A tale of some brown holly

Posted on 30 December 2006 in BBC red button, Interactive TV (No comments)

Well Christmas has gone, New Years is coming up and for the last two days I've been at work, trying (as those in the office between Christmas and New Years often do) to come up with some enthusiasm for actually doing something useful. And usually failing.

Still, someone needs to do it. Just in case. Not entirely sure in case of what, but you never know. It gave me time to clear my desk, and answer some emails. One of which was someone asking about the seasonal touches to the BBCi service. Well okay, the seasonal touch.

To explain... this year we added a bit of brown holly to the front page of BBCi on satellite. Some people may wonder why it's brown. Some might wonder why only on satellite. So I explained to them. And I thought I'd explain to everyone else too.

The BBCi service adorned with festive holly

The slightly dull, boring, technical bit about palette files

To start on the question of why brown... Well it's because we didn't have a green.

To get technical, a Sky set top box has the capabilities to display millions of different colours. That said, you can only use 256 in an interactive application. Don't ask me why - it just is that way.

Now, those 256 colours can be any 256 colours you want. The designers just pick the ones they want in advance and save the information in a palette file.

For BBCi, we have several of those files, so we optimise the colour selection depending on the type of service and have a different set of colours. So CBeebies and CBBC have very bright, colourful colour selections, compared to the standard selection. And each has its own palette file.

However because some images (like the BBCi logo) are used everywhere, there's always some colours that are always the same in each palette file. The red in the BBCi logo is always set in the same place for example.

Muddy holly

Unfortunately there's no green that's in the same place all the time. Which is why the holly ended up a rather muddy brown. Not quite the same impact.

Of course the designers could have changed the colour selection, but changing one colour could have all sorts of repercussions where you don't expect it. You might turn a weather cloud to green instead of black for example - you need to do a lot of testing to make sure it doesn't breaks.. When you're just adding a bit of festive "cheer" to the service, far easier to work with what you've got. And the most festive we've got, is brown.

Now you could have some amazing system which automatically generates a palette file depending on which colours you actually need at the time, rather than being defined in advance. This would be a wonderful thing in many ways, but also would take us a couple of months to build, which is a bit of effort just for some holly.

And I bet some of you just thought it was some weird trendyness by our design team!

And why only holly on satellite?

In case you're wondering, why we only did this on satellite, and not Freeview or cable? Well it all comes down to the way things are coded. What the team did on Satellite was upload a new version of the BBCi logo that was a little longer and included holly - and it slotted into place.

On Freeview and Cable, however, we couldn't just upload a new image - the sizes are fixed in the code. Changing code takes time, needs testing properly and so on, and unfortunately this yea, we simply didn't have the time or the people available to do it.

It's a shame but it's one of those things. A bit of (brown) festive cheer is lower down the priority list than renewing our behind the scenes infrastructure and making systems more reliable and robust which is what we've spent a lot of time doing recently.

Annoyingly though, if we had done it on Freeview and Cable, we could have actually used a green and had something more realistic. But that's a different story...

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