February 2015 Theme - Entertainment Technologies: Past, Present, and Future Trends
Guest Editors' Introduction: Fabrizio Lamberti, Andrea Sanna, and Paolo Montuschi

Entertainment is usually associated with the idea of doing something we enjoy — something we can do alone or with others to amuse ourselves, to have fun in our leisure time, or perhaps something relaxing, or that can make us laugh. Yet, ways to entertain and be entertained have changed throughout history. In ancient Rome, for example, one might relax in thermal baths or attend gladiator games and chariot races. During the Renaissance, on the other hand, people found amusement mainly in art, music, and theater. And, of course, entertainment isn’t always available to everyone. For instance, in the Middle Ages, dance and circus acts, with jugglers and exhibiting animals, performed primarily for the upper classes and royalty.

In recent centuries, entertainment has undergone a progressive spread across the global population, with many kinds of recreational activities — from reading books or visiting museums and cultural sites to playing sports or traveling the world — becoming commonplace.

Indeed, virtually all fields of entertainment have witnessed a technological evolution that has contributed to making amusement more affordable, accessible, or comfortable. Nonetheless, when we think about where technology currently plays the biggest role in entertainment, show business generally tops the list with the television, movie, music, and video game industries.

In each of these fields, technology changes have historically been the source of great innovations. Hence, a look at the past can help us imagine what the future evolution of entertainment technologies might be.

A Bit of History: The Music Industry

What people refer to today as the music industry started in 1877 with the phonograph, which allowed people to record and play back sounds. After Guglielmo Marconi’s early experiments with wireless telegraphy in 1894, sound was successfully transmitted over the air to a larger audience with the first public radio broadcast in 1910. The next big advancement occurred in 1954 with the production of the first analog pocket transistor radio, which let people listen to music on the go. Some forty years later, the doors of the 21st century opened for music with the introduction of digital audio broadcasting. In 1998, the first MP3 players appeared on the market. In 2003, Apple launched the iTunes Store, allowing users to purchase individual songs and letting them create their own playlists. Subsequent developments, including the explosion of Internet radio, tools such as Shazam for song identification, and so on, are no longer history but rather part of everyday life.

Curiously, some initially viewed the Internet and the digitalization of media content as possible causes for the music industry’s death. Statistics now indicate a continuous decline of traditional media, but that has been paralleled by a complementary growth in the streaming business. In 2013, as Apple was announcing the download of the 25 billionth song from its store, audio streaming was showing more than 30 percent growth over the previous year in the US. Most notably, in the same year, about half of the 200 million subscribers on platforms such as Pandora and Spotify accessed those audio streaming services via mobile apps.

For a bigger picture, interested readers can read Sheau Ng’s recent article, “A Brief History of Entertainment Technologies.”

User-Centric Mobile Entertainment

Processes that shaped the evolution of the television, movie, video game, and other entertainment industries appear to have many points in common with the music sector.

In July 2014, the Wall Street Journal interviewed Disney Chair and CEO Bob Iger about the future of entertainment. Iger said the key will continue to be having good stories and telling them in the right way. At the same time, he stressed technology’s growing importance, asserting that what’s being created today can be referred to as technology-enabled leisure.

Indeed, technology is changing the way stories are created — by removing barriers to artists’ creativity. And this is happening not just in movie productions, with special effects and computer graphics animations, but also in television shows, theme park attractions, video games, and much more. Of course, technology is also modifying the way entertainment is delivered to audiences, by basically canceling space and time boundaries.

Mobile and user-centered are two adjectives that help describe the vision of various industry gurus on the future of entertainment and related technologies. Clearly, these keywords describe the music industry’s evolution, as users can now listen to their favorite music anytime, anywhere, on nearly any device.

The ongoing convergence of information and communication technologies with ever-faster mobile networks is aligning with improved services in the cloud and increasing multimedia traffic, as technological advancements behind the preceding keywords are driving changes in other entertainment fields, as well. According to recent statistics, multimedia traffic accounted for slightly less than 70 percent of overall Internet traffic in 2013. And about 60 percent of such traffic came from smartphones and tablets.

Nonetheless, the end user’s central role in strategies for the entertainment of tomorrow is highlighted not only by the focus on the use of personal mobile devices but also by the growing attention toward content customization and personalization.

Video streaming is already a kind of personalization, in that the user is allowed to access content on demand. And it’s growing at incredible rates. With 111.5 million viewers when it aired in the US on the Fox network in 2014, Super Bowl XLVIII is currently rated as the most-watched single television live broadcast. By comparison, Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand services currently see about that many accesses each week.

Evolution or Revolution

By looking at technological changes with today’s eyes, the various branches of entertainment might appear to follow a common evolutionary path. However, several technologies now appearing in the panorama of entertainment promise to be truly revolutionary, much like the introduction of MPEG standards, GPU-based graphics processing, and other breakthrough innovations.

For instance, content is expected to become increasingly personalized, with leisure experiences growing ever more capable of becoming interactive and adapting to audience expectations. This is already starting to happen with social and intelligent entertainment systems, which learn users’ habits and preferences and use them to discover other related content that might be of interest.

The devices we use to access content will need to adapt to user expectations, as well, especially in terms of flexibility. Distinctions among the roles of television sets, gaming consoles, mobile devices, and e-book readers are ever more ephemeral, as users already expect technology to let them use their smart TVs to watch movies, keep in contact with friends, and play online multiplayer video games.

The goal of moving content outside of traditional settings is also shared by technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. These technologies, combined with innovative solutions for visualization (including Ultra-high-definition 4K screens and curved and holographic displays) and, more generally, for rendering content for other senses (reproducing smell, leveraging haptic feedback, and so on) are helping content developers create increasingly engaging entertainment environments that more directly immerse the audience in the show or game.

New content and new devices will require new input mechanisms, enabling ever more effective and intuitive interaction paradigms. Devices are on a course toward being seamlessly controlled with touch, voice, gaze, brain, as well as hand and body gesture commands. Whole environments will be transformed into entertainment settings with interactive rooms created using projected displays and controlled by some interaction means based on natural commands, wearable sensors, or handheld devices.

Technological Changes for Entertainment as a Whole

Of course, entertainment isn’t just about telling stories or listening to music. It’s also about sports, arts, and many other recreation or leisure activities.

Countless application examples illustrate how relations among all these worlds and their visions are becoming ever tighter. For instance, interactivity is progressively extending to all entertainment objects, including toys. Robots are benefiting from synergies with other industries and thus getting more powerful control and interaction capabilities. Museums and cultural heritage sites are leveraging sensors, mobile, and computer graphics technologies and being transformed into intelligent information spaces that are aware of individual visitors’ behaviors and interests and thus able to feed them the appropriate information at the right time. In many sport disciplines, sensors and tracking systems are in use for monitoring athletes’ performances and recording game statistics, even as augmented reality solutions are enhancing live sport shows, as well.

Theme Articles

The six articles we chose from the IEEE Computer Society Digital Library for this month’s Computing Now theme provide an overview of the kind of issues and opportunities we’ve mentioned thus far.

In “Mining Online Reviews for Predicting Sales Performance: A Case Study in the Movie Domain,” Xiaohui Yu and colleagues show how to predict a movie’s box-office success based on reviews posted online. This article confirms the ongoing efforts in this domain that aim to explore users’ social behavior to produce entertainment content tailored to audience expectations. The authors’ approach exploits text mining and leverages sentiment factors, review-quality criteria, and past sales performance to estimate future sales results.

Rita Cucchiara and Alberto Del Bimbo demonstrate two ongoing projects that experiment with egocentric and environmental vision.

The next two articles are “The Ways We Play, Part 1: From PCs to Consoles to Mobile Phones” and “The Ways We Play, Part 2: Mobile Game Changers,” by Jason Pace. These articles clearly trace the evolution of video games and gamers, linking the main changes in users’ habits with the key milestones in the history of technologies for gaming consoles, mobile computing, and human-computer interaction.

In “IT Enhances Football at World Cup,” Irena Bojanova shows the key role that technology played in the 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup. She analyzes the newly introduced goal-line technology, as well as solutions proposed for monitoring players’ activity, tracking ball trajectories, and analyzing the huge amount of data produced. She also reports on experimentation with innovative technologies such as Ultra HD broadcasting, and the intensive use of desktop and mobile apps for online streaming, live scores, and fan engagement, in general.

