Introduction to Contextual Entertainment

Introduction to Contextual Entertainment

The Future of Entertainment series by iQ by Intel and PSFK Labs is highlighting the latest in entertainment innovation. Over the course of 10 weeks at, we are showcasing new products, services and technologies, exploring the changing face of how we consume, share and create content and getting reactions from Intel experts.

In the imaginings of science fiction movies, every piece of technology knows our names, our faces and what we like, with regular communication between us and the things in our lives, we’re on the verge of a more fully interactive living experience. In reality, facial recognition abilities and the rise of sensor-embedded technology mean that devices are getting a whole lot smarter. Capable of recognizing their owners, products can tailor experiences to specific people’s preferences. This bringing together of the physical and digital worlds is a trend we’re calling Contextual Entertainment and it is all about delivering a more personalized entertainment experience on our devices and into our homes. 

To provide this level of customized service, more and more companies are using the mass of data that consumers generate as they interact throughout their days. Everything from a tweet to our followers, a foursquare check-in or the movie we just watched on Netflix can be used to understand more a about a person’s behaviors and preferences, as organizations try to continually meet our expectations.  

While a study by Accenture suggests that 85% of consumers are concerned about companies tracking their data, almost half of the 2,000 surveyed (49%) said they were willing to be tracked if it meant a more personalized service, and an even larger majority (64%) said they would prefer to have a personalized experience even if it means sharing their data. 

One well of information for corporations is people’s biological data – but fret not, there is no hacking of your medical records, rather companies are looking to see how biofeedback technologies can create the ultimate customized experience. In last week’s trend, Biometric Inputs, we explored the latest in natural interfaces, and below we’ll begin to see how these are being leveraged beyond just control.

Imagine you are playing a video game such as Valve Software’s Left 4 Dead. Battling zombies in a post-apocalyptic world can be a stressful endeavor – as you play your heart races, perhaps your hands become clammy, and just when there is a lull in the action, ten more undead cretins jump out of a dark corner to finish you off, causing an extra spike in your adrenaline. Your body physically reacts to video games, but currently computers have no way of gauging your psycho-physiological response. 

Valve is testing biofeedback technologies to see how measuring, and then feeding, physiological data back into the game can make for a more immersive experience. In a series of tests with Left 4 Dead, the company measured player’s skin conductance level (essentially perspiration) to estimate their level of emotional engagement. The game reads the data, and then calibrates and makes difficulty adjustments to ensure that the player remains engrossed.

At the recent NeuroGaming Conference, Mike Ambinder, Valve’s resident experimental psychologist was quoted by VentureBeat as saying, “There is potential on both sides of the equation, both for using physiological signals to quantify an emotional state while people are playing the game, and getting an idea of how people are emotionally experiencing your game.” Although still in its experimental phase, biofeedback technology could pave the way for highly tailored, individualized entertainment, which uses consumer’s own emotional reactions to better serve their needs. 

Another manifestation of the Contextual Entertainment trend is the ReadingMate system, developed by researchers at Purdue University. Have you ever tried reading on the treadmill? It is almost impossible because the constant movement of our head means our eyes don’t have enough time to focus on the text. Treadmill runners currently have very limited access to entertainment whilst running – they can either listen to music or watch TV, but the system makes the experience of simultaneously reading and running a feasible and enjoyable experience.

ReadingMate uses a pair of goggles built with a set of invisible infrared LED lights. The goggles are linked to an infrared camera, which sits near a text screen mounted to the front of the treadmill. As a person runs, their heads bob up and down, and by tracking the LED light, the camera determines the vertical head movement and bounces the text almost in unison. While our eyes can make up for some of the vibration while running, Purdue professor Jee Soo Yi explains, “You can’t just move the text exactly in sync with the head because the eye is already doing what it can to compensate. So you have to account for that compensation by moving the text slightly out of sync with the head motion.” The adjustment is just enough to make reading not only possible, but easy. This technology optimizes an ordinary gym-goer’s experience into a more entertaining, multi-tasking event, allowing them to not only exercise their body, but their mind as well.

Throughout the week, the Future of Entertainment series will be taking a look at other examples within the Contextual Entertainment trend that demonstrate how researchers and companies are using different technologies to create devices more tailored to individual consumers. This trend is part of the larger theme, Perfect Channel, which examines how a greater desire for personalization is leading to a whole new world of smarter technologies, where context is everything. Stay tuned to iQ by Intel and PSFK for daily updates to our Future of Entertainment series.

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