know where it resides and how to find it and play it quickly. Do you have Shrek stored on a local NAS, for example? Or can you stream it from Netflix or buy it from iTunes?
Now there’s a patent application for that (#20110225156 by John Pavlik). Crestron Electronics, a leader in home automation and media distribution, has filed a patent for “Searching Two or More Media Sources for Media.” That’s a fancy way of saying “universal search.” (Clarification: The patent application was filed on March 12, 2010, and only published 18 months later, on Sept. 15, 2011, as is customary.)
Crestron worked on this technology—they call it WorldSearch—for a few years before finally shipping a product that implements it: The ADMS Intermedia Digital Media System (ADMS).
Debuting for $9,000 and now retailing for less than $5,000, the ADMS was dubbed by CE Pro as “The Ultimate Content Machine.”
The media server really was the first to do a good job of implementing universal search. Enter a title or artist or other parameter, and the ADMS not only finds it on your local network and in the cloud, but also prioritizes the content.
The results are ordered first by premium content you already own (on the connected Blu-ray changer or home network, for example), then by premium content available through an online provider such as Netflix or Amazon, and then the free stuff, say from YouTube or Hulu. Users can sort only for full-length movies/episodes if desired.
In its patent application, Crestron acknowledges that searching for content on a local network or in the cloud is not new. But aggregating content from both local and online sources is a Crestron invention, the company claims:
 Searching online for various media such as video, audio, and still images is known. Further, searching for such media on a user’s local hard drive is also known. For example, programs such as Microsoft’s Media Center.RTM., Google.RTM., Yahoo.RTM., Youtube.RTM., OSX.RTM., iTunes.RTM., Windows.RTM., and TIVO.RTM., all include integrated search mechanisms to locate specific data.
Learn more about cloud-based content and home control at the virtual trade event CEProLive! October 27, 2011.
 However, each of these programs compartmentalizes the search process to specific kinds of data. For example, iTunes.com.RTM. locates all media stored or available within the iTunes.RTM. system, which is a small subset of all the video, images, and audio available online. iTunes.RTM. also only searches for data stored in its own format, and does not search a users locally or remotely stored available data. Youtube.RTM. only searches for videos on Youtube.RTM.. Windows.RTM. only searches for data on the user’s internal and external hard drives. Yahoo.RTM. only searches the internet and not the user’s hard drive or local media storage devices. Google.RTM., while providing a mechanism to search both the internet and the user’s hard drive, cannot search both the internet and the user’s hard drive simultaneously and provide a single set of search results. Further, Google only allows searches dedicated to video, audio, or images, and does not provide a mechanism for searching for all media types at the same time.
 Thus, there does not exist a system that searches all known media sources, both local and remote, and presents to a user a consolidated list of search results that is grouped according to media content and filtered and sorted according to the user’s preferences.
The Crestron patent application also claims:
- Sorting by cost and quality of service (high resolution versus standard resolution)
- Display device to preview thumbnails of associated media items
- Links to content for instant play, purchase, or streaming
- A central processor including an input module, the search module, the consolidating module, the grouping module, the filtering module, the sorting module, and the presenting module are implemented on the processor.
Universal Search: Others Have Tried
As Crestron rightly notes, others have tried to implement universal search capabilities for content, but they just can’t manage to include both local and cloud media, and prioritize them based on cost and quality of service.
Or else they can do it … but Crestron may have beat them to it.
The most notable example, perhaps, is Dish Network, which demonstrated in 2010 one of the best implementations of universal search; however, the Google TV platform on which it relies has been plagued with challenges.
Google TV comes close, if bundled with apps that incorporate local content
The Dish solution – incorporating Google TV and Slingbox – searches both local and cloud content but goes one better. It also integrates with Dish’s own satellite service, so scheduled and recorded shows appear in a universal search. Crestron hasn’t been able to swing that yet.
As we wrote back in September 2010:
There are countless solutions today that get us pretty close to anywhere, anytime content. But currently none offers the complete suite of storage, search and access functions that Dish gives you.
For example, Crestron’s ADMS does a nice job of aggregating content from a connected Blu-ray changer, the home network, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other online services. But it does not incorporate TV content into the search.
TiVo includes TV shows in the mix of content, but does not offer a universal search function for aggregating titles stored on the home network and in the cloud.
Other solutions, such as Windows Media Center with CableCard, provide no aggregated search functionality. To find a movie, users must search individually through Netflix, YouTube, the TV guide, the home network, etc.
Virtually all content providers and major CE vendors have demonstrated some kind of universal search functionality, and the prevalence of DLNA and RVU (employed in the forthcoming HR34 Home Media Server from DirecTV) will make such features commonplace in the future.
Who will be affected by the Crestron patent if it is approved? Giants like RIM (BlackBerry Cyclone) seem to be planning DLNA-enabled media boxes that promise to deliver some kind of universal search.
And then there are the smaller specialty-oriented companies that already deliver such capabilities, for example, Autonomic (Mirage Media Servers). Newer companies like Navvo (Voco V-Zone), which provides an excellent voice-enabled search engine, may also be affected.
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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