The final article, “Visions for Augmented Cultural Heritage Experience,” explores the applications of entertainment technologies in the context of cultural heritage. Authors Rita Cucchiara and Alberto Del Bimbo show how to use a combination of computer vision technologies, web and multimedia information, mobile and wearable devices, as well as augmented reality solutions to develop new ways of experiencing museum exhibits and cultural heritage sites. The authors also kindly contributed a video in which they present two ongoing projects that experiment with egocentric vision by leveraging wearable devices and environmental vision by exploiting surveillance technologies. In both cases, computer vision cooperates as an augmented sense to understand what the visitor sees and to adapt the information to the individual’s interests and cognitive needs, thus making the cultural experience more engaging and effective.

These theme articles highlight just some of the current research directions in the field. For further insights into entertainment technologies, please consider the Additional Resources sidebar below, which includes a list of other articles from the Computer Society Digital Library.

Industrial Perspective

Paola Sunna and Roberto Iacoviello share their views on cross-media and trans-media publishing of interactive applications.

Paola Sunna and Roberto Iacoviello, two researchers from Rai Italy’s national public TV broadcasting company, have graciously volunteered their views on cross-media and trans-media publishing of interactive applications. Starting from a Rai TV program for kids based on real characters, developers at Animoka (www.animoka.com) have created interactive 3D media assets in computer graphics to produce an app for smartphones and tablets. To understand the current GPU-enabled capabilities of hardware and software TV sets, they tested the app porting using both open-source and proprietary software and platforms, and they evaluated the user experience in pointer-based interaction with a 3D interface based on a smart TV controller.

Enormous evolutionary opportunities exist for entertainment technologies. A very heterogeneous set of research areas is expected to play a key role in the future of entertainment, encompassing mobile computing, wireless communications, human-computer interaction, and intelligent systems, among others.

We invite you to dig into the wealth of possibilities in this exciting arena, starting with the content in this month’s CN theme. We also suggest checking the scope of the forthcoming 7th International Conference on Intelligent Technologies for Interactive Entertainment (INTETAIN 2015), which is technically cosponsored by the IEEE Computer Society and has an open call for papers on the topics in this month’s theme.


F. Lamberti, A. Sanna, and P. Montuschi, “Entertainment Technologies: Past, Present, and Future Trends,” Computing Now, vol. 8, no. 2, February 2015, IEEE Computer Society [online]; http://www.computer.org/publications/tech-news/computing-now/entertainment-technologies-past-present-and-future-trends.

Guest Editors

Fabrizio Lamberti is an associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy. His research interests include computational intelligence, semantic processing, distributed computing, human-computer interaction, computer graphics, and visualization. Lamberti is a senior member of IEEE and the IEEE Computer Society. He has published more than 100 papers in international peer-reviewed journals, magazines, and conference proceedings. Please visit his personal page at http://staff.polito.it/fabrizio.lamberti and contact him at fabrizio.lamberti@polito.it.

Andrea Sanna is an associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy. He has published several papers in the areas of computer graphics, virtual reality, parallel and distributed computing, scientific visualization, and computational geometry. Sanna is currently involved in several national and international projects concerning distributed architectures and human-machine interaction. He is a senior member of ACM and serves as a reviewer for multiple international conferences and journals. Please visit his personal page at http://sanna.polito.it and contact him at andrea.sanna@polito.it.

Paolo Montuschi is a professor of computer engineering at the Polytechnic University of Turin, Italy. His research interests include computer arithmetic and architectures, computer graphics, electronic publications, and new frameworks for the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Montuschi is an IEEE Fellow, an IEEE Computer Society Golden Core member, and serves as editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Computers, and as a member of both the IEEE Transactions on Emerging Topics in Computingsteering committee and of the Computing Now advisory board. He is also a member-at-large of the IEEE Publications Services and Products Board and a member of the IEEE PSPB/Technical Activities Board Product and Services Committee. Please visit his personal page at http://staff.polito.it/paolo.montuschi and contact him at paolo.montuschi@polito.it.

Additional Resources

The following articles can offer further insights about ongoing research in entertainment technologies.


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Translations by Osvaldo Perez and Tiejun Huang