World Cup vuvuzela filter: the future of Internet TV?

June 24, 2010: 11:49 AM ET

A TV-on-your-PC company has created a way to block the locust noise from World Cup broadcasts. It's just the start of the personal-filterized future of TV.

By Paul Smalera, senior editor

In honor of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, YouTube recently added a "vuvuzela" button that would enable the plastic horn's trademark buzzing on just about any video available on the site. That's pretty funny, and if you're watching "OMG Trololo Cat" with the virtual vuvuzela enabled, it could even qualify as hilarious.

But what I'm more interested in is the email I just got from EyeTV today about the vuvuzela filter. EyeTV, for those who don't know, is a device that lets you connect an antenna or cable TV feed to your Apple computer, and use the computer as a television tuner, screen, and DVR, not to mention copy recordings to your iPhone or iPad, or share them with other users on your network. It's a neat device, and one I use to watch basic cable at home. (Most digital cable doesn't play nicely with the EyeTV, unless you just use it as a dumb pipe to connect your cable box video-out to your computer screen.)

And that buzz has been driving people crazy: Lifehacker has detailed a number of vuvuzela filter hacks that ingenious types have created to filter the noise out of recorded broadcasts, or live ones if they loop their television audio through their computers, or happen to have an equalizer on their television or audio. But EyeTV's patch is a whole different level of automation -- click and it's on -- and one I plan to try as soon as the next World Cup broadcast runs on ABC (no cable, remember). Elgato Systems, the maker of EyeTV, has released a demo video of the filter in action -- it's not perfect, but it definitely seems to take the edge out of the annoying buzzing sound. It almost certainly makes the experience of watching a 90+ minute soccer match where the horns are in play far more tolerable.

World Cup players and coaches probably wish they had personal real-time vuvuzela filters, with many having decried the horns, but that technology, to put it mildly, is probably a ways off. What isn't a ways off is the idea of digital TV set-top boxes, computer based video-watching software like Boxee, and Internet-enabled TV manufacturers like LG deploying the exact same kind of patch to their users that Elgato has released today. Think about the possibilities. Viewers could kill commercials that jack up the volume. Translate closed captions to foreign languages on the fly. Translate dialogue to foreign languages on the fly. Deploy a Thunderstick filter for NBA and MLB broadcasts. The possibilities are endless, if technology makers are savvy enough to dream them up, and use them as marketing tools.

The vuvuzela filter is the latest example of the breaking down of the push-based broadcast format that networks are going to have contend with to stay relevant in the decades to come. I've read the vuvuzela is considered by some commentators to be "the sound of South African football" (that's soccer to us Americans) and has its roots in South Africa's tribal history. Personally, and with all due respect, it doesn't do much for my World Cup viewing experience. Yet, like a swarm of locusts, it's spreading. The Florida Marlins recently held a vuvuzela giveaway which was called "uncool"  by the manager of the opposing Tampa Bay Rays (and far worse by some of his players).

If the horns take off and cross the Atlantic into Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, the vuvuzela filter may not be a merely temporarily necessary software patch, but a permanent staple in any sports fan's couch-surfing repertoire. Currently, Elgato says they will expire the vuvuzela filter with their next update to EyeTV software, but that's a shame. I think it'd be fun to enable the vuvuzela filter on any TV show, just to see what kind of weird noises it drowns out (especially on early rounds of American Idol), not to mention the mere presence of the filter in the EyeTV menu would provide a sort of techno-nostalgia for the summer of 2010, when the sound of a buzzing swarm of insects took over bars, cafés and living rooms across the world. Though, I wish Elgato also released YouTube's vuvuzela enabler as a software patch. After all, if I can filter vuzuzela noise out of my EyeTV, why can't I prank my friend's EyeTV by adding it in to his viewing appointment with So You Think You Can Dance?

Join the Conversation
About This Author
Paul Smalera
Paul Smalera

Paul Smalera is a senior editor for Fortune.com, guiding the website's coverage of tech, finance, investing and the economy. He has written about a wide variety of topics -- from the inner workings of the Google search engine, to the biodiversity protecting Svalbard Global Seed Vault, to the economics behind online dating websites and the impact of the Fed's policies on the national and global economy. A true generalist, Smalera believes every story is a business story if you follow the money.

Email Paul
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.