Inspiration

People like talking about TV shows on social media as much as they do actually watching them. It engages us in discussion and has even been proven to boost a show's ratings. But for us, it's somewhat of an annoyance to shift our glance back and forth from our TV to our smartphones or laptops.

What it does

TVTalk is a DirecTV app that displays an IRC-esque chat room for the TV channel you're currently watching right on your screen and updates in real time. The app itself takes up a narrow amount of space on the left side of the TV, and its transparent background doesn't block the picture. Using a web browser on your computer or smartphone, you can instantly join the discussion. Even if you don't want to engage in it, you can still just watch the feed.

How we built it

Our app was built with HTML5 and Javascript, using several extensions provided by the DirecTV platform. Node.js served as the back end. All testing was done on the set top box.

Challenges we ran into

The set top box was unresponsive at times, forcing us to reset it which took up to 5 minutes. We estimate that we've lost at least 50 minutes of hacking time just by waiting for it to reboot.

A lot of web development features were disabled on the set top box. It couldn't display certain images and colors, and there was a very small collection of supported fonts; as a result, our app lacks polish, but it allowed us to focus more on functionality. The box also doesn't support https connections, which proved to be problematic when we attempted to deploy our app to Firebase.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We were able to build our own chat system from the ground up as well as understand most of DirecTV's API. We believe that what we've made can become part of the future of television.

What we learned

We learned a lot about The DirecTV platform and that it has a lot of potential to become something big. The DirecTV team was always willing to help us out with any troubles that we had. They gave great answers to our questions, offered useful advice, and came over to us to check on our progress. We'd like to give a big thanks to them for all their support this weekend.

What's next for TVTalk

If we were to turn this into a real product, ideally we would want the TV networks to moderate their chat rooms. Not only would they be able to filter out inappropriate content, but they can also produce content unique to the program currently on the channel.

